The other day, I met a man in his sixties, who left his wife and family over twenty years ago when he inadvertently fell in love with another woman. What made it even more of a betrayal for his ex-wife was that the new couple also decided to have a child together. He has been a devoted father to all of his children, who love him dearly – but he crushed his wife when he left her.
She never remarried. She never took lovers. In fact, she generalized her anger to include all men. She won’t employ a male workman if a woman can do the job. And she all but cut off all contact with her ex-husband.
To quote William Congreve from The Mourning Bride,
Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.
A year ago, this slim, fit woman who was largely vegetarian, suffered a massive heart attack which was so severe that to save her life she had to have a heart transplant. One could say she almost died of a broken heart.
Now there is no denying that this man deceived his wife and caused her great suffering 20 years ago. But I would suggest that most people would have moved on from such a devastating event after such a long time. They would have processed their pain.
By holding onto rage, this woman has given her power for happiness away to all men, and in particular to her ex-husband, and in so doing has lived a life of suffering that could only be described as much less than its rich potential.
The notion of forgiveness is not just some laudable spiritual esoteric notion. It really is a recipe for reclaiming our power to live our own best life, and not giving it away to others. It is in fact a decision that each of us has the power to make.
As the Buddha said,
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.