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This is an article regarding an item that appeared in the SUN Magazine, an excellent literary magazine I cannot live without. The first part may be confusing, with no reference point for the reader, i.e., you, but the last part takes on questions of altruism, forgiveness, and personal responsibiity. I thought it might be somewhat thought-provoking. The Sun's articles are archived, by the way. I would welcome input on the second paragraph. I think a lot about altruism -- if it indeed exists. It is said from the moment a newborn looks at the mother (father), or smiles, or gurgles cutely, the parent is hooked, i.e., is already rewarded. Does altruism exist? Does evil exist? Does love exist? Is forgiveness really possible?
I know that Anne Lamott is a very respected writer, and have one of her wonderful books. So it’s with either chutzpah, or maybe just some nascent senility that I presume to comment a bit dubiously on one of her selections in your Nov .2000 issue, the story Forgiveness. Contentwise, I think, it is a gem: one woman’s litany of bitterness, which eventually leads to an epiphany about her constant projection, enabling her, finally, to carry and own her own demons and fears. This tale of recognizing one’s role in one’s own misery was a touching and instructive confessional. I do have to admit, though, that, in rereading, I’m still haunted by the feeling that the “enemy” sports at least some parts agenda, i.e., I myself cannot quite vindicate her, though truly I try. But what bothered me most in the story was not its theme, but rather the relentlessly lavender prose: so cute, so self –consciously cute, so, well, distractingly adorable, that it could not flow for me well. I kept thinking, oh, chuckle, that’s cute. I felt at times like I was reading a Meg Ryan script.
Nonetheless, like all good essays, Lamott’s journey through perception and misperception created deliciously confounding food for thought : Is there, I found myself wondering,, such a thing as pure, altruistic forgiveness? Not as described here, where the “maligning” or “offending”party is excused, or redefined, based upon projection. That is to say, is it possible sincerely to forgive without first withdrawing blame from the other party, by citing, for instance, circumstances such as too much or too little money, poor upbringing, physical disability, insanity, etc.? In another issue appears ta story in which a murdered son’s mother forgives and adopts her son’s shooter. First, and very importantly, however, she must see to it that the old person (the shooter) (virtually) perishes, and is then reborn as something wholly other. In this instance, too, forgiveness cannot be accomplished in the absence of a metamorphosis. Either the sin, it seems, or the sinner, must be altered. Perhaps the answer is that, by simply initiating such a metamorphosis, or by following up on the heels of an epiphany, the first step is taken in a painful, viscerally repugnant, and in some instances, almost unimaginable (altruistic? (and here we are in a viscious cycle of tautology) act of forgiveness. Having hypothesized this, however, I remain skeptical, still sensing that some woundings are so deep that what appears to be forgiveness is actually a survival mechanism, desperate self-defense, a way to continue on in the face of unspeakable loss.