Can Friendship and Forgiveness Coexist? by
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Prompted By Forgiveness

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July 30 was International Friendship Day and tomorrow is International Forgiveness Day, so it seems very appropriate to address both of them today. Actually, putting them together poses an interesting question: Can you forgive a friend?

Can you forgive a friend? My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond something you can do to something you must do.

My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond something you can do to something you must do now, as August is also Happiness Happens Month. Of course, we don’t really celebrate any of these obscure holidays, but maybe we should.

The notion of forgiveness between friends is pretty complicated. For almost 46 years, my husband and I have belonged to a group of six families called a Chavurah (Hebrew for friends or comrades). We came together in the fall of 1974 and had no more in common than being 12 adults with 12 kids who happened to live near one another and were disillusioned with formal religion. Later we added 3 more kids and eventually joined a synagogue en mass. But my favorite memories stem from our early attempts to figure out our own brand of Judaism. And one of our most interesting moments happened when we tackled the issue of forgiveness.

Well, maybe we didn’t exactly tackle it. In fact, with most of us just having crossed into the mature age of 30-something, we had a five-minute talk that devolved into a resounding, “Let’s not go there.”

I guess forgiving friends is not something that happens until you reach a certain age, if ever. I know plenty of folks in their forties and fifties and beyond who are still nursing hurt feelings and something close to hatred for former friends. I have had friends declare they will never forgive people for what they considered deep betrayals.

One theory I have is rather obvious. It’s the old, you always hurt the one you love thing. So I get how it is hardest to forgive a BFF for saying or doing something hurtful. It’s shocking to discover the “B” and the second “F” weren’t really true. So, the closer the relationship, the greater the pain, and the lesser the chance of forgiveness.

But as I age, I have come to believe the power to forgive is always mine. Exercising that power makes me stronger, not weaker. It definitely makes me happier. Why on earth would I want to hold onto the pain of hating a friend for something that happened 30 years ago? Like Elsa from Frozen, my mantra is “Let it go.”

There’s a lot of power in forgiveness. Letting go of the hurt has opened me to the possibility of rebuilt relationships in some cases. In other cases, it showed someone who had bullied me that I was not going to carry that baggage with me, so their words or deeds didn’t have much weight.

Over many years as a preschool director, working with countless parents and teachers, I learned another truth about forgiveness. Much of the time, it turns out the hurtful behavior really had little to do with the target of the behavior. When co-workers or parents or teachers were attacked in various permutations, it was typically a projection of unhappiness elsewhere in the attacker’s life. It’s hard to look at it through that lens in the heat of the moment, but considering the possibility can help soften the blow. It can give the recipient the power to choose, if not forgiveness, at least not anger and hurt.

I guess entering the final month of summer, when the living used to be easy in our pre-pandemic lives, it is a pretty good time time to declare friendship days, forgiveness days, and a whole month devoted to letting happiness happen (if the latter is even possible now). Our Chavurah grew to 69 official members. Many of the 27 children and 30 grandchildren live out of town. Only one of our parents remains, basically making us the older generation. We recently lost one of our founding members, a very sad and deeply sobering experience as well as a reminder that we may be running out of time to extend forgiveness to others. So much has changed, but we are still the kind of friends who step up to the plate for one another.

And yet, as our group celebrates 46 years of friendship this fall, I wonder if we are finally ready to have that talk about forgiveness. Are you?

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Very nice reminder about the quality and strength of forgiveness, Laurie. Yes, we are bigger people if WE can offer forgiveness and “let it go”, not bear a grudge, not let the wounds fester. This is really good advise. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. Your wedding story made me think of so many sad instances of grudges that went on for so long in my family that I’m not sure the people understood why they were angry in the first place. My mother didn’t talk to her brother for years. When he was dying, I told her to go see him. She hesitated but so later very glad she did it.

  2. Hear, hear, Laurie…perfectly and beautifully said. I second that emotion! Here’s another aspect of forgiving I’ve been muling over: The real challenge is in forgiving someone without telling them that you’ve done it. Like any kind of giving; it’s best done without fanfare. Besides, if you tell them, chances are they’ll go into defense mode and ’round and ’round you go again.

    This prompt has sure given us a lot of food for thought…thanks for coming up with it!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yes, Barb, many times I have forgiven people but not talked about it with them. See the comment I made to Suzy. Sometimes I am hurt by something (I’m very sensitive) but the other party has no idea. It is my choice to forgive and impacts me far more than the other person, if that makes any sense.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    This story really raises very basic issues as to both friendship and forgiveness. And ones which, I must admit, I have never really thought about. And you make clear just how complicated this issues are. Perhaps, a relationship is not really about friendship unless it includes the capacity to forgive. Or, conversely, to paraphrase “Love Story,” maybe friendship means never having to say you’re sorry. (For the record, I think that’s a lot of crap.)

    So thank you for raising these issues, especially since your Chavurah group has avoided them for many decades. For your sake, I hope that you finally have that discussion with your group. And for our sake, I hope you share what you learn with us.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      John, I think an honest friendship means having to say you are sorry and having to forgive. I’m sure that group will never have that discussion because some of them are incapable of doing either. After all of these years, I just accet them for who they are. Perhaps that is a form of forgiveness?

  4. Suzy says:

    Very thoughtful and insightful essay, Laurie. As always, you are very wise. Still, I’m disappointed that you didn’t tell us a story about a specific instance of forgiveness in your own life. Maybe there aren’t any that you are comfortable sharing.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I could have added this, but in case she reads it… My dear friend now is someone I dropped for several years because of how her child mistreated mine. I never confronted her. I may have gently tried to talk about how my child was hurt, but the clear message was that her child could make her own choices about friends. So I let our relationship lapse. I can’t remember how we came back together. Our kids are obviously grown now and we don’t talk about the past at all. So I guess I have forgiven her, and I really do care about her. I just think we had very different parenting styles.

  5. Marian says:

    A wise story, Laurie, and the power is within us to forgive. Jewish tradition insists that you must ask the other person directly if you want to be forgiven, which takes some bravery. And I have found that it’s possible to forgive even if the person is out of your life for some reason. It lifts a burden.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I agree, Marian. It takes a lot of bravery to confront someone directly and ask for forgiveness. I think you are supposed to ask three times. While I have made my share of apologies to people, I’m not sure I have ever asked for forgiveness in this way. Nor has anyone asked me. I never turn away from an apology and my goal is to find a way to forgive people, although maybe not in the moment when I am feeling hurt. And I will never forgive Trump.

  6. Thanx Laurie for your thoughtful take on friendship and forgiveness.
    And I agree they can and should coexist – indeed at times we forgive our spouses, our children, our parents – why not our friends!

  7. Risa Nye says:

    I really enjoyed reading this thoughtful piece, Laurie. I remember when I was much younger thinking that by the time you turned 40 you would have things all figured out, that relationships would be uncomplicated and honest, and you wouldn’t make blunders or mess up friendships by saying something hurtful. Right. So, still learning and trying to listen and pay attention. (Note to self: read the room!) Thanks for sharing your insights here.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Risa. You are right above thinking at age 40 that we had life figured out. Ironically, many of the feuds and estrangements between my friends happened during that decade. With age, we hopefully gain the wisdom to forgive those who have hurt us, but I’m sure that is not a universal attitude.

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