Why Do I Love These People?
comes a time for many of us when we decide were not going to pass the
trouble on. No matter how bad it was for us, no matter how angry it still
makes us, no matter the mess we are in, we are clear on this: we will keep
it from hurting our children. They will know a better day.
Denise Hughes, as she is now
known, remembers the night she decided these would be the stakes that
defined her life.
It was sixteen years ago, on a
Friday night in Belfast. She sat on the couch, cuddling her
three-month-old baby, Gary, thinking of all the things she would do after
he fell asleep. Finally, his breathing slowed, and his eyes rolled back
under not-yet-shut eyelids, and Denise realized if she moved he would wake
up again. She was stuck on the couch a little longer. That was okay. Gary
was a gorgeous baby. The center of her life. About all she could do was
watch television. The news was on.
Her husband had left several
hours before, carrying a bag. He said only that he would be back tomorrow.
Denise had learned not to ask. She knew he had made his way up through the
ranks of a Loyalist paramilitary group. She was accustomed to the police
searching her house. She was accustomed to her husband being dragged off
to the Gough Barracks for questioning whenever there was a murder. Like
most in Belfast, Denise had grown up in this kind of environment, so she
didnt think too much of it. She was raised to believe the IRA was
murdering her people, trying to run them out of their country. Sixteen
years ago, she thought a little violence was an acceptable form of
vengeance. But she was about to see the dark side of it, and come to hate
it with a passion.
The television news cut to the
scene of a murder out in the countryside. A gunman had broken through a
familys living room window during dinner and shot the father, an IRA
leader. The mans eight-year-old boy held him as he bled to death.
They say that when you have a
baby, your way of looking at the world completely changes.
In that moment, holding her
baby, Denises perspective changed completely. Every son has a mother.
That boy has a mother. How could anyone do this to a mother?
Denise looked at her life and
realized that in eight years, that would be Gary holding his father. She
knew her husbands life would be short. It was inevitable. Her little
boy would grow up on the streets, where he would learn to throw bricks at
Catholics just for the laugh. Waste hours collecting boney wood and tires
for bonfires. Drinking to be one of the lads. Squat in empty flats, wait
on riots. Soon mugging people, and scamming the immigrants. He would end
up inside. She knew how impossible it was to prevent, because she had
soaked up those inclinations too. She had spent many Friday nights during
her teens down on Roden Street, in the Empire District. The road ended at
what used to be the Blackie River, but was then a huge construction site
for the new Westlink Highway, which divides the Loyalist South Belfast
from the Republican West Belfast. Fifty kids would be on either side of
the gap, hurling rocks and rubble at each other, singing fight songs and
screaming No surrender! Denise never felt hatred, she was just out
for the craic, the good time. Wee lads, too kids as young as
six would be there. It starts young. In Belfast, by the time a child is
two years old, he knows the orange shirts are the good guys and the green
shirts are the bad guys, or vice versa. Nobody escapes it.
Would it be any different for
her son? Was it possible to even dream he could end up different from his
father? Was there any chance he would learn to value his education, rather
than his hands his mind, rather than his fists? Would he ever know
there was a world out there to explore, beyond the so-called peace
walls that sliced Belfast into smaller and ever-smaller camps?
had happened? In the passing of a generation, Belfast had gone from being
a great city, a world leader in ship building, to a place strangled up in
knots over what your people did to my people.
looked at her sons face and made a promise that she would find a way.
She was in no position to make this promise. She had been out of school
since she was seventeen. She was twenty one now. She did not know that she
was already pregnant with her second child. She worked as an office girl
in a factory. She didnt have a penny in the bank. The course of her
life was set. But she would save Gary from it. Somehow, some way.
The next day her husband came
home, and within twenty minutes the police were at the door to question
She could not have this man as
her husband. A few weeks later, she was able to drive him away. Not a week
after that, he was shot by the police. He suffered brain damage, and he
was jailed for seven years for murder.
