“If you can’t forgive and forget, pick one.” – Robert Brault
The day Paco runs away from home is a humid one. He and his father have been fighting again. No one knows for sure whether he is actually running away or if he has been kicked out of his home, but either way Paco finds himself on the hot streets of Madrid, wandering and alone.
His plan is to become a bullfighter, a profession that will most likely get him killed, but this is his only idea and, quite frankly, his only hope. Those who train under a mentor have a good chance of surviving this profession, but Paco has no money for a mentor. He has only his memory, and it is filled with mistakes and guilt and regret.
The days with his father have been hard and their conflict noisy. What Paco said or did we cannot know – we only see him wandering, low-shouldered with sadness and sorrow. He wears the heavy coat of his own shame.
Paco’s plan to be a matador is a one-way street toward suicide, and this is the last thing his father wants.
Forlorn, his father tries something that he desperately hopes will work. Since there is little to no chance he will be able to find Paco wandering the streets of Madrid, he puts an advertisement in the newspaper.
The advertisement reads ~ “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven. Love, Papa.”
When his father goes to the Hotel Montana the next day at noon, he is flabbergasted to see that there were eight hundred young men named Paco waiting for their fathers ~ waiting for the forgiveness they never thought possible.
(Adapted from a story told by Ernest Hemingway)
Everyone wants forgiveness. It is remarkable irony that the gift everyone wants and needs is indeed the very hardest gift of all to give.
What painful words transpired between Paco and his father to cause this horrific rift? What kind of harsh words could be spoken that would cause a person to choose to leave his home and wander in the streets? We can only guess.
Perhaps Paco’s vision for his own life is different than his father’s hopes and dreams for him. Maybe his father wants him to go to college and study to become a doctor, while Paco wants to be a bullfighter instead. Perhaps Paco wants to marry a very young woman and his father thinks he should wait a while. Maybe they fight over religion ~ Paco questions the teachings of the church and his father scolds him harshly for his heterodoxy.
In all relationships there can be hard words and hard deeds, difficult to manage and impossible to forget. There are times when we are all like Paco.
And there are times when we are all like his father.
Yet somehow Paco’s father chooses to forgive, a brave and selfless act but certainly not an easy one. What a wise man, valuing the relationship over the offense.
Many of us don’t make this same decision. Rather, so many of us choose to keep the offense close by and nurse it, love it and nurture it and watch it grow into a monstrosity tall with roots deep and gnarled and intricate.
Forgiveness is a practice, not at all a one-time event. Paco’s father is ready to practice forgiveness and restore his relationship, so he writes a letter of forgiveness, short and direct, five simple words: “All is forgiven. Love, Papa.”
Unforgiveness is also a practice, one that can be honed and perfected like any other. We can all get better at both forgiving and unforgiving ~ it just depends on which one we practice more.
Unforgiveness requires so very much of us, most of our energy on any given day. The business of harboring and maintaining bitterness and unforgiveness is like a full-time job. It is simply what you spend most of your time thinking about and doing.
But ~ if you are interested in devoting much of your life to perfecting the practice of unforgiveness, it can be done. There are action steps. Here are a few:
- Be careful to harbor your offenses well. Plant them deep into yourself and water them every day. Wish your enemy ill in your heart, making sure you play and replay the offense to yourself constantly.
- Read and reread cruel emails and let your anger grow with each reading. Never delete them. Keep all your mean texts too and reread them often. Never starve your anger of its necessary fuel.
- Repeat the offense over and over, and be careful to always speak in hyperbole. Exaggerate the story in your mind every day, making it bigger and bigger with each telling. Never let a day pass where you don’t retell it to yourself and others.
- Punish those who have hurt you, every day if you can. Never let them off the hook, ever.
- Make sure you convince yourself that you are totally innocent and the offender is totally at fault.
- Always place yourself in God’s position ~ always try to change, correct, and punish the one you feel has wronged you. This will ensure that you never forgive and never ever forget, which is what you are choosing.
It is actually quite easy to become an expert in the art of unforgiveness.
Years ago, my daughter returned home day one of her first, real, full-time job, and she was exhausted. She plopped herself on the couch, threw her head back and declared, rather philosophically, “Working full-time takes up your whole day.” Indeed, it does.
So does unforgiveness. It takes up your whole day. Your whole year. Your whole life. Bitterness and unforgiveness is a full-time job, so just be sure you know what you are signing up for.
Remember the Pacos. People you know, people you love, waiting, hoping, praying for a letter of five little words from you and me ~ “All is forgiven. Love, Me.”
I must ask myself ~ which practice am I perfecting?
How are you doing?
“If you can’t forgive and forget, pick one.”