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  • Writer's pictureNathan

Forgiveness will not get you over

Forgiving, and getting over, are two different skills. Think of them as eating cereal and going to sleep. They do different things, and are arrived at in different ways.

Asking whether forgiving a person will get you over them, is like asking whether eating this bowl of strawberries and corn flakes will put you to sleep.

Forgiveness is eating cereal

Eating cereal is a task, one that must actively be performed. It requires effort to move your hungry jaw up, and down, and back up again, for minutes at a time, crunching those flakes and mashing those fruits, punishing those oats. Some shun this task out of respect for the level of work involved.

When you forgive someone for hurting you, you are actively performing a task. You are intellectually and emotionally deconstructing a complex series of events, circumstances, and history, and determining how you wish to perceive all of those considerations within that of your greater living history. Some shun this task too, because it is also a lot of work.

But in order for forgiveness to happen, you have to do this. Or, rather:

You have to do this.

When you forgive, you are doing something.

Depending on how skilled you are at this process, the work of forgiveness may be easier for you than it is for others. Some people find a groove. Others don't even know a groove exists, or what one would look like if it did. In this way, forgiving a person is much like any other task that takes practice.

Which is to say that, just like many other tasks, forgiveness is work. Thus, you may have to do it more than once. You may have to keep forgiving the same person for the same thing, over and over again, long after that thing happened. Because work doesn't stay done once you do it. You've gotta keep doing it. That's why it's called work and we all go to work every day, instead of sitting around talking about that one time we did work and it stayed done so now there are no jobs.

Getting over is going to sleep

Getting over something is a very different thing from forgiveness. It is the active disavowal of a kind of work that you have already been doing all along: The work of choosing to remember memories, to coat yourself in the emotional trauma that drips from those memories, to feed that trauma like liquid coal into your anger and regret until you find yourself fully steamed, and asking completely unrelated questions about whether you can ever forgive the person who made you feel so steamy.

But getting over is more, even, than just this. For getting over is not what happens after you stop feeding memories to your ego.

Getting over is the choice to stop working. To stop spending the actual physical time and biochemical effort required for you to remember. This is especially obvious when you remember that remembering is not really remembering at all, but is rather the imagining of a past event.

The next time you remember that same event, you're actually imagining the previous imagining.

Then the next time you remember, you are actually working on a third-order imagining of the initial event.

And so on, over and over, until what you think of as your memory is but a polished nug of choreographed narrative and easy, satisfying emotional cocaine at the center of a supremely hard-working attention span that you insist on setting to focus, repeatedly and exclusively, on this one task of remembering a scene that never quite existed.

Freeing up your attention span from all this remembering and imagining, so that it can pivot to other things, is exactly what it means to get over. Sometimes when there is no more work to do, we try to make some up, because more work is what we have come to expect. Stopping yourself to stop the work is both a skill worth practicing, and not one we are told very often to practice.

Are cereal and sleep good together?

The only correct answer to questions about how cereal impacts sleep is to be confused and ask for more context. They're just different things. You probably have different motives for deciding whether to do eat cereal or go to sleep, and those motives will change between scenarios.

Now, to say that eating cereal and going to sleep are unrelated is not to say they are opposed. One may catalyze the other. But one should never be assumed to lead to the other by default. Whether or not your soggy mash actually nets you some zzzs right now is not the answer to the broader question of "Should I always eat cereal right before going to sleep?"

For instance, you may wish for events to proceed in the opposite order. Perhaps you think to yourself, "This night, I shall fall asleep, wait 6 to 10 hours, and then eat cereal". And you would have company, for in some cultures this seemingly disruptive scenario is considered normative. Yet if you did not grow up in that culture, and instead you'd only read this essay, you might think such an ordering of priorities quite strange.

Let's hit a few last questions to really round things out.

Should I forgive someone?

Maybe. It will take some work, though.

Will I ever get over them?

Maybe. But only if you're willing to not work.

Will forgiving them help me get over them?

This seems like something to ponder over a bowl of cereal, as you sleeplessly imagine the past.

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