By Gina Barreca
Krissy can’t forgive those who don’t tip. Amy can’t forgive those who text while driving. Donna can’t forgive grated cheese on clam sauce.
Forgiveness can be boundless, and yet for many of us it’s a scarce commodity. This is what I discovered when I asked about forgiveness on social media. Why are so many things, great and small, difficult to forgive?
Julie, a university administrator, instantly skips over any bother about forgiveness and heads straight into rage: “Unforgivable? The people who don’t get the concept of when ‘reply all’ is appropriate. If there are 40 people on an email that says ‘Congratulations to Mark for his new book on tiny dinosaurs in literature!’ those 40 people can and should privately write to Mark and congratulate him, invite him out to have a beer, give him a tiny dinosaur, etc. BUT, for the love of all that is holy, please do not fill up my inbox with 40 emails saying, ‘Congrats Mark!’ ‘Way to go!’ ‘Good job, man!’ ‘Nice dinosaur!’ Just. Stop. Doing. That.”
Frank can’t forgive the screenplay written by his hero, Stephen King, when King adapted “The Shining” for television (“Kubrick got it right. King didn’t”). Bette can’t forgive Virginia Woolf for committing suicide; it makes Bette furious even though (or perhaps because) she struggles with depression herself.
Dianne can’t forgive the dry cleaner who shrunk her favorite pants. When she brought this to his attention, he gave her the once-over and shrugged, “Maybe you need a little more exercise.”
I can’t forgive the saleslady who insisted I looked fabulous in a pricey knitted ivory suit, which, I discovered as I saw myself in my home mirror, makes me look less like a European sophisticate and more like something in its larval stage. It was a final sale. Of course.
I can’t forgive the boy who, when we were 16, not only stood me up but went to the party without me and bragged to everybody there that he’d stood me up, inspiring one of the more popular girls to call me at home “because I feel bad for you, just waiting there, when he’s already broken up with you.”
I can’t forgive the colleague who, right after my first book started doing well, announced to other members of our department that I was “a hack” and would do anything for a buck. I was 31 — she was 55. I’d thought she was my friend; I’d respected her.
The calumny by an older woman I’d admired is the one that still rankles.
It’s tough to relinquish the grudges we develop when we’re faced with betrayal. Precisely because a stable and shared sense of balanced reality keeps us sane, we’re stunned when lies and unacceptable actions become normal.
Natasha can’t forgive, “The 23-Years-Older-Than-I Husband Who Had an Affair When We Were Living Abroad with the Married Daughter of Our Landlord Who Evicted Me at 4:30am With This News.” I liked her use of capitalization, providing, as it does, the heft of a parable.
“Why can’t I forgive the co-worker who went behind my back 36 years ago and deliberately revealed something said in strictest confidence?” Barbara asks. “For the same reasons I can’t forgive the current occupant of the White House. That former co-worker and this current president are constructed from the same basic kit, right down to their beady little eyes.”
Barbara is not the only one forging connections between betrayals on a personal level and betrayals on a broader — bigger, wider and universally momentous — scale.
Kim finds unforgivable, “People who believe that calling something by a different name will change its essence.”
Words can either clarify or obscure. Unless you are God (and merely believing you’re God doesn’t work), words do not alter truth.
I suspect that the phrases “alternative facts” and “fake news’” are the political equivalent of “I love her but I’m not in love with her,” and “I haven’t touched my mate in years even though we live together.”
Nobody should believe these words. Ever.
If the person to whom you’re addressing your duplicitous remarks is vulnerable, guileless or a wildly uneducated voter, you’re responsible for the connivance, the cruelty and the consequences.
History doesn’t forget, nor should it. And yes, some things should remain tough to forgive. Don’t forget to tip.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of nine books. Send comments to email@example.com.