When I was in school a million and a half years ago, I breezed through all the Shakespeare work as quickly – and with as little attention – as possible. I got the plot points and knew the important quotes but I never fully appreciated his work at the time. Last year while driving to Augusta with the impending sunrise in front of me, I was listening to an episode of This American Life about an unlikely production of Hamlet that was put on in the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center years ago. (Episode 218: Act V, August 9, 2002).
The story is a thought provoking one. One moment in particular grabbed my heart and squeezed; four words penned by the Bard himself stabbed themselves into me as though I was myself a part of the climactic death scene in Act V Scene 2.
Exchange forgiveness with me. Damn, Bill. You said a mouthful in those four words, but it took me 49 years to appreciate them fully. Forgiveness is a complicated thing for us humans, and our relationship to the word and the concept is all-too-often strikingly one-sided. But the harsh truth is that true forgiveness – the act of letting go of anger, hostility, and resentment for another – is an exchange. Every interaction requires input from both parties, and in most situations, the responsibility for the output of those interactions is shared.
Put another way, it takes two to tango. We need to forgive each other for the mistakes and missteps of the people we were when we made them. I need you to exchange forgiveness with me so that we might both be fully free of the emotional and psychological bonds held taut by the anger, hostility, and resentment that holds us back from healing and growing from our past traumas.
There’s a meditation I was taught many years ago that has helped me to not only forgive others, but to actively seek and understand the need for forgiveness all the way around:
I used to believe that forgiveness was for me, but I have come to understand that it isn’t all about me. True, heartfelt forgiveness is an exchange. Today I encourage you to own your role in negative interactions and to take another look at them with an eye toward exchanging forgiveness instead of simply expecting it. And never forget that I love you.