A second boyfriend rescued
Denise. He had some money and a semi-detached three-bedroom outside
Belfast in a quiet village called Moira. She couldnt believe her luck,
until she found out he enjoyed hurting women when he was drunk. Her
parents did not help her, and encouraged her to stick with it. (Whats a
little violence around the house, when theres so much in the streets?)
She was afraid to be on her own with her children, but when she found out
her bully was seeing someone else, she decided that was it. She got a
restraining order. One night he jumped the back fence and broke into the
house through the back window and tried to kill her. She broke two of his
ribs with a chair and called him an ambulance.
She was no fool. She had been
ready for him.
She did not want to move into
the public housing estates and live off the government, but she had no
choice. By then she had three children under five. She was afraid to let
her kids onto her own front patio. The most Denise could manage to improve
her lot was sign up for a correspondence course. Working was out of the
question the kids took every ounce of her strength. Her middle child,
Ashleigh, was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. Denises mother
lived several miles away, and helped out only a little.
That was my lowest
point, she recalled. She became ansty at the memory, and her words came
urgently, rushing, as if she needed to get out of this bad neighborhood
before she was recognized by someone from the old days. The only way
was up. It couldnt have gotten worse. I was 26, and I was like an old
woman. I did not know happiness. I did not know how I had got into the
mess that was my life. I resented my parents, and I resented my children.
I was lost.
she was, but it could have been worse. Unable to control her own
fate, she could have whacked her kids around to establish control at home.
She could have found her escape in a bottomless bottle of beer. She could
have channeled her frustration, as so many do, by flying the Union Jack
and complaining about the Taigs down the road. Hers was a stormy house,
for sure, but even at her lowest point, Denise was sound. She had a clear
mind. There was no hate in her, no blame. She was willing to try another
way. And if life gave her a chance, she would not look back.
It did, and she didnt.
The chance came when she
walked her kids to school one day, and on the walk home stopped off at a
butcher shop for some sausages. There was a new guy behind the counter,
Brian Hughes. He caught her eye, then chatted her up. He was soft spoken
and had an amusing temperament. He had been laid off from a job selling
textbooks and had fallen back on the family trade. Brian had learned to
cut meat at the age of six, as soon as he could see over the counter at
his fathers shop in Portadown.
Unlike my father, Im not
going to be doing this forever, he promised Denise.
Denise did the stupid thing
girls often do with guys they like: she matched him up with her
girlfriend. Luckily, their date was a disaster.
He was so boring, her
Boring sounds pretty good
to me, Denise said, thinking about the fathers of her children.
Soon after, Denise was out in
her front garden when Brian drove by on the way to a friends. He got
out and said hello. They spent three hours sitting on the curb, chatting.
Brian was Catholic, but it did
not seem to matter at least at first, when their attraction was
private. Brian had been to university. He was an open-minded man. What
side he took on The Troubles was not high on her list of criteria. He had
been married before as well, but he did not have kids. Like Denise, his
priority was finding someone who did not resemble his previous spouse.
They kept their relationship
secret for a year and a half. Not just because of the taboo of dating the
enemy. They had both been burned before and did not want to endure another
public retraction if it did not work out. And Denise did not want to
expose her children to a man until she was sure about him. She was in no
I asked Brian why he fell in love with Denise, he said firmly, Im
willing to see people for who they are. He loved that she was loud and
brash and did not back down. He could always hear Denise walking toward
the butcher shop, hollering after her kids. They bonded over films and
philosophy. The first time they kissed, he said, It went through my
bones and straight to my soul.
you might wonder why an educated guy like Brian Hughes fell in love with
an undereducated mother of three living in public housing. Well, Denise was
all that, but not around Brian. The Denise he knew left her kids with a
babysitter and met up with him late at night. The part-time relationship
suited Denise perfectly. It was all of the affection, with none of the
responsibility. On Brians lunch hour, he walked up the hill a
hundred yards from the butcher shop to a red phone box and called Denise.
certainly did not have it easy, but their love was in a bubble. When
bubbles pop, though, love becomes just a consideration.
of what Brian was facing. He wasnt even sure he wanted kids. Denise
already had three! He was just a butcher, with a mind for a better life.
