Reversing time is not the only paradox about forgiving. When we forgive someone, we are not doing it for the person who hurt us. In fact, forgiving is not about that person at all. It’s about and for me. But forgiving only works if I let go of “me.” After all, that’s what forgiving does—let’s go of “me.”
Here, I would like to digress a moment to recommend a movie, The Cup, a delightful story of the adventures of young Tibetan monks in India and their schemes to get to watch the World Cup on TV. At the end of the movie, the abbot is lecturing the young monks on seemingly mystical line from the eighth century Indian philosopher Santideva. Santideva was an appropriate choice for these young monks with their minds on football. He was mocked as the “eat-sleep-walk around” monk, until he recited his classic work The Way of the Bodhisattva.
I first paid attention to the line the abbot is teaching in the movie when I received it as one of Tricycle magazine’s Daily Dharmas during the very trying time described in the flat tire incident.
Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But just leather on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.
In the movie, the old monk illustrates Santideva’s advice with the Buddhist virtue of compassion. I cannot possibly overcome all enemies, he says. But during each moment that I act with compassion, I will remove hatred from the world in which I live. You can’t get more practical than that.
Santideva tells us to wear shoes since we can’t cover all the rough surfaces of the world to protect our feet. When we forgive, we practice the same principle, even though we’re taking our shoes off, along with all our body armor. When we forgive, we free our feet to heal. We let our body-self with all its bumps, bruises, cuts and wounds breathe the open air.
We walk lightly over, through, or around the broken glass, sharp stones, and thorns still in our path. We couldn’t possibly sweep them all up. We don’t worry about that. We just walk lightly because we’re not wearing the heavy shoes of defensiveness, nor carrying heavy loads of resentment.
We don’t bother about trying to sweep up all the broken glass in the world. That’s another paradox of forgiving. To forgive is not to forget. That glass is still there. We need to be aware of that broken glass so that we can step lightly over, through and around it.
And the final, double paradox of forgiving is that we can’t stop there. We do care about others’ stepping on those shards of glass. Once we stop thinking about “me” and the wrong done to “me,” once we become aware of all the broken glass, sharp stones and thorns in our way, and we become light enough to avoid them, we realize that Santideva’s shoes, the open-toed shoes of compassion, don’t fit unless we share them with others.