The freedom in forgiveness at this stage of life

By the time we’ve reached age 50 and beyond, we have felt life’s joys, rewards, disappointments, and probably tragedies. Author Phyllis Edgerly Ring believes in taking a higher road as we go forward … the road of forgiveness.

This stage of life brings a continual sorting through others’ belongings – and an invitation to forgiveness I never expected.

I put off this task after my parents’ death, as many of us do, simply stashed the boxes out of sight. Then I woke one day with the urge to unpack one.

Author Phyllis Edgerly Ring.

Author Phyllis Edgerly Ring.

I was plunged into stirred-up memories and stored-up feelings, not all of them easy or pleasant. As if whispered into my thoughts, an idea I’d encountered years ago in the work of psychologist Erik Blumenthal echoed: The person who comes to understand his parents can forgive the world.

The writer, who grew up Jewish in Nazi Germany, knew firsthand how painful experience often makes forgiveness seem impossible. Yet he emphasized two needs he believed call to all of us: to become more aware, and to accept the freedom that forgiveness bestows.

As I unpacked my parents’ things, I gained a deeper view of the context of what they faced and the efforts and decisions they made. These were two young (i.e., our adult children’s age) people entering a cross-cultural marriage at a time when no one knew what the next day would bring, who would live or die, or even what language everyone would be speaking, depending on the outcome of the war still known as “The Big One.” The stories my parents told, usually just glimpses of something so much larger, take on new meaning as my willingness to find forgiveness is nudged in ways I can’t ignore.

I can now see that these were people who, whatever their circumstances, troubles and significant mistakes or missteps, made a place for me in this world, and stuck with that commitment. I’m reminded of words of Rumi’s: “When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again, this is certainly not like we thought it was”.

Forgiveness can be a tough prospect in the face of things that were still too painful for families like mine to even talk about. The disease of alcoholism is a great waster of lives, in so many ways. Yet as I uncover a broader view of my parents’ lives, I see that most of my own resistance to forgiveness was forged at a stage when the imprint of my parents’ perceived omnipotence led me to believe that they were always in charge, in the know, in control of all situations.

I now share with them the certainty that that was never true, and the humbling realization that, whatever the hurts, it is not, indeed, as I thought it was.

It’s been observed that many people hold back from forgiveness because they believe it might go against the grain of justice, might excuse a wrong or deny its occurrence.

But when we find a willingness to see beyond our own view about any situation, especially the actions and choices of others, it disarms that tendency our perception has to keep us welded to beliefs that not only make us feel bad, but impede our progress, too.

Adapted from Life at Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details by Phyllis Edgerly Ring.

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  1. phyllis……do you believe all things can be forgiven?……do you believe all things should be forgiven?………are there some things that are not ours to forgive?…….I have purchased your book in search of clarity for I have not yet come to the place you & so many tell me I should & must arrive at to be free……diann……..I am a recently retired art teacher who is spending my cold Illinois winter going through 35 years of boxes of stuff including my mothers…….It is a slow journey through my past, like shedding an old skin one no longer needs…..there are walmart bags full of papers, lesson plans, teaching resources & examples that once were vital to who I was for over 30 years, art teacher to young spirits who loved me,……how does one just throw away the old you as though it is of no use except the recycle bin…..& I find myself discovering a woman I really knew little about…, as I read your words in this article, I found your journey similar to mine & found my heart pounding as I read the last sentence… took me to a place I do not want to go but know I must…….thank you…..diann

    1. Bless your heart – what honesty, Diann! My response sounds so simplistic, even to my own ears. Yet experience so far has also made it heartfelt: trust what’s leading you, and trust yourself. Enjoy these next steps.

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