“To forgive and forget” is a prevailing idiom in our culture, but for most of us it is hard for us to truly let go and move forward in our lives. When dealing with a conflict, we need to let go of a past hurt, so that we can propel ourselves to a place of higher understanding and loving awareness. Forgiveness means giving up the anger or suffering of the past and being willing to forge ahead with far greater potential for inner freedom. As Mahatma Ghandi once said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
A stunning example of how forgiveness can transform anger and hurt into healing and peace is the incredible story of DUI awareness advocates Renee Napier and Eric Smallridge. In 2002, Smallridge, then 24, killed Napier’s 20-year-old daughter Meagan and her best friend while driving drunk in Pensacola, FL. Smallridge was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Napier coped with her immense grief by becoming an outspoken advocate against drunk driving, but according to an interview with ABC news, she felt her presentation was “missing something.” In 2006, along with the family of the other deceased girl, Napier established contact with Smallridge and began lobbying to reduce his sentence. She realized if he could join her in her campaign to stop drunk driving, together they might reach a much larger audience. She succeeded, and Smallridge was released this month after serving 11 years. Now the unlikely partners are touring Florida high schools, delivering the highly emotional tale of Meagan’s death. What’s more, Napier now says her daughter’s killer is “like a son” to her. Their astonishing story of pain and renewal is a true testament to the power of forgiveness.
But not everybody is Renee Napier. The problem for many of us is that sometimes we can choose to forgive one another, but still in our heart of hearts, the anger or resentment lingers. However, it is in fact possible to let go of past disappointments, hurts, and even blatant acts of abuse. Although at times this may seem implausible, forgiveness is a teachable and learnable skill that can dramatically improve with practice over time.
Look for the upcoming Part 2 of this post for clinically proven, concrete strategies for cultivating forgiveness. For now, reach inside yourself and ask this question: How has forgiving yourself or another let you move forward on your own journey? Don’t hesitate to share your story by commenting below.