Would he ever get there, if he took on four mouths to feed? What if they
needed expensive schools? Then, what about the politics? Brain liked to
believe it didnt matter a bit to him, but politics are so pervasive in
Northern Ireland that nobody can claim to be unbiased.
was from Portadown. He drove me around his old neighborhood, pointing out
the locations of every shop that had been bombed, and he took me down the
parade streets that were currently the subject of protests and burnings.
As a teen, he would be searched by the street police for no reason. Even
if he could look past Denises loyalties, could his family? Could his
friends? Could the guys at work? Northern Ireland is not like America,
where a couple can move to a new city for a clean start. Your past never
leaves you. No matter where you are, everyone knows what side you are on.
Now imagine what Denise was
facing. She thought Brian was great, but she had thought the last two guys
were great too. Could she trust her judgment? There was no way her
family or friends would accept Brian. Denise was from South Belfasts
The Sandy Row, an insular and tight-knit Loyalist stronghold. From the
time she was six years old, she knew what to do when they got a bomb
warning: crack the window sash, so the window merely rattles and doesnt
blow in. Then walk up to Library Hill or Saint Aidans and wait out the
bombing. She did not meet a Catholic person until she was sixteen. When
Denise took me to her old neighborhood, I quickly understood why she would
be afraid to bring Brian here. The prejudice is not subtle.
Northern Ireland is no bigger than the state of Connecticut, and it
has a population similar to Columbus, Ohio. Since 1969, there have been
over 37,000 shootings and 16,200 bombings. That last figure does not
include the petrol bombs regularly hurled over the peace walls.
It takes a special couple to
not be intimidated by the social pressure to choose someone from your side
of the wall. Then there are the interpersonal pressures.
Twice Brian moved in with
Denise and the kids, to try it out. Neither time did he last more than
three days. Denise was too territorial, too accustomed to being the only
boss in the house. You make me feel like an unwelcome lodger, Brian
told her on the way out. He went to England for a few months to take a
breather. Denise wrote him a Dear John letter breaking up with him.
Brian wrote back with a wedding proposal and flowers. She said yes, right
away. They courted properly for a year before marrying. When Denises
mother asked after his religion, Denise refused to answer. All the kids
asked to take Brians name. The two girls asked to call him Dad.
Gary called Brian by his name. They found a house in Lisburn, a few miles
from Belfast, and hoped that nobody came knocking on the door at night.
had done well in her correspondence courses. Brian encouraged her to
consider attending a proper university.
Its the next step, he
I cant, she said.
Not with children.
You would be surprised,
He encouraged her to at least
go with his younger brother to a recruiting fair at the University of
Ulster in Jordanstown. There, she learned that because she was older, she
was eligible for a two-year fast track degree.
Great, Brian said.
Wholl mind the
Well figure it out,
he assured her.
It is hard to comprehend how
controversial this notion of going back to school was. In the United
States, finding someone to look after her kids would be Denises biggest
obstacle. Not so in Northern Ireland. When Denise was seventeen, she had
wanted to attend university. But her parents told her to get a proper job.
Her father worked at the shipyards, while her mother was a nurse at
Belfast City Hospital. The Protestant culture of Northern Ireland teaches
that the only honest work is work done with the hands. Paper pushing is
not the way decent folks make a living. For a century, the Protestants had
a monopoly on the jobs at the shipyards. Even today, young men aspire to
being plasterers or joiners or bricklayers, though the jobs are scarce.
More likely they will join the army. It is an informal caste system, and
people do not aspire to move up in class. This is who you are, this is
where you belong. Their life is a noble life. Going to university
was seen as a betrayal of their culture. Anyone who did so faced the
accusation of being a haughty social climber. To reach for a different
life was to insult the life of those you were leaving behind.
When I told my mom I was
going to university, she nearly had a coronary, Denise remembered.
She is now very proud of me, because shes seen Ive done it. But
back then, she said I needed to be home making dinner. She didnt think
the education would help me any. She offered to get me a job mopping
floors at night if I needed money.
