CHRIST I love Jane Austen.
I’m rereading (for about the zillionth time) Emma.
Last sentence of Chapter 20: Emma could not forgive her.
First sentence of Chapter 21: Emma could not forgive her.
In the end, of course, she does forgive her. Miss Fairfax gushes forth in apology for her coldness and many other things, when Emma has already totally forgiven her.
Emma and Pride and Prejudice are my favorite Austens specifically because of this theme of second chances, of blundering and forgiveness. What’s moving about Emma and Knightley’s and (especially) Elizabeth and Darcy’s journeys toward each other is first the blinding recognition each has of their own wrongness, then their efforts to put right what has been wrong, and at last their desperate hope that the other will see that effort and love them for it.
And they do. And we all cry and feel that there’s hope for humanity after all.
And that’s the point where fiction departs from reality. The novel ends, and we assume that they live forever blameless of their former faults.
In real life, people make the same mistakes over and over again, forever.
I have a pet theory that people are capable of real, fundamental change until they’re about 25, and then after that they can only learn strategies to work around their faults. Even if I’m wrong, it’s still indubitably true that people repeat their mistakes. What you must forgive someone for once, you might as well expect to have to forgive them for in the future, eternally. And what faults you have in adulthood you must always manage.
(The caveat is that some blunders arise more as a matter of circumstance than temperament, and those are relatively easier to prevent by changing the circumstances. But none of these things are either/or; it’s all about the interaction of people with environment.)
I’ve had occasion to think tonight about what binds me to my BFFL. And the answer is that we are tied to each other by the endurance challenge of earning forgiveness. Earning it long after it had been granted, and despite the certain knowledge that forgiveness will have to be granted again and again, for as long as we care to know each other.
I’ve been on my knees – literally – repentant for my failings, not certain that I can avoid them in the future but hating myself for them, and I’ve received forgiveness, without reservation or condition, without condescension or bargaining. Just a bare, “It’s okay. We’re okay. Of course I still love you.”
And there is nothing, nothing, nothing on earth more powerful than that.
To own one’s worst traits – impatient, judgmental, avoiding conflict by sacrificing the truth, inconstant, thoughtless, insecure, avoidant, jealous, aggressive, critical, cold, clingy, so many ways you can screw up – and to be forgiven them is to find the ultimate salvation.
I can see the power of the Catholic faith. Forgiveness for one’s sins? Yes please. If I could undo the damage of my faults by reciting some poetry, I’d count myself a devoted follower.
Some things are unforgivable. Some things are forgivable but irrevocably change the nature of a relationship. Most things, though… most things, if you embrace unconditional positive regard, most things you can forgive. And there’s not much better you can give someone.
And welcome to the holiday season. Joy to the world. And confidence.