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On Forgiveness

Re-reading a book at a different time in one’s life offers surprises.

Recently I picked up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina becoming engrossed with the characters.  I wanted to re-read it for  personal reasons but I was surprised at how it related to my work. Re-reading I was struck by the powerful depiction of the human capacity for forgiveness.

Alexis, Anna’s betrayed and humiliated husband, is returning home to St Petersburg from Moscow, summoned by Anna who is in labor with her lover’s child. Vronsky, her lover is attending the birth. During the journey Alexis feels hatred for his wife and finds himself wishing her death. Once he is in the presence of the lovers, and witnesses their despair, he is is flooded with emotion and forgiveness for them both.

Human forgiveness, and where it comes from, is something of a mystery – forgiveness cannot be forced, it isn’t  ruled by logic or rationality. My experience tells me it comes from a deep  place and at essence is paradoxical – where vengeance and blame would be perfectly understandable, forgiveness suddenly wells up and along with it the release of compassion and something akin to joy.  As close as it gets to miraculous.

Re-reading this remarkable book I am reminded why fiction has always been so central to my life, and of the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “fiction reveals truth that reality obscures “. Yes, I read fiction to understand life.


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