The Catholics did not have
this reservation. They had been oppressed and ruled for more than 200
years in Ireland by the British, and in Northern Ireland they had been
precluded by law from holding good jobs until the early 1960s. Education
was their only way up. Thus, Brian was sent to university while Denise was
not. In Northern Ireland the creed that worships tradespeople is so strong
that a simple shop owner, like a butcher, is not considered a tradesman.
Shop owners are considered capitalists, as if they descended from lords
and landowners. And in a way, thats a fair analysis, because Brian
certainly had the entrepreneurs mindset with a bright mind, a
little school, and some hard work, you can change your fate.
their fate they did. Brian started to learn computers, and he soon was
working for himself installing and maintaining systems for small
businesses. This gave him the flexibility to get through the days
various obligations. Money was tight, but they made it. Brian went from
being unsure he wanted children to caring for three several hours a day.
He found he liked it, and he wanted more. Denise went through two
miscarriages. When she took her final exams, she was three months pregnant
with their fourth child, Conor. Her GPA was 2.2. I barely made it!
she laughed. I got such satisfaction though. I felt like a human
human being with a head full of ideas about feminism and political
tolerance which made it hard to go over to girlfriends houses to
discuss window drapes and the new clothing on the racks at Marks &
Spencers. Denise lost the last of her old friends in a short time. That
was okay; she didnt fit into her old self any more. Shed put on
fifty pounds of mental muscle. She had grown up knowing who her people
were. Now she was an individual. And she wondered where this new
life was taking her. What was she going to do, now that she had a
mind of her own?
made an astute judgment: She did not ask herself what her intellectual
strengths were. She did not analyze which fields were growing and which
were shrinking. Instead, she looked for her purpose in what made her
angry: the sectarian divisiveness that she had come to hate. Then she
looked for organizations where she might do some good. Brian was already
the capitalist in the family. He was starting to bring in some money. That
freed her, in a way, from feeling like she couldnt take a risk.
first job was with an organization that retrained former paramilitaries
after they had served their time in prison. She turned them into
productive workers again. She was good at it, because she had traveled a
bit of this road herself. After two years she moved to another
organization that helps train the police to understand the local
communities. In Belfast, the police are considered a third religion. They
have had to deal with so much violence for three decades that they have
closed ranks, in a way, and have created their own way of life separate
from the neighborhoods they patrol. Denise runs seminars with police that
are part healing sessions, part cultural education.
does not live in the dangerous neighborhoods of Belfast any more. But her
work takes her back there, and she is known as a fair person. So she has
unique access to both sides. She was able to drive me through some
enclaves that only the locals get to enter, such as The Village in South
Belfast, where UDA paramilitaries fly their flags over their bars, and
Twinbrook in West Belfast, where unemployment is at 85 percent and one in
three girls is pregnant by age fourteen.
I have great admiration for
Denise. In trying to save her childrens lives, she ended up saving her
own. Not only had she and Brian changed their fate over the last ten
years, but she was giving back, trying to fix what she can, one mind at a
Gary became a teenager.
and Denise work each other constantly, pushing and negotiating. They do it
with the furious pace of rap music, the longest sentence rarely more than
a few words. On the way home from rugby practice, Gary convinced his mom
to stop for some French fries from a Chinese take-out. Sensing a soft
heart, he went for more:
Chips and fish,
Two chips then?
Okay. Pause. Get two
and share them with your siblings.
One for me and one for
Ill just get one
No, Gary. Get two. And
share them. And thats it.
But I dont get much food
put out for me!
Youll share them,
Which he did. Neither ever
wins a negotiation free and clear. When he concedes he needs to take a
shower, he tries to get something in return such as a few quid for the
next days lunch. When Denise agrees to drive him to a match, he begs
her to drive him in the new car. Theres no quit in him. Or her. She
keeps him just uncomfortable. They are two very strong-minded people.
A couple years ago, Denise
started to realize she was no match for Garys peers. She could take him
out of Belfast, and thereby keep him from joining up with the gangs, but
she couldnt keep him from soaking up the culture and the culture
was already soaked with prejudice.
