During 2013, I read some good books, one of which was A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith. Being so attached to Chapel Hill, NC, where I went to college, you’d think I would have read it a long time ago – or least known that the famous author lived in the town for many years. I didn’t even know about the Betty Smith house, though I’m sure I’ve walked by it before.
I knew about the novel, though, and last summer, when my daughter (soon to be a freshman at UNC) was looking for something good to read, I suggested it to her. She read it, and then I did and immediately added it to my list of all-time favorite books. One of the story’s most memorable lines is spoken by the main character’s grandmother:
“‘Forgiveness is a gift of high value. Yet its cost is nothing.'”
Two characters in my latest novel, UNDERWATER, struggle with forgiveness. One of them faces the difficult task of forgiving someone who refuses to express remorse for a past wrong. The other deals with her own internal feelings of sorrow and shame. For both, the decision to focus on gratitude instead of hurt makes forgiveness not only possible, but much easier.
Like love, gratefulness may seem just to happen, but it’s really a choice. Another idea the story examines is the responsibilities – and limits – of generosity. When someone gives us a gift expecting nothing in return, we feel grateful, we want to reciprocate, and we want to be around them more. When the “gift” has strings attached though, we feel indebted, and we want to create distance from the giver.
While it’s good manners to reciprocate a gift, it’s not always possible to do so at the same level. Gratitude is possible, however. When a gift has strings attached, the giver doesn’t want a gift in return, or even just true gratitude. Instead, (s)he wants the recipient to feel indebted, and then to do something or to behave a certain way.
Forgiveness is a gift for which we should expect nothing back, however. No strings attached.
And its cost is nothing.