I think I’ve mentioned my former high school biology teacher, Mr. Cook, before. He used to try to stimulate class discussions by tossing out weird, off the wall questions to us and waiting for someone to answer. One of his most memorable was, "Is your arm an organ?” He'd then just sit there and wait for someone to venture a response. Another of his famous discussion questions was, “Are we capable of forgetting?” In order to move the stagnant class sessions along, someone (usually me) would have to break the ice by raising his hand and parroting Mr. Cook’s question back to him so he could tell us the answer. In this case, I asked, “Mr. Cook, are we capable of forgetting?”
“Actually, scientific evidence suggests that we are not.” Mr. Cook smiled and added, “We just have trouble remembering sometimes.”
I think Mr. Cook was sort of a frustrated stand-up comedian.
When it comes to remembering past slights, I’ve never had any trouble. I may have overlooked some of them that were not worthy of my time or consideration, but others have been burned into my memory with a branding iron. From time to time people have advised me to “let things go,” but they don’t know or understand me very well.
Forgiving and forgetting are two things that I have a lot of trouble doing. Although I am capable of doing the former, I have never been very good at doing the latter. Perhaps it's genetic, so blame it on my Scots-Irish blood, but forgiving is hard and forgetting just isn't in my nature. Scots are supposed to be known for holding a grudge, and never forgetting a slight, real or inferred. And in many ways, this is an admirable quality. Make no mistake about it, this trait is not for the lethargic. Holding a grudge, especially for a protracted period of time, is a lot of hard work.
History is full of various testimonials to neither forgiving nor forgetting. We have the Montague’s and Capulets, the Hatfields and McCoys, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, Mae West and Raquel Welch, Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, and a host of others . . . And how often have we seen people repeatedly taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals? Is forgiveness in the cards under those circumstances?
“To err is human,” my mother used to tell me. “To forgive is divine.” I guess I’m a long way from divinity material. A more apt quote for me would be, “Forgive if you must, but never forget.” I remember the bullies who tormented me in my early childhood, and still harbor the hope that I'll run into them one day. It gives me an incentive to stay in shape. Now, I'm not saying I'd be prone to violence if I did encounter a couple of them, but I wouldn’t hesitate to bring their past transgressions up and let them know I haven’t forgotten. The anger of the humiliation still burns in my gut like a hard, gem-like flame. Over the years, I’ve used that flame to forge my will. I’ve used it as motivation to keep going in various struggles, both monumental and mundane. As they say, there’s no shame in getting knocked down, as long as you get back up. It’s also wise to remember who knocked you down and how he did it. Figure out a counter, if you can, and try not to get caught with the same punch again. And if someone takes a cheap shot, forgive if you must, but never forget. And give it back to him in spades.
As I said, holding a grudge is a lot of work. However, you should also remember, those who forget the transgressions of the past, are doomed to experience them again in the future.