One day he came home wearing a
blue Rangers scarf. All the Protestant boys wore them, but if they wore it
in the wrong neighborhood they could get shot. On one hand, it just showed
his support for a soccer team. On the other hand, it was a statement, a
symbol of political affiliation. Usually, its intent is to offend, to
Did this not cross your
mind!? Denise gasped.
Its only football,
It labels you!
Lay off, Mom.
Brian came in, took one look
at the scarf. So you support Rangers then?
Whos their top striker
Flustered, Gary admitted he
had no idea.
Denise could challenge any
outright racist comments Gary learned, but the cultural references were
too ingrained to avoid. He didnt yet have a job or a girlfriend or
anything to stake himself to. In that vacuum, he glommed on to the culture
as a form of identity.
I was asked what religion I
was today at school, he said one night.
How did you answer?
Really? What church do you
go to then?
Then how are you
Protestant? If you dont go to church?
And Brians fathers
Brians father doesnt
take me to footballers, does he?
Gary, if you were in
America, and your father was Mexican and your mother was Italian, you
could say you were both, right?
Youre both, Gary. You
are both and you are neither, because you dont go to church and neither
When they are at a certain
age, it feels like nothing you say to your child makes a damn bit of
difference. They are simply not listening to you, not trying to impress
you. Gary did not even seem to notice how radically his mother had changed
her fate. Every time he walked out the door, she feared the world would
take him away. There was simply nothing to occupy these kids, nothing to
do but loiter. Her work took her down to Cluan Place and Clandyboye,
where there were masses of youths milling about, bored out of their
skulls, drinking, shooting heroin, and she wondered how long it would be
before Gary ended up here.
And where to?
Really? What do you want to
Its good craic.
You want to watch grown men
get drunk and throw up on each other? That your idea of a good time?
Just be with my friends,
Women getting into
catfights, women hitting each other with bottles, someone light up a pile
of tires? Explain to me why that is an interesting evening and I will take
you down myself.
Sounds fun, actually.
Kick everything Catholic
while youre at it.
You went to bonfires when
you were a girl.
And you could get a burger
and an ice cream. Its sinister now. Its naked sectarianism.
do I tell my friends?
You tell them your mom took
you to Pizza Hut and rented you two DVDs and we sat on the floor and
Pizza Hut? Or Mexican?
All right. Mexican.
The new car?
decided to look into the history being taught at Garys school. They
taught him about the kings and queens of England. They even taught him
about the Mormon church and the native Americans. But regarding the
history of Northern Ireland, they skimmed the Easter Rising and that was
it. It was a typical British version of history, straight from the
textbooks. Little effort was made to inform the students about the war
dividing their own country. The school was doing nothing to counteract the
prejudice picked up on the streets.
Denise realized her only tool
to shape her sons horizons was to change his environment. She
encouraged Gary to apply to better schools. Gary chose the school with the
best rugby team, which also happened to have an esteemed academic
reputation. The night he was accepted, Denise was over the moon, crying,
so proud. Her friends and parents didnt understand why it was worth the
money, but Denise never hesitated.
after, she and Brian moved into the countryside, to an old farmhouse 40
minutes from Belfast. It is a half mile from the nearest shop. Theres
no way to get in trouble out there.
A funny thing happened to
Denise and Brian when they moved to the countryside. There was practically
never a moment to enjoy being in the country. They turned into a
prototypical modern couple, stretched in all directions, constantly
driving their children to their activities, and rarely eating as a family.
Their entire lives became consumed by logistics. Their four children were
in four different schools. One took the bus, one took a taxi, one rode
with Dad, one walked a mile to a carpool pickup. Denise and Brian became
ships passing in the night. Like most couples stretched thin, they managed
to do all this by sleeping little. Denise had become a Supermom, burdened
by her ambitions to do every part right. The sum was less than the parts.
In theory, a woman with a
background like Denises would be thrilled to have a modern mothers
problems. In theory, she would have that elusive trait we all crave, perspective.
