Bernie Siegel


Often when someone apologizes the other person will accept the apology by saying, "Oh, forget it."

But do forgetting and forgiving have the same results?

This is an important question because forgiveness is at the heart of a healthy and happy life.  Forgiveness protects relationships.  It also protects the person who does the forgiving.  Remember the story that psychiatrist and author Robert Coles tells about Ruby, the little girl who integrated a Southern elementary school.  Every day the federal marshals had to escort Ruby through a mob of adults who spat at her and called her hateful names.  Remarkably, the five-year-old girl did not seem to be emotionally damaged by the ordeal, a fact that puzzled Coles until he discovered that Ruby prayed every day asking God to forgive her persecutors.

But what is forgiveness?  Is it the same as forgetting?

Forgetting has to do with self-interest or personal gain.  We want to be free of disturbing memories, so we try to put troubling events behind us.  Forgetting is a misguided form for getting peace of mind.  It is, when well done, like amnesia.  When you forget your past you can interact, in the present, with the people or things from your past that created a problem.

The problem is, what you forget doesn't necessarily go away.  Burying something in your back yard only hides it from view.  The things you forget may be buried beneath the ground of consciousness, but they live on beneath the surface and manifest themselves in your feelings and activities.  They show up in your dreams and your drawings and continue to be a part of your life, whether you are aware of them or not.  You are better off remembering troubling events, feeling the effects of the memory, and resolving the problem in a way that leads to true healing.  This can only happen when you forgive.

Forgiveness is a method for giving love.  It is a way of saying, "I am going to let go of the wrong you did; I am not going to be bitter and I am going to go on loving you anyway."  When we forgive we achieve the peace of the gods and become like gods.  God has no unforgivable sins; only people do.  Remember the hymn that ends, "He'll always say, 'I foget.'"  Forgiveness allows us to go on loving and to begin healing.  It is in for-giving that we receive.

God has three plaques over Her desk.  I'll tell you about the second and third ones later.  The first plaque says, "Everything you forget I remember, and everything you remember I forget."  Why?  Because God knows that forgetting means that injuries and wounds will not heal.  They will fester beneath the surface and lead to ill health--mental, physical, and spiritual.  Ruby could not have protected herself by forgetting how the howling mob was treating her--forgiveness was the only thing that could protect her.  Every time we forgive, we begin a new life, free of the past and open to love.  Remember, forgiveness is not only about your relationship with others but also about your relationship with yourself.

You are here to serve, not to be served.  All the holy prophets agree, we are here for giving, not for getting.  So try forgiving someone today.  Spend some time remembering something you've tried to forget, some wrong that has been done to you.  Remember, think, feel, understand and then forgive.

Siegel offers a collection of stories on dealing with life's difficulties. His intent is to pass on what others have learned in order to live happily. The prescriptions are evident in the chapter titles: "Family Matters," "Children, Creation, & the Voice of God," "Loving Yourself," "Loving Others," "Thriving in Bad Times," "Surviving Good Times," and, finally, "Prescriptions for Living." The personal anecdotes and touching stories come from Siegel's experiences as a surgeon and lecturer and from his own searching.


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