Malcolm Boyd: Maybe a substitute word for “forgive” is “understand.”



Women Writing



With my 90th birthday approaching, I find myself asking two big questions: Whom do I forgive and for what?  Whom do I not forgive and for what?

Let’s move to a camera  closeup of my father and me.  Of course, one would have to raise the question: Is there any way he and I can fit easily into a single picture together?  Now long deceased, he was never dad to me.  Nor did we fit into anything lilke an identifiable family.

Now I’ve learned not to blame him for the absence in my life of a dad or, inideed, a chlldhood.  Unfortunately I was an only child.  I always wished that I might have shared those early years with someone.  My father and mother had their own problems whichl probably I’ll never completely understand.  My father had become an alcoholic and what can only be described as a dude with dames.  Before I was 10, my parents had divorced.  I moved with my mother from Manhattan to Colorado Springs.  My life changed completely. One big lack, of course, was a childhood.

I remember vividly a childhood event at a Christmas when I was in high school.  My father’s Christmas present for me arrived in the mail.  My father’s gift!  So I was loved after all.  I tore open the box.  Here would be evidence of his love.  Alas, the package contained a suit of clothes I would never wear (it didn’t fit and the color was wrong) and a book I’d simply never wiish to read.  Far more important, a terrible truth emerged: My father did not know me.  I felt simplly and devastatingly unknown.

Flash forward.  It’s 15 years later.  I’ve survived and am OK. My life is on track. Now I’m back in New York, visiting my father in nearby New Jersey.  He hasn’t taken a drink in years and is engaged in a healthy, happy third marrriage.  I like her very much.  I’m happy for him, and her, and myself.  In a short time he would die after a heart attack.  As a recently ordained Episcopal priest, I would conduct his burial. 


Forgive?  Of course.  I came to realize it’s not the “big” issues that concerned me now when it came to harboring resentments or dealing with forgiveness.  On the other hand, the new reality concerned “small” things — like deliberate dishonesty, utter falsehood, living forever in the ramifications of a boring lie.  It’s always hardest for me when “there’s no there there.” Now, seated with my father and his loving new wife. there was clearly a “there there.” Toward the end of his life I discovered a telling part of my father’s youth I had not known about.  When he was a small boy his own mother and father had died in a sad accident.  He and his brother survived.   They were close. Then his brother died unexpectedly at a young age.  It was not fair to make assumptions about my father’s early life when I did not know the true story. 

Perhaps more important, I came to realize that I’m no saint when it comes to human relations. 


Maybe a substitute word for “forgive” is “understand.”


None of us is going to “like” different people with any kind of equality.  Yet life itself places us in situations with all kinds of people.  Some we’re uncomfortable with.  Others are enigmas. 


One of my favorite parts of living is when — perhaps suddenly — a breakthrough appears.  I realize that I’m simply here, in this given scene, with yet another human being like myself. I’m pleasantly surprised to realize that we are sharing our beng human. I don’t have to sit in judgment on another life.   May I share it?        🙂

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