56. The Magic of Forgiveness

56. The Magic of Forgiveness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Magic of Forgiveness

Forgiving is rediscovering the shining path of peace that at first you thought others took away when they betrayed you.

~Dodinsky

The day began crisp and cool. It was autumn and early in the first semester of high school. I returned to school after a two-day teacher conference, assured that my substitute had maintained the same order and expectations I had for my classes. However, later that day, as the sky clouded and rain threatened, several students reported to me that although the substitute teacher had followed my lesson plan, some students had not. Specifically, one student—a beautiful girl of some talent and “smarts”—had spent the two class periods texting on her phone.

Because using a phone is forbidden in my Advanced Placement Literature class, I was somewhat indignant. Furthermore, I was surprised that these students had the initiative, temerity, and courage to come forth and inform me. Generally, high school students tend to be metaphorical lemmings that mindlessly follow and condone the actions of their peers. Clearly, these particular students were different. They had decided to enlighten me as to what had transpired while I was absent. And they did so, I believe, because I had trusted them to be responsible.

All in all, the offense did not matter. What mattered was what followed. One of the girls who reported to me about what transpired was Kimberly, who was then singled out by the misbehaving girl. That girl and her “minions” taunted, threatened, and bullied Kim. These girls walked the halls as if they owned them. They were the proverbial mean girls.

Why they singled out Kim is unknown to me. Perhaps it was a “pack” reaction to isolate one victim and go in for the “kill.” Perhaps it was because she was a high-achieving, ebullient spirit with an inner light who seemed unworried about her image. Her self-possession may have intimidated them. Whatever the reason, they set about trying to destroy her.

Kimberly was hounded in the halls. The girls dogged her as she arrived at school, when she had lunch with friends, and when she walked home, staring her down, whispering insults, and calling her humiliating names. They even threatened her with bodily harm. She remained silent and stoic for a while, but they upped their threats and she finally broke down. There was a discussion with me. She cried—admitting that they were tearing apart her resolve to be strong. I was incensed. There was a discussion with her counselor. The counselor also was infuriated. Then, all the students were called in. Parents shouted. One girl dissolved into sobs. The “mean girls” were warned.

There were other repercussions. The girls were stripped of their offices in the Associated Student Body. This was a mere wrist slapping on a high school level but it was something. And Kim felt vindicated—to a point. She had fought the good fight and won—or so she thought. As it turned out, the rest of the year was difficult for her. Camps were formed, as only they can be formed in high school. Kim felt ostracized and alone. She began to have stress-related symptoms. She cried after school. She felt depressed and demoralized. The charming, intelligent student that had so animated class discussions was transformed into a panicked, defeated girl.

Then, she forgave them. She had the courage to let go—of all of it. She and I discussed how sometimes it is supremely more difficult to let go than to hold onto anger—especially, as in this case, righteous anger. She turned to me and said: “Holding onto fear and anger destroys the inner life.” I was transfixed and amazed. This seventeen-year-old student had stumbled onto a deep truth. “I forgive them, of course,” she said with purpose.

And the world began to shift. Its axis tilted. Karma reared its mystical head.

Several of the “mean girls” competed with Kim for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. This is an incredible opportunity based on applicant grades, need, and numerous essays. For its recipients, the scholarship provides for full college tuition through graduate school. Kim won. She was awarded a full ride to a prestigious college. And the “mean girls”? Not a one who applied was awarded. And the main “mean girl”? That smart and talented girl was not accepted to any college of her choice.

Whoa? What does one say? The power of forgiveness may transform the universe.

This story does not necessarily illustrate that forgiveness creates justice. That is for the universe or Providence to decide. But it does raise the question: Just how powerful is forgiveness for all involved? For my student, forgiveness was the key for her to move on, to integrate and make sense of the “meanness” of the world, and to recognize that standing up against the crowd can be a valid and marvelous choice. Although she suffered greatly, she attained victory in the end. This does not mean one should forgive to gain something—it may just mean that in many ways, forgiveness is magical.

As I finished out the school year, I thought of Kim often and the lessons she taught me. Forgiveness may not only bring inner peace, it may also allow the universe to right itself. Forgiveness is not about vengeance, or even justice, but sometimes it facilitates the latter. Forgiveness can transform both the forgiver and the forgiven. I do not know if those “mean girls” ever came to a personal reckoning with themselves. I certainly hope they did. And both Kim and I hope that they have had the insight to forgive themselves.

I have pondered why I was witness to this forgiveness and to Kim’s spirit. And I think I know. I must forgive someone very dear to me. I must forgive myself for failing certain people in my life. Finally, I must forgive all who, intentionally or not, have hurt me or maimed my spirit. I am working on it. I am praying for it. Forgiveness is what knits up the troubled soul and makes it whole again. My wise and compassionate student taught me this.

~Sherry Morton-Mollo

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