The Physics of Forgiveness

Einstein probably wasn’t thinking about relationships when he developed the laws of physics, but I found them helpful, nonetheless.

I’m no scientist, but I know what momentum feels like, and I can tell that my post-Pilot behavior has a bit more behind it when it comes to walking away from, or ignoring situations that make me feel uncomfortable.  Overall, this is definitely a good development – nobody wants to stick around in relationships or jobs or places that make them unhappy or uneasy – but, lately I’ve been wondering whether I’m doing a little too much overcompensating in this particular area, and it got me thinking a bit about science. Yes, science.

I spent A LOT of time forgiving The Pilot…like, in the time I spent forgiving him I could have watched every Lord of The Rings Movie and listened to the uncut version of Hey Jude at least twice, but once I decided I was done with situations that made me feel disrespected or uneasy, I really stuck to my guns. The next guy I dated, The Quarterback, lasted six weeks before I called things off between us. Granted, he deserved it – if you tell a girl you’re going to Los Angeles, don’t geotag your latest Instagram post to Portland…like I said, I’m not a scientist, but I’ve got a basic understanding of U.S. geography, so even I know that planes bound for the City of Angels should end up somewhere in the state of California.  Since The Pilot and The Quarterback, I haven’t been in anything even remotely resembling a serious relationship, but it’s not for lack of meeting people, and that’s what has me thinking about the physics of forgiveness at the moment.

The thing about forgiveness, at least to me, is that it has a tendency to gather momentum…if you forgive someone ten times, you’re probably going to forgive them an 11th time.  If you start to withhold forgiveness from someone, you’ll find it easier and easier to continue doing it.  I think that’s one of the scariest things about forgiveness: it’s not an emotion, really…it’s not even a single act…it has an inertia to it; it must be a state of being to be meaningful.  You can’t just tell someone you forgive them and expect to move forward; you have to say the words and then follow through, move on…you have to live the forgiveness.  Otherwise, forgiveness is just an idea, a concept, and a pretty meaningless one, at that. But, if forgiveness is a state of being, what does that mean for those of us out there trying to understand how to better handle it?

Forgiveness isn’t an emotion, really…it’s not even a single act…it has an inertia to it; it must be a state of being to be meaningful.

A state of being, according to the laws of physics, will remain a state of being unless it’s made to change by an external force, and Einstein said that every body endeavors to protect its present state. So, does that mean that the the laws of motion dictate that I have to wait for someone or something to change my course?  To force me to find some alternate route where the perfect balance between forgiveness and walking away exists?  The first time I had that thought, it made me more than a little uncomfortable; I’d walked away from The Pilot and The Quarterback (and a few other people and situations) because I was sick of feeling like someone else – or like my relationship with another person or a job or a place – dictated how I felt and when I felt it.

What I eventually realized – and it might sound obvious – was that it’s not just my job to give forgiveness, it’s another’s job to try to earn it.  Forgiveness is a two-way street, but I’d spent the better part of a year acting like forgiveness was my responsibility and mine alone.  Between trying to explain to my partner why his actions were unacceptable while simultaneously working to move past incident after hurtful incident, I was doing the job of forgivor and forgivee by myself, and it was just too damn much. The burden of constantly working to forgive someone who didn’t genuinely care whether he got it made me resent the concept altogether, but, since then, I’ve worked to remind myself that forgiveness isn’t so much a thing that I can dole out or withhold based on how someone makes me feel…It’s something much less tangible, much more gray…it exists on a continuum, and it shifts and ebbs in direct proportion to how two people interact with one another, respect each other and make each other feel. It shouldn’t be a burden to me because, in an actual healthy relationship, I won’t have to carry it on my own.  That thought comforts me whenever I feel like I’m on that immovable, uncompromising course away from forgiveness: forgiving someone – or choosing not to – isn’t only about my state of being, which means I can’t possibly be on as fixed a course as I think I am – there are already external forces at play, and they’re creating chaos at every turn.  Typically, we tend to think chaos is a bad thing, but I think, in this case, a little chaos goes a long way.

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