Shed be amused that her only challenge is to get her five year old
to eat two more bites of pasta before he gets his ice cream. Nothing a
modern mother goes through could upset her. But so much for theory. Denise
was not above all that. She was consumed by it, same as anyone.
And she found herself longing
for the old days. Those days when it wasnt just you and your husband
against the world. Those days when you had grandmothers and uncles around,
and neighbors to help out. Her own mother had not watched the kids in four
years. Denise found herself longing for the sense of community she had
known, growing up in The Sandy Row. The houses were tiny 2 Up/2Downs, and
nobody had any money or sent their kids to special schools but they
looked after each other. Nobody bothered to lock their doors. As a
little girl, when she walked down Abingdon Road, the people in every
single row house knew her name. Her grandmother had worked as a nurse in
the maternity ward of Belfast City Hospital, so Gran could honestly say to
every single kid, I held you when you were a baby. Gran took care of
Denise every evening while her mother worked the night shift.
She was six years old back in
1974, when the Ulster Workers Strike brought down the Stormont
government. And though it was a time of strife, Denise had nothing but
fond memories. In the eyes of a child, it was like a big carnival. For a
while, nobody had any food or electricity. The schools were closed. Denise
wandered along the railway wall, where families propped up corrugated iron
to make lean-tos, and they turned over oil drums to light fires to keep
each other warm, and she would walk campfire to campfire, be handed soup
and toast, sing songs. Everyone stuck together. Everyone shared.
Denise knew she had made a
tradeoff. She knew she had chosen to leave that way of life. But it hurt.
She became desperate for a sign that it was worth it. Desperate to know
all she had done in ten years actually made a difference. Would it ever
pay off? Would she ever know a day that her children would think for
themselves, with their own clear judgment?
she saw Gary at home, it was to bookend his day, twenty minutes on either
end. He seemed to change girlfriends more often than his underwear. He got
a job at a restaurant bussing tables, but who knew what he might get into
Then one February day Gary
came home from school and announced he was going to America. Denise
thought he was kidding.
You are, are you? she
I am, mom.
California, I suppose?
Nope. Somewhere called
What are you getting on,
My school nominated me. Do
you know what the Ulster Project is?
Youre in the Ulster
You know it then?
Yeah I do. Every year, a
dozen Catholic and Protestant teenagers from Northern Ireland did a
two-week exchange program with teens from Ohio, to broaden their minds.
Gary, youre in the Ulster Project!
Didnt I just say so?
But why you?
Dunno mom. Maybe because of
all that charity work I did.
What charity work?
For Make A Wish.
The class project?
It wasnt a class
project, Mom. Me and my friends, we did it on our own.
Those candles you sold?
Denise couldnt believe it.
the candles, the donuts. And the t-shirts we made, and that cross-country
run we held.
Gary, I thought that was a
No Mom, you were always
saying do something worthwhile.
Gary! How much did you
More than anyone in
Denises eyes filled with
tears. For so long she and Gary had been pushing each other that she never
really knew where his mind stood. But now she knew. It had been worth it.
Worth every moment.
When do you go?
In July. But we start
meeting at St. Johns next week.
With Catholic kids?
Good thing I told them I
was Protestant when they were asking, huh?
Gary went to Ohio last July.
They met with the governor, and then the two dozen teens flew to
Washington, D.C., where they took mass at the Basilica of the National
Shrine of Immaculate Conception, one of the largest Catholic churches in
the United States. That afternoon, Gary called his mom. She went to bed
that night with two images that defined her life. Sixteen years ago,
Garys father had walked out the door. Sixteen years later, Gary sat for
mass in a Catholic church in America. There is no higher reward for a
mother than knowing your child has turned into a fine human being.
would like to ask you now to see Denises story another way. Take it
beyond the peace walls of Belfast, beyond the borders of Northern Ireland,
and back over the ocean into your home. Whats the connection? Belfast,
to me, was like a big extended family, locked in a grudge, unable to get
over its anger, with a few siblings crying out Come on, get over it!
