I have somehow found myself at the beginning of writing a novel that, weirdly, is about forgiveness. Or rather, it’s about hatred. It’s more accurate to say that it’s about hatred. It’s easy enough to convince oneself that one knows what hatred means (forgiveness as well). We throw the word around easily. We hate this food, we hate that show or that character on that show, and we hate this guy at work or at the bus stop…or at home. We know hate.
My father caught me once, when I was young, with the word hate on my lips and said, “Hate is a strong word. You don’t hate it. You might dislike it. But you don’t hate it.” He was right. I disliked my spinach very much, but hate? Certainly not.
It’s funny that I mention my father. Funny to me. He and I are not on good terms right now. It’s his fault. It’s my fault. That’s another story, but it’s part of this one. I sometimes think I hate him. I dredge up memories of what I consider neglect or abuse (words that, again, are easy to use and not very true). In my clear-headed moments, though, I can’t describe my father that way. And I can’t say, not honestly, that I hate him.
But because I also can’t swallow the lump in my throat and forgive him, I consider that this might be the reason that hatred and forgiveness crept into my writing, especially on something as important as my first attempt at a novel.
Readers expect a lot from a novelist. They expect him, at the very least, to be convincing. Now, being convincing depends on the reader as well. It is easy to convince a gullible man. It is difficult to convince an expert in the field. And when a writer writes, he should write for the most intelligent person in his audience. That is not easy.
So when I look at my notes for my novel and see that hate is its subject and (dare I risk spoiling it) forgiveness is its climax, I have to honestly ask myself, “What on Earth do I know about hatred and forgiveness? What, really, do I know?” I was especially curious about this when I drafted the intended climax of the novel, where the protagonist and antagonist found condemnation and redemption in appropriate measure and the theme came into its clearest focus. And it struck me as just a little naïve.
I’ve been into TED Talks lately and decided to see what they had on forgiveness. The first video that popped up featured a man whose life…has been…terrible. He was treated, and treated others, horribly. He told a story that churned my gut and brought tears to my eyes. And as I watched, I thought to myself, “Where do I get the gall, thinking that I can write anything about hatred and forgiveness?”
I collected myself a bit and thought that perhaps I just needed to be braver about the novel. I need to bring in truly terrible stories that no reader, gullible or clever, could deny as justly evoking hatred and requiring the holiest of forgiveness (and I use that term even though I’m an atheist). But then I thought about what my novel might become: a horrid, terrible thing to read; a thing to trudge through for a climax not very worth it. I wouldn’t—couldn’t—read a book that constantly bummed me out (to put it lightly), let alone write one. I wouldn’t want to do that to my readers, if I got any.
I’m hovering above a possible solution, in which terrible stories are present but are kept at the margins, and the main conflict is a matter of resolving injustices, rather than focusing on them as the story itself.
But what I know for sure is that I don’t want to quit. I considered throwing aside the novel. It’s too much for me to handle. I don’t have what it takes. And men like this (on the TED Talk) might read it, shake their heads, and say, “How naïve.”
I can’t do that, though. I want to write this book. But again, what do I know about hatred and forgiveness? I have no one in my life that I hate. It’s too strong a word. And perhaps, I have no one in my life to forgive…for that is as equally strong a word. A word we use too lightly, that we use while riding a very high horse, that we use as the mortar for the bricks of our ego’s fortress. If we forgive, then we are the bigger man, we are the humbler servant, we are the more loving in the relationship, and we are the example to follow, and if the other person doesn’t forgive us or doesn’t care about our forgiveness, why, we can lift our chin up high and say, “I tried. I really did. But I can only do so much.” And from there, we can go on hating, quietly, triumphantly, and fully justified. Because our forgiveness is such a wonderful gift.
What has anyone ever done to us (to most of us) that really requires forgiveness? I mean forgiveness in the full sense of that concept, the sense that requires the noblest character and the highest sense of self-esteem. Probably no one, for most of us.
For those of us (and I am not one of them) who truly have reason to bestow forgiveness upon another person, to let go of true and justified hatred for their own sake, the best I can do is to not be a pretender to the crown.
But this lump in my throat is big, and this hurt in my heart is real. I don’t want to forgive. I want to be hurt and to be righteous. So, maybe I know enough to write my novel after all. And maybe I will learn.