Thought Piece

A lesson on forgiveness.

I studied Ammu’s visage where she sat opposite me, chattering away in the booth we selected at the back of the bustling Bangladeshi restaurant under the pretense of privacy – though truthfully, it was to avoid the disapproving gaze of those we’d firmly deemed as “nosy Bengalis.”

Prom night discussion lay on the table. It seemed like ages ago that I chose to spend the better part of my senior year of high school attending to irate customers eager for their cheeseburger fix at Shake Shack in order to save up for my dream prom dress, but I digress. The conversation wasn’t about me. It was about my older sister, Prima, and her inability to attend this so-called pinnacle of the golden years.

Hearing that phrase attributed  to the four-year period of prevailing awkwardness, horrible clothing fads and questionable life choices that is high school is really sobering once you’ve reached your late twenties. I’ve experienced several more iterations of these periods of time when all is supposed to be going swimmingly well and carefree, and in hindsight, I don’t think I ever knew what the fuck was going on.

The topic of prom stemmed from a conversation that began with forgiveness. My father, a permanently contrary man of nearly seven decades – with the years of long-held grudges etched on his face to prove it – had once prevented my sister from partaking in a number of life experiences common to the average American teenager. But then again, as Bangladeshi immigrants hailing from an overwhelmingly conservative culture, the usual rules don’t apply here.

Here in New York, the “average” teenagehood just doesn’t exist, not when so many variances in lifestyle appeared from one diverse community to the next. As the eldest child, there was an endless number of things my sister wasn’t allowed do. I vividly recall the outbursts and steady flow of tears when she hit roadblock after roadblock for seemingly nonsensical reasons other than the age-old justification, “manush ki bolbe?”

Of course, she was simply furious when I came along and partook in the same activities she missed out on and more – nearly effortlessly at that. When I think back, it’s a wonder that at nine years old, my parents allowed me to get a second ear piercing and a year later, bleach my hair a different color. At twelve, I conned my way into purchasing an electric guitar for no rhyme or reason apart from desiring one at a whim – one which my poor mother, who only worked a minimum wage retail job and whose only weakness were her children, purchased at my behest.

It was returned days later, but the initial act was done.

Sometimes I wince at these memories, and at times can still feel the years of buried guilt gnawing at me. Do my preteen behaviors speak volumes about my own character, or my mother and father’s parenting? Would speaking these memories to existence make others think ill of me, or is it an honest homage to my childhood experiences?

Well, bringing us back to forgiveness. It’s been years since prom. When my sister finally attended college, she wasted no time in exploring and threw no caution to the wind. First to dorm, first to study abroad, first to gain financial independence away from my dad – and it showed.

The man was a domineering character throughout my entire life. My childhood certainly shaped the lens through which I view the world, though I’m fortunate enough to have gained a decent sense of self-awareness. One of my deepest fears, however, is miscalculating the impact that such a volatile upbring has had on my interpersonal relationships, as well as the one I have with myself.

In recent years, my family chose to forgive. After my dad suffered a major stroke in 2014, his health saw a steady decline and all other components of his life followed. Growing up, I knew him to be a workaholic: in 2017, he was forced to retire from the travel agency he spent the last 20 years pouring his heart and soul into, as the company was shuttered in the wake of the industry’s pending doom. Left with no choice and seeking new sources of comfort, he turned to the same people from whom he had long withheld those very same things: my mother, my older sister, my younger brother and myself.

I have never ceased to be amazed by the effects of passing time and its ability to diminish havoc once wreaked upon our hearts. Combined with genuine goodness and an aptitude to empathize, a trait my mom and myself admittedly share in copious amounts (much to my chagrin) its’ natural progression leads to just that: the capacity to forgive.

For some, forgiveness isn’t always an option, particularly when there is a blinding, white-hot rage involved. However, it isn’t until once experiences the strike of tragedy – be it betrayal, death, heartbreak, or an event that leaves one completely blindsided and at an utter loss in what to do – that we fully realize why we need to forgive: for ourselves. Because choosing to cradle each of those feelings close to our heart and refusing to part ways with the hurt serves only as a disservice to ourselves.

We forgive not to let the offending party get away scot-free, but to allow ourselves to heal and move on. All else aside, we only have ourselves at the end of the night. Forgiveness is a core tenet to self-healing. Forgive – but never forget. Allow every curveball to serve as life experience and truly reflect and learn, otherwise the hurt never wanes.

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