Hughes family was able to change its fate because Denise and Brian have
been willing to see each other for who they are, not who they used to be.
They were willing to believe that life did not always have to be this way.
They were willing to change. This is a remarkably simple truth, and its
not even controversial we need to be willing to change! and yet
how often are relationships ground down by people who are unwilling to
give up the past? That day in the butcher shop, Denise did not see a meat
cutter, and Brian did not see a woman who had forgotten what happiness
felt like. Each saw a good person.
I was in Belfast, I found myself thinking a lot about whats involved in
forgiving someone. What does someone in your life need to do to be
forgiven by you? What must happen, if anything, before you are willing to
see them for who they are today, rather than for what they did to you long
ago? How does someone redeem themselves, in your eyes? Do they need to
admit what they did? Do they need to repent? Do they need to have changed
their ways, and if so, for how many years before they have proven to you
they are truly deserving?
irony of Belfast is that despite the Protestant-Catholic street war of the
last 35 years, it is hardly a religious place. Only twenty five percent of
people there go to church more than twice a year. It is not a
religious war, it is a political war. That said, there are religious roots
behind it, which have created two very different philosophies of
forgiveness and redemption. The Protestant notion of redemption is
different from the Catholic notion. Both have merit. These are ideas we
all struggle with, when we consider forgiving the people in our family.
school of thought evolved from the Calvinist idea that good people are
chosen by God before birth. Their souls are predestined, and they do not
redeem themselves (God or Jesus did the redeeming for you). Character is
fate, and one who acted badly in the past will probably act badly again.
Its that hard-liner mentality, very suspicious of anyone who argues
Hey, but Im nice now. People who hurt us in the past are to be
regarded with great skepticism, and we must be wary that their cleansing
ritual wasnt just an empty pantomime. Every time someone screws up,
that is proof they have not really changed. This is the guarded voice in
our ear, the one that wants to lay out tests before forgiving. At heart,
its the voice of someone deeply hurt, who wants to never be hurt again.
other school of thought evolved from the Catholic notion that everyone
since Adam and Eve has screwed up. We are all marked with stain and sin.
Only through continual self examination of our faults and repentance can
we redeem ourselves. Not only can our fate be changed, but it must
be changed to lead a good life. And what goes for me applies to everyone
else, too. We are expected to believe that people can change. We are
supposed to give them the benefit of the doubt. We have to forgive
them, from the moment they confess or atone. In fact, in this school of
thought, true atonement is a private examination it does not have to
happen in public, meaning there does not have to be a public confession.
This moral examination must indeed happen, and it must be sincere, but the
person who wronged us is not required to show remorse or beg or admit
everything they ever did wrong. Under the other school of thought, the
burden of proof is definitely on the atoner. In this school of thought,
the burden shifts to the forgiver. It is hard to forgive someone
when they simply tell us theyve changed, but they havent really
offered any proof. This is the voice in our ear that says we need to
forgive people in order to move on regardless of whether they have
properly apologized. This is the voice that knows holding on to resentment
is poisonous. This is the voice that wants to let go of that anger, wipe
it clean, despite legitimate fear we might be opening the door to being
hurt all over again.
all have these two voices in our heads. For some, one voice is dominant.
Some people set themselves up to be hurt over and over. Some people live
rigidly, accepting ever fewer people into their kingdom.
one can tell you that you need to be more forgiving, or that you need to
let your guard down. No one can say that you need to accept everyone in
your family for who they are today, ignoring what happened back then. But
hatred serves no purpose, and there is no profit in hanging on to a
grudge. The way you think about forgiveness is probably not the only way.
There are many approaches to forgiveness that cultures have developed for
thousands of years. These are taught and passed on, like languages. If
your way is not getting you anywhere, you might consider others. Learning
how to forgive is another right of passage every family must figure out.
your enemies is the easy part. The hard work is in forgiving those you
trusted to care for you, those precious few you believed would keep your
interests in mind, the one person you thought would never do that to you.
Forgiving those you love is not something you do once, like a ceremony.
Its required of you, in some form, every single day.