Monday, 15 February 2010

Should I forgive you now that you're old and shrivelled?

Hands up if as a child you were afraid to sleep in the dark, or worried about monsters crouching under the bed or hiding in the wardrobe. Night terrors and childhood fears tend to fade as we get older. Nowadays I only tend to check under the bed (and behind the door) if I'm falling asleep alone. It's progress...

Now raise your hand if you suffered at the hands of a sadistic teacher or disciplinarian parent or the school bully. Not so easy to grow out from under those shadows. Somehow these people continue to tower over us even as we reach our adult heights. Their voice, their gaze, their opinion still have the power to paralyse us, to terrify us, to make us want to run away and hide. To make us feel, well, small.

How do the victims of Pol Pot and Mengele and other ageing despots feel when they see their former tormentors frail and so very very old? Does their fear diminish? Does their terror abate? Do they feel compassion for those who showed none? Can they reconcile the idea of a monster at the height of his sadistic powers with a wheelchair bound grandpa who lovingly carves wooden toys for his unsuspecting grandchildren?

I was lucky enough to grow up in peace time, in the prosperous West. I didn't suffer from the consequences of genocide or civil war or the repression from a totalitarian regime. But in the receding shadows of my childhood stands an individual who filled me and several others with fear and terror as we were growing up. Their influence continued to reach us even after we had grown up and moved away.

Now, they are old, and increasingly frail and lonely, and loosing their faculties. Their harmless and innocuous appearance belies their past strength and terrifying vigour and the authority they exerted over us.

Should we forgive them? Should I forgive them? Have I forgiven them already? What about those quirks of character I occasionally exhibit? Those distant echoes from my childhood? Am I still under the memory of their spell?

Should I forgive them? What's the alternative to forgiveness? What instrument shall I choose? Revenge? Hatred? Oblivion?

I choose freedom. The freedom to look into the future rather than the past. Freedom from painful memories. Freedom to explore all those things life has in store. The good and the bad. The successes and the failures.

Because when you face forward, into the future, the world is your oyster. And it's a well known fact that oysters sometimes harbour pearls, but never monsters.

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