Why forgiveness is worth it

October 5, 2010 at 6:05 am Leave a comment

It’s damn hard to forgive. I caught an episode of This American Life on my IPod Touch today as I walked to my doctor’s appointment. The episode was called Life After Death and I walked around the block to hear the end of the segment I was listening to. The story: a guy is driving down a busy street and a bicycle swerves in front of him. It happens so quickly and the cyclist doesn’t leave the driver enough room to swerve out of the way. He hits the cyclist. She dies. He knows her: she attended the same high school as him.

He tries to move on, but he carries that day with him, asking himself if he could have swerved out of the way after all, if he’d just paid more attention. No one blames him. Well, almost no one. The cyclist’s parents sue him in civil court but their own lawyer tells them they don’t have a case. Meanwhile he has a memory burned into his skull, of the cyclist’s mother coming up to him and telling him that she doesn’t blame him, that everyone says it wasn’t his fault, but that he has to promise her that he will live for two people now. He nods his head, not knowing what to say. Her weighty words travel with him, even as he moves on with his life, gets married and has a kid. He asks himself if his job is worthy of two people. Is he living up to the expectations? He cites a study that found that people who were not culpable in the deaths they caused suffered more PTSD symptoms than people who killed willfully. The guilt just ate them up inside. Maybe because it was beyond their control?

I know what that feels like. I carry with me the knowledge that my father died a year after I came out to him as a transsexual and three years after I tried to kill myself. I didn’t hold a gun to his head or run him over but I can’t help feeling like I killed his will to live. Maybe if I hadn’t created such strain and stress in his life, maybe then he would have had enough strength to fight off the cancer that devoured him. Maybe if it wasn’t for me he could have at least lived longer?

It’s hard, carrying that weight with you wherever you go. It’s tiring. After my father’s death, my mother, trapped in her own anger and resentment, spat out her accusations at me, placing my father’s death squarely on my shoulders. Part of me agrees with her: I murdered him, if not literally than figuratively. My father was a psychiatrist and yet he couldn’t cure me of my depression or my transsexualism. He was religious and yet I turned my back on his Christian God. He was a proud Afrikaner and I, well, I had grown up in Canada, mostly. I hated living in South Africa; I was ashamed of my Afrikaner roots and my people’s Apartheid legacy. I murdered everything he stood for. He had given birth to me, a girl, and I had turned my back even on my gender. He must have thought that I hated him.

Slowly, with time, I’m learning to let go of the guilt; I am straining to forgive that part of myself that lurks in the shadows, fearful of exposure. A science teacher once told me that we each carry light and darkness around inside of us. It’s up to us to choose whether we want to feed the light or the darkness. For too long I’ve allowed the darkness to grow. The time has come to embrace the light. That’s what forgiveness is about.


Entry filed under: Mental Health, South Africa, Transgender. Tags: , , , .

What we want Are you a moron?

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