Forgiveness: The Strength in Letting Go & Moving On

The strength in letting go and moving on
by John Francis Leonard

Sometimes, it’s life’s most trying episodes that bring us closer.

My younger brother and his wife of twenty years have recently split up and it really took him by surprise. Their marriage just wasn’t working for her anymore and she needed a change. What was most hurtful was that she stepped right into a relationship with another man, a man neither my family nor her own has a high opinion of, but I haven’t judged her for it. We all need to find our own path and find what makes us happy and I’ve made too many mistakes of my own to sit in judgment.

That’s not to say that I don’t support my brother one-hundred percent, however—I can do that without taking sides. As for my brother, it’s been very tough and he still longs for the life he had with his wife and their four children and needs his family’s support at this time more than ever. Now, I’d rather none of this had happened at all, but a wonderful closeness between my brother and me has been one result. It’s not like we didn’t get along previously, but we had quite different and very busy lives, not seeing much of each other—especially since for most of my adult life, I’ve lived far away and seldom visited. Now, back in the city of my birth, I’ve had much more time for my family and I wouldn’t trade that time for the world.

Just last week, my brother and I were having one of our serious conversations about how he’s holding up these days. He said of his ex-wife that he forgave her for everything that’s happened and would take her back in a heartbeat. I was struck by, and put into words how important forgiveness can be, not for the other person, but for oneself.

My brother and I have different biological fathers, but it was his father who raised me. He was not a good man, he was an abusive alcoholic and I was more often the victim of his wrath than my brother, whom he had always favored. We don’t speak of him often; I don’t like to speak badly of the man who was his father and grandfather to his children. But, talking about forgiveness, I was moved to share something with my brother that I hadn’t before—something that, regardless of years spent on a psychiatrist’s couch I have yet been unable to quite put into words. I told my brother that I had never even come close to forgiving his father the abuse he subjected me to, and I would always be haunted by it until I could.

I had never vocalized this sentiment before and it moved me deeply. Afterwards, upon further reflection I was struck by something. Years ago, in Paris, a man had infected me with HIV and, in my understanding, he did so knowingly and repeatedly. In subsequent years, I was able to forgive this man for what he had done to me—for taking his pleasure and putting my health at such risk, perhaps purposely. It was a natural and cathartic experience, one of healing and growth. What’s more, I was able to forgive myself for not taking the proper precautions, for not valuing myself and my health highly enough. Why then, after forgiving this other man, who in his own way abused me, was I not able to forgive the man who raised me in such anger and dysfunction? Again, forgiveness isn’t always about the person who’s mistreated or abused you and your trust. It is, more importantly, what you do for your own peace of mind. It’s how we heal.

So why then can’t I forgive my stepfather? It will make no difference to him, as he passed away years ago, but I feel that it would make a tremendous difference in my life. As I expressed to my brother, the hatred and anger—although I don’t dwell on them—do eat away at me. I’ve been able to push them to the back of my mind, but it’s many a night that that odious man still haunts my dreams. I can’t quite let go of the past. So what can I do, in the present, to forgive and let go?

I’ve already recalled the events of my childhood to therapists past and present; maybe it’s time to do so once again. What I need to do differently is talk about an endgame—talk about forgiveness and letting go. It will be a journey and a difficult one at that. I’ll have to take another look at those events of my childhood that I think about the least. Time for a deep breath—it’s time to let go.

John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he writes reviews for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.