Marriage is a lifelong assignment for those who choose to accept it. The going gets rough. Then it gets rougher. For those who just can’t persevere, there is divorce. But for the rest of us, there is forgiveness.
The definition of forgiveness in some dictionaries includes the word pardon. I think this is the crux of why so many people have trouble with the word. But I favor those dictionaries that define forgiveness as “giving up resentment” and “giving up the right to hurt someone who hurt you.” Yes. Letting go of the idea of revenge. In marriage, there are so many occasions of one partner hurting another, that in order to go on, there must be that sort of forgiving. The letting go of the desire to get even, damn it.
Forgetting is another thing, altogether. How can someone forget an infidelity? A cruelty? And yet, all of us are cruel at one time or another, and many are not faithful. Fiction is littered with stories of betrayal, lust, marital “cheaters,” and revenge. We love to read about those people who dare to do what we might not have the guts to do, and we revel in their punishments.
As a person who has survived a very long marriage, I write about it in my novels as the obstacle course that it is. Anyone who has stayed married to the same individual for more than twenty years deserves a medal, as far as I’m concerned. But I write about those people who have somehow figured out how to forgive their partners, even if the forgetting part is impossible.
In Keep the Ends Loose, my first novel, we have Winnie and Roy Heath, long-married, comfortable and happy. Then, predictably, a secret is revealed that absolutely shatters their entire family. Winnie, in her anguished mind, thinks that giving everybody permission not to forgive her for her sins will somehow make everything all right. Roy, on the other hand, knows in his heart that we all are guilty of doing shocking things, and he simply acknowledges that fact, despite the hurt in his soul. Roy is the man we all wish we were married to.
In Crossing the Street, released in May of this year, forgiveness is a more complicated issue, threading its way through not just marriages, but divorces, long-term relationships, and even siblings’ eternal rivalries. Forgiveness isn’t so easy here, where children are involved, drugs play a part, and lives are forever altered by poor choices. And yet, in order to survive, the people in my book stumble into their own forms of forgiveness. Marriage plays a secondary role in this novel, and yet there it is again: the need to find a way if not to forget about hurt and betrayal, at least to understand it.
I have to admit, however, that there have been days when I have wanted to hang my husband out to dry. But then he does something kind. He walks around the neighborhood handing out beers to his favorite neighbors. He brings me a cup of coffee in bed. So I let things go. I still remember that time he got me the same dumb gift for Christmas two years in a row, but I can live with that. I have to. I want celebrate our 50th anniversary (the gold one)…
Molly D. Campbell is the author of two novels, Keep the Ends Loose and Crossing the Street, both published by The Story Plant. The e-book version of Keep the Ends Loose is available for the special price of $2.99 for the entire month of October, 2017.