813: Forgiveness, Perhaps

813: Forgiveness, Perhaps

813: Forgiveness, Perhaps


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

From Luke Skywalker’s father, Darth Vader, to Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, our literature and movies are full of bad parents. I mean, imagine having Joan Crawford as your mother or Jack Torrance as your father. Although characterized in popular culture to the extreme, real parents are often recalcitrant and judgmental, critical of their children’s choices of friends, careers, partners. Parents play favorites or simply are neglectful and absent, leaving us loved-starved and wounded. They make irrevocable decisions that do lasting harm.

And yet, at a recent dinner party with friends and neighbors, I pronounced, rather assertively, that an important part of our journey in life is learning to forgive our parents. My dinner hosts, a generation older, vehemently disagreed. They reminded me that some events in life are too traumatic. Some abuses never meant to be forgiven. Some of us, they proclaimed, are simply out of the reach of healing.

In between bites of brussels sprouts and mint cucumber soup, we debated well into the evening how to make room for those familial slights and hurts that shape us. I did not want to give up the notion that reconciliation and empathy are possible. It just takes an opening up that feels like a cleaving of the heart.

I was speaking that evening as a witness. I have a relative who severely struggles. He never reconciled differences with his mother before her passing from cancer. He carries an ongoing feud with his father which has left him estranged and lonely. His efforts at medicating himself out of the feeling of being unloved repeatedly derails him. He is lost in an emotional labyrinth and, as an adult, has not moved beyond his resentment and outrage. How painful to watch someone you love entangled in a hurt they cannot overcome. But I know that forgiveness isn’t simple, or easy.

Today’s poem, through repetition, reminds us that forgiveness takes serious effort; it is an ongoing act of affording grace, mercy, and compassion, whose result allows us to live more fully in the present, rather than be destroyed by the past.

Forgiveness, Perhaps
by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello

Chrysanthemums blading open,
bell hollow round a sheep’s neck,
ram horn blood-warm and curled.

In Old English “forgiveness” is “to abandon.”
In this way, we were forgiven.


Instead of 자비, nearly mercy, 나비, butterflying
daughter-tongue always blurred and shearing into war.

Again. Again.

In Korean, forgiveness is 용서 where perhaps
용 is the dragon and 서 is the first thing done
so the second may be accomplished.

Again. Again. Again, brutal shepherd.

“Forgiveness, Perhaps” by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello. Used by permission of the poet.