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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I woke up this morning at 3:18 AM.  I was thinking about forgiveness.  I didn’t even try to get back to sleep, just laid there rolling it around in my head.  Because there is someone (and a list that is much longer than one, I’m afraid, but we’ll start with one) that I have been in need of forgiving for a long time.  Someone who hurt me deeply and repeatedly.  The anger that has risen in my chest and flashed in my eyes just would not burn out, no matter how often I thought of, engaged, avoided, or tried to forget this person.

I laid there thinking, “Forgiveness does not mean that what someone has done to you is right.  Or even ok.  But forgiving someone takes a weight of bitterness that is unsustainable off the shoulders of the person (me, in this case) who refuses to forgive.”  And, as I lay there thinking some more, “Maybe it takes a weight off the other person, too, whether they want to be forgiven or not.  Whether they think they need to be forgiven or not.  Whether they know they are being forgiven or not.”

The beauty of it, and the crushing irony, is that forgiving, in the end, is not in the hands of the  person who hurt you.  It is a choice you make that they have no control over.  You either forgive them or you don’t.  You either move on or you don’t.  You either keep drinking the poison of bitterness and hatred, or you don’t.  And it’s not as simple as just saying it.  It is difficult work.  It has taken years in this case.  But it is exhausting to hold onto hard feelings.  It is exhausting to want to hurt someone every time you see them or think of them.  And it affects everyone around us, whether we want to admit it or not.  Because when we are stuck on our obsession with another person, even if it is in our mind, even if they don’t know, we cannot be present with those who are right there in front of us.

It happened – or started to happen – as I was watching, of all

things, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the Tom Hanks’ movie about Mr. Rogers, whose main character, magazine writer Lloyd, could not let go of his hatred and anger towards his father, the father who had abandoned the family as the mother was dying of cancer.

Lloyd, like me, never really liked Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood growing up.  He was sent on assignment and was deeply skeptical of Mr. Rogers’ authenticity.  For some reason, I wanted to see this movie.

The movie starts with Mr. Rogers saying to the camera (to all his viewers who are children), “Do you know what it means to forgive?  It’s a decision we make to release a person from the feelings of anger we have at them.”

It was that moment I thought about the relationship I had been harboring such anger towards.  And in my mind, I said, Enough.  It’s time to move on.

It was that easy.  So easy it only took countless hours of anger obsessing over the relationship over years for me to get there.  And I suspect those feelings may return again, I don’t know, and I hope not.  But there felt something definitive about this time.  Instead of an act of the will, it felt like an act of kindness.  To the unsuspecting (or who knows, maybe suspecting) target of my anger.  And to me.

It seems to me that’s what Steve Wilkinson was proposing when he started Tennis & Life Camps and talked about sportsmanship being in our control.  How we treat others is in our control, even when they may cheat us, throw temper tantrums, make life on the court miserable for us.  Even when they are deliberately hurtful or make life off the court miserable for us.  Still, he always came back to saying, it is a choice how we treat others.  Always a choice.

So now what do I do, now that I had my “Come to Mr. Rogers” moment?

Now, it is on to the next person I need to forgive and release from my anger.  There will never be an end to them, as long as there are people in this world and I live in relationship with others.  And as long as there is a “me”.  Because even if I manage to forgive everyone in my life, there will always be one more who needs forgiveness from me. Me.

As the main character’s father lies dying near the end of the movie, this man who knows he screwed up his own life and the lives of so many people, he says to his son, “I’m so sorry for leaving you and your sister when your mom was dying.  It was selfish.  And it was cruel.  Will you look at me?  I am so sorry, son.”

And then he goes on to say, because he knows he is dying, “It’s 

not fair, you know?  I think I’m just starting to figure out how to live my life.  I’ve always loved you.”  Lloyd, for a moment  laying aside decades of justifiable feelings of hurt, anger, and bitterness, takes a first, tentative step.  “I love you, too, Dad.”

At age sixty, that’s how I feel sometimes.  How come these lessons are so difficult to learn?  Why do I need to relearn them over and over?  And why does it feel like I’m just figuring out some things that would have been so helpful when I was younger?  I might have only 1, 5, 10, 20, 30 years left.  A blink of an eye.

But a blink where, perhaps, I can now see more clearly.  That’s what forgiving feels like.  Seeing clearly for the very first time.


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