I am not by nature (or by nurture!) a forgiving person. My maternal grandparents were from the wild western coast of Ireland, and our family seemed to take a certain cultural pride in holding long grudges. Our large family gatherings could be punctuated by someone remembering an old hurt – often raised with laughter, but also with pain and old anger that never seemed to go fully away.

The first time I remember really and truly forgiving someone was my husband, early in our dating relationship. If I tell the story of what I forgave it will seem like nothing, but the gist is that he asked me to wait in the car “for a few minutes” for him, and then took two hours. It was winter in Boston, and I was sitting in his car, which was running because I needed the heat. A Norah Jones cassette was playing on repeat from the dashboard. And I was sitting in the car stewing and feeling unimportant, and I didn’t have my phone. By the time he got back to the car – full of apologies – I was 100% sure I was going to break up with him. How could I stay with someone who would let me wait in his car for two hours in Boston winter?

We were about fifteen highway minutes from my own apartment at the time, and we sat outside my apartment – again with the car running, Norah Jones still on repeat – and he just stayed present while I expressed my complete “done”-ness with him. He didn’t defend himself, but he did share how much he felt we should be together, and that he was sure of it. And that he was sorry, really and truly sorry. And perhaps similarly to the experience of compassion I had with our shared daughter a couple of years later, something physical in me cracked open, and I forgave him. We stayed together.

At the time, when I told the story to my best friend, she was shocked. “You never, ever forgive guys for things like this,” she said, some wonder in her voice. “I know,” I said, in mild shock myself. “But I’m not pretending. I really did forgive him.” And I really did. When I hear Norah Jones playing somewhere, I remember the experience of forgiveness, rather than the accumulating anger I felt when I was in the car. I can remember feeling angry, but I can’t call up the anger itself. And I am so grateful, because a decade and a half later, I treasure him and am so grateful for all that he brings to our family life. My senses of love and gratitude are not tainted with accumulated angers.

I wish – can I say this sincerely? I think I can – I wish I could find that forgiveness for others in my life. I am willing to. How’s that for a start? When I really look at the places where I have let anger and hurt accumulate, I think I am afraid that if I forgive, I will deny the hurt, or deny my own experience of strength and resilience to overcome old hurts. There’s a meme out there about wanting to forgive our parents enough that we are free and clear, but not so much that they are off the hook. I wish I didn’t relate to that one so much!

It’s not an intellectual process for me – if it were, I’d have cleared all my decks. Intellectually, I know the value of forgiveness. I want the kind of freedom that comes from really letting go of old stuff. I have read – over and over – versions of Marianne Williamson’s quotation that “unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and expecting the other person to die.” And it’s so clear to me that that’s true – unforgiveness sits in my own body causing its own harm there. I don’t want a little well of poison inside my body!

But lately, I’ve started to wonder if I’ve been approaching the whole thing completely wrong – trying to excavate a well of poison hasn’t really worked. Because – again, going back to that post about compassion – when I felt real compassion for my crying baby, there was nothing to forgive. And yes, in theory, I “forgave” my husband, but when I look back, it seems kind of silly that I ever got mad at all. His taking longer than he intended and my sitting and stewing in my own irritation were circumstantial – they weren’t “real” in any meaningful way. I didn’t tap into compassion for him – not in the way that I did for my infant child – but I did tap into the actual love that I felt for him. Or I tapped into something that made a two hour wait in the car just … not matter.

I want to choose a life that is full of joy and laughter and love and prosperity and gratitude, and most of all, peace. I want to choose a life that is full of magic and synchronicity and sweet surprise. Maybe – maybe – committing to those, over and over again – will create the pathway to a life in which old hurts just don’t matter. In which I can remember that I felt hurt, and cheer that I was resilient – but that the details are just not important anymore. At the very least, I am grateful for the possibility.