Forgiveness in the Absence of Apology
In the summer of 2006, a stranger assaulted me at a friend’s house party. The attack left me in the emergency room with a brain hemorrhage and significant facial lacerations. I was kept overnight in the hospital for observation due to my injuries. My friends at the time came to visit me there, partly to show their support and partly to gawk at my mangled face: I was unrecognizable. I still have some facial scarring from the beating.
I have never been a violent person, but, on this night, I was inebriated past the point of being able to mount even an adequate defense against my assailant. In fact, the harassment began while I was worshipping the porcelain goddess herself.
At the time, I had not a clue as to why I was under assault. Despite my level of intoxication, I had certainly done nothing to offend anyone. I later found out that the young woman who attacked me learned I had informed the police that one of her friends was selling drugs.
I may never know exactly what was going through her mind when she saw and soon assaulted me, but I can venture a guess. She felt anger and a sense of righteousness. She was likely enraged to find me out on the town, enjoying myself (okay, I was NOT feeling well, but I had been having fun up until that point…), while her friend sat in jail, awaiting his fate. Perhaps she was brought up around or otherwise taught the rule that "snitches get stitches" and thought it only right that I pay for my betrayal. In her mind, she was acting the hero.
There was just one little problem: I hadn’t snitched.
I am not sure if it was a case of mistaken identity or just bad information, but I was innocent. I had not told the police anything, nor did I even know this person was in legal trouble. He simply was not on my radar.
To add insult to literal injury, my good friend, the homeowner, stood by and watched as the attacker mercilessly beat me. As she straddled my midsection and pounded my head into the concrete sidewalk, I caught glimpses of him watching over her shoulder. Though he could have used his large frame and athletic build to lift her with ease off me, he instead watched with what I perceived as indifference as I begged her to please, please stop.
What might my friend have been thinking at that time? Did he also know the accused drug dealer? Did he feel a certain loyalty towards this girl above me; perhaps they were intimately involved? Maybe he just liked the idea of girl-on-girl violence and was simply enthralled? Again, I may never know.
I did not press charges on my attacker, though I did later learn both her name and her motive, as I mentioned. I never saw her again.
That is, until last week.
Facebook friend recommendations sure are hilarious sometimes, right? Thanks, Zuckerberg & team, for suggesting I befriend my least favorite bully from high school or the ex with whom I had a horrible breakup. Check yo' algorithm!
Alas, there was my attacker. I was not about to say hello, but could not help looking at her profile. I could not stop myself from snooping on anything she posted publicly.
Truthfully, I had not thought about the attack or my attacker in quite a while. It has been nearly 14 years and I have grown and changed so much since then. Even the scar is just a part of my face now; it does not bring to mind the painful experience of that time.
I was not the only one who changed since then, I discovered. This young woman, who I imagined at the time to be horribly violent, aggressive, decidedly unladylike, I discovered was now a doting mother. I saw pictures of a sweet, happy family of four. Photos of them on road trips. She was, like me, an animal lover, with lots of pets she clearly adored. She appeared to have a son around the same age as my own. I noticed pictures of her with a guy I dated briefly; we even had similar taste in men!
In short, I was confronted with a woman reformed.
Or, perhaps more accurately, on the day we met in 2006, I had found her at a horrible time in her life. Likely, she was going through troubles of which I will never know, problems that had absolutely nothing to do with me, a complete stranger. I cannot say for sure, but maybe she thinks back on that time in her life and feels sad for the young woman who navigated life with a heavy heart, with anger and resentment, with a propensity towards violence. Maybe she sees it as a time of great growth and emotional development, for which she feels both gratitude and sorrow.
To that, I can certainly relate. The mistakes of my life can be carefully traced into a winding path that leads to this very moment, in which I find myself more humble, more caring, and more compassionate than ever.
Through my painful experiences, terrible choices, and difficult heartbreaks, I have found strength and peace. I have hurt myself in this process, I have hurt others, and I have lived with regret.
I understand that I cannot dwell on the things I wish I had done or not done, for I cannot change the past, only learn from it. I know I must move forward the best I can now, with the information that I now possess, and try to be the best person I can be right where I am. This is the only moment that truly exists and I must make the best of it.
The friend who threw the house party later apologized to me for what transpired. I accepted his apology, but I would never trust him again. Forgiveness does not mean you allow yourself to become a doormat (or their live UFC entertainment).
However, I never heard a word from my attacker, much less received an apology. Nevertheless, I realize that carrying around resentment does nothing to harm the object of my anger; rather, it only serves to poison my own mind and heart.
Therefore, I decided to forgive in the absence of apology.
The truth is, nothing could have changed or will ever change what happened the night of the attack. I was always going to get wasted and wind up defenseless at my friend's house; at the time, partying was how I numbed my own pain of feeling inadequate and the need to seek approval. She was always going to attack me if given the opportunity: perhaps a chance to prove her toughness, her loyalty to her friends, and to feel strong and powerful.
In short, if I can identify in her that same desire to fill a void, the same sadness and longing I have felt in my own life, I can humanize my attacker and even find compassion. Though I do not condone her actions, do not support violence, and will never think it okay that she hurt me, I can still work to understand and forgive. I can free my heart and mind from the bondage of anger and hatred.
Today, as you look on your past, ponder your future, and live in our tumultuous present, can you find ways to humanize those whose actions are impossible to justify? Though we may never understand exactly why a particular someone behaves in a way that is violent, hateful, or destructive, we can be sure that underneath it all lies deep pain. Happy, healthy people simply do not seek to damage their brothers and sisters.
I choose compassion for those who seek to harm others, for they themselves are our most wounded.
"I'm only human
Let's shake free this gravity of resentment
And fly high, and fly high
You're only human
Let's shake free this gravity of judgment
And fly high on the wings of forgiveness."
Wings of Forgiveness, India Arie (2006)
Actual scar on the left side of my face.
(Today I learned how to make a GIF!)