AS My husband and I were strolling through a public garden in a small New England town, we saw a Revolutionary War memorial with these words: "We will never forget."
Although these words were inscribed over 200 years ago, they are repeated today by many people throughout the world - crime victims, soldiers, survivors of terrorist attacks and of war, victims of child abuse, the innocent who have been imprisoned, those who have been tortured. Sadly, the list goes on.
The inscription made me pause and remember events that I swore I would never forget: my parents' incompetence as parents, which left jagged emotional scars; my ex-husband's act of thoughtlessness that resulted in my being robbed at knifepoint; a trusted business associate and mentor who reneged on an agreement, costing me tens of thousands of dollars.
Some psychologists and philosophers believe that we come into this world a tabula rasa (a clean slate) that experience and circumstance write upon, making us who we are. Sometimes experience makes us into something we'd rather not be - domineering, defeated, cruel, needy, or just plain unhappy.
Sometimes we're spurred to retaliation. A decade ago, I believed that the harsh events of my life had made me who I was. Of course, our reactions also help mold us, and as a Christian I knew that one reaction should be forgiveness. But all I could manage was avoidance.
I avoided the colleague who reneged on the deal. My husband and I divorced. I had almost no contact with my parents. But eventually I realized that neither avoidance nor a successful career had made me happy. Nightmares continued to make it hard to sleep. Emotional scars made it hard to imagine ever having a happy marriage. But I wanted to be happy! I wanted to feel loving and loved.
So I started to study the Bible to learn to be the person I wanted to be. I also studied "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy, the 19th-century religious leader who discovered Christian Science and founded this newspaper. During several years, I learned a lot.
I learned that if I wanted to feel love, I had to turn to God who is Love.
Turning to God required turning away from my preoccupation with painful memories. Jesus' earliest teachings include the demand, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17). The Greek word translated "repent" is metanoeo, which means to change one's ways - one's attitude, thoughts, and behavior - in order to comply with God's demands for right living.
So when the memories of my past started to play, I stopped taking out my handkerchief. Instead, I turned off those reruns by turning to God - by praying, for example, with the 23rd Psalm, which starts, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul."
I learned that if I wanted to lead a full, loving, happy life, forgiveness was not an option; it was a prerequisite. I lacked love in my life because I lacked forgiveness. Jesus taught, "If thou bring thy gift [to God] to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matt. 5:23, 24).
I had to reconcile myself, heart and soul, to those who had done something "against" me. I had to feel charity and generosity toward them because not doing so prevented me from knowing God, Love, better.
But to admit that one should feel charity and actually to feel it, are very different things. Before I could forgive those who had hurt me, I had to repair my view of them. I had to accept that, as St. Paul said, "We are the children of God" (Rom. 8:16). If we are His children, then I had to accept our inherent goodness - our Godlikeness.
As Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "In the Saxon and twenty other tongues good is the term for God. The Scriptures declare all that He made to be good, like Himself ..." (Science and Health, page 286). If we are all fundamentally good, then the actions that had caused suffering were obviously mistakes, whether or not anyone said, "I'm sorry." I could no longer let those mistakes hide from me our true nature.
Changes in my thinking and behavior occurred gradually, but looking back I can see how much progress I've made. Today I have a blissfully happy marriage. I forgave my colleague and mentor; he is now one of my closest friends. I forgave my parents; they are now an important part of my life. My unhappy childhood seems so far away that it no longer feels like my own.
Recently, I've even discovered several wonderful childhood memories that I'd never appreciated before. Forgiveness has wiped clean a spoiled slate so that now I can see God's goodness written all over it - indelibly.