The hardest thing in the world, it seems to me, is to genuinely forgive someone. I don't mean just saying the words because your religion demands it, or your family expects you to. I mean genuinely letting go of the anger, the contempt, and the disgust you may feel towards the person who wronged you. I'm a former counselor and I am well aware that forgiving someone is supposed to be healthy. Holding on to rage and resentment ultimately does eat away at the person holding the grudge. I know that. And yet at many times in my life, I've found it difficult to forgive.
When I was in radio, during the 70s, I went up for a big job interview at a company where I really wanted to work. The guy conducting the interview was a well-known radio executive, and after a nice dinner, he invited me back to his hotel room to talk further about the opening. I suspected nothing-- we were two professional broadcasters, and I had been in hotel rooms many times talking radio with out-of-town guests. But when we got there, something changed. He didn't want to talk business. He wanted to do something else. He tried to get me to kiss him; he tried to unbutton my blouse; he tried to grab me and hold me close to him, even when I asked him to let me go. I was able to talk my way out of the situation, but he seemed totally surprised that I wasn't flattered by his attention. In fact, he said he could never hire anyone who didn't know how to be "nice" to him. As you may expect, I didn't get the job.
(If you've ever watched "Mad Men," now you know why I never was able to sit through even one episode. I couldn't watch it because I lived it. It brought back too many bad memories.) Anyway, I hated that guy for years. I know: I should have forgiven him. But I couldn't. I just couldn't.
In Washington DC recently, a famous Orthodox rabbi was convicted and sentenced to seven years in jail for spying on innocent and unsuspecting women who were using the mikvah-- the ritual bath that religious women use at certain times during the month and also use as part of a religious conversion ceremony. He had installed a hidden camera to watch the women as they undressed. Violating someone's personal privacy is disgraceful, but it's even more shameful for a rabbi to have done it. And of course, the question was raised about whether the victims should forgive him. I'm not sure. There's a part of me that says now that he is being punished, it's best to move on. But another part of me says that moving on is often easier said than done. I am sure it will take some of these women a long time to get beyond feeling betrayed by someone they trusted, a man who claimed to be a religious leader. I imagine the victims of pedophile priests felt the same way, even after some of the priests were arrested and sent to jail.
I believe that seeing the person who wronged you punished can certainly alleviate some (but not all) of the negative emotions. I believe, for example, that some of the victims of the Boston Marathon Bomber are glad he got the death penalty; it might provide that elusive sense of closure. (I must admit that, although I am generally opposed to capital punishment, in this case, I am fine about it: that young man, who was given so many opportunities to succeed in America, not only threw it all away, but intentionally put a bomb next to a little boy and his parents, and then walked on. And at his trial, he did not show any remorse at all. I can't think of one good reason why such a monstrous person should get to live out the rest of his life.) And yes, I know that some people, including some of the victims, asked that his life be spared. They are better human beings than I am. I don't think he should live one day longer than is absolutely necessary. And if this had happened to my child, I am not sure I could ever forgive.
I don't know where that leaves any of us: to forgive or not to forgive, that is the question. First, ideally, there must be justice. And if there can't be justice, there must be some way for the victim to let go of the pain and find a new purpose in life. I am not equating being sexually harassed or being the victim of a voyeur with what the Marathon Bomber did. I am simply saying that everyone who has been victimized is left with the same dilemma: finding a way to move forward. We all know that we shouldn't let a horrible event define us. But sometimes, that horrible event changes us in ways that are difficult to overcome. And yet, we have to overcome it-- or else the person who tried to hurt us wins. And if we let him win, that is the biggest injustice of all.