Talking About Forgiveness

It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.  -William Blake

Three weeks before my high school graduation, I was raped at a party by a boy I barely knew. We had all gathered in a field near a friend’s house to drink beer from kegs and celebrate our pending freedom from parents, and teachers, and our small suburban town. We drank in the dark, surrounded by woods, on blankets with friends, lit only by the passing headlights of another party guest’s arrival. We were young; we were beautiful; and we all thought nothing bad could ever happen to us.

Somehow, as the party wore on, I ended up alone talking to this near-stranger of a boy off by ourselves. He was attentive and we had both had more than our fair share of the cheap beer. We ended up kissing. Then, he pinned me down, ignored my repeated “no,” and when I finally got off the blanket and ran off to lock myself in my car, I wasn’t a virgin anymore. The next morning, I was scheduled to speak at our senior breakfast at church, where we would all tell our big plans for the future, where we were going to college. I didn’t go. In fact, I never went back to church.

Writing about something you need to forgive stalled me out for a few days. Thinking about those last three weeks of high school is not something I choose to do very often. I grew up with my classmates. I attended school with many of them from kindergarten on. We knew each others’ parents, who had been victim or victor in first grade dodgeball, and even in a graduating class of 500 students, we looked out for one another. Other than on Facebook, despite thirteen years with those classmates, I am only still actual friends with one.

I did not report what happened to the police. I did not tell my family. I was ashamed, and blamed myself for being drunk and physically weaker than him, and I was seventeen. But, I went to my friends. At that point, I was secretary of our high school’s Bible club. I was a devout Southern Baptist. I was “saving myself” for marriage. My friends were the boys from our church youth group, our Bible club. I counted on them. I told three of them what happened, my closest friends, expecting sympathy and understanding. Instead, in the way only intense high school boys blinded by faith and confused by ignorance can, they turned their backs on me. One of them, who I had seriously considered marrying one day, informed me that God wouldn’t want him to marry a girl who was not a virgin, “whether it was her choice or not.”

I took their word as gospel, and left church altogether. I made new friends from a nearby high school for the summer and left in the fall for college to start over. If no one could love me again because this thing had happened to me, I decided, why bother with faith or love? I packed up my Bibles. I flirted and hooked up but rarely dated. I started my life over again from scratch.

This is not about needing to forgive the boy who raped me. The people I need to forgive are those faithful boys, now men, who couldn’t have known in their youthful stupidity what they were doing to me, my life, my faith. I need to forgive them because they were not equipped to handle something that intense and because we all lived a sheltered life and thought we knew all the answers. I need to forgive them because we were 17 and 18 and not allowed to drive into the city and because their intentions were not cruel. I need to forgive them because I avoid thinking about that period of my life or all that I turned my back on. I need to forgive them because we have all said or done things when confronted by a situation over our heads that we wish we could take back later.

I need to forgive them because some of them are now fathers to daughters and live in towns like the one we grew up in. I need to forgive them because they have wives and have lived long enough to know what they couldn’t understand at the time. I need to forgive them because I don’t need to live my life fueled by the rage at them that helped me survive my early twenties. I forgive them because that rage did give me something to run on. But now, I’m older too. We’re all adults now. I don’t need that rage anymore.

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17 Comments

Filed under Friends, Soul Searching

17 responses to “Talking About Forgiveness

  1. Please accept my sincerest condolences on being raped and then victimized by your christian friends.

    I too have been bitterly disappointed by so called christians. People tend to see themselves as morally righteous but do little to walk their faith when it comes to compassion or actually helping someone in need. I have never lost my faith in God but have completely lost my faith in Christians.

    I have often said you can get more help from a non christian in a bar than you can from so called christians in a church.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  2. I really admire your bravery and honesty in sharing this story. It’s sickening that I really can’t think of a woman I know who hasn’t been raped or sexually assaulted. I wish society would stop pretending that sexual violence is uncommon.

    I really hope those people have changed and begun to ‘really’ live by their Christian ideals rather than acting like the crazy Christians who go around shooting abortion doctors and preaching that Obama is a terrorist and what not…

  3. angelshrout

    So powerful and well said. So many ‘christians’ have the name but not the attitude. Like you I have had to forgive many in my life. But I have since learned that I cannot compare the love and touch of God to the love and compassion of a person who has never felt that love before. I am so glad you have made the choice to forgive.. Praying that you find the peace you deserve and those men are now realizing the weight of their words.

  4. Wow. Just, wow. On many levels. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Incredible work on this post. I’m speechless.

  6. I am rendered speechless rarely. OK, never. I had to come back three times before I had anything at all to say.

    I am, as I frequently am, ashamed of my gender.

    I’m sorry. I’m sorry that no one (male or female) was there to help you. I’m sorry that people confused fundamentalism with Christianity (or any true compassion of the spirit regardless of what name they called it) and left you feeling as anything less than the wonder that you are.

    I’m sorry there’s nothing a stranger can say years later that counts worth crap compared to what you went through.

    I’m terribly uncomfortable with where I am in the “faith” component of who I am; but I want you to know that regardless of what I might call my “faith” such as it is, I am amazingly humbled by your strength of character to forgive. At all. Ever.

    I know that you have done something that my faith, or any faith as I understand them, teaches is the highest calling of being a good [whatever].

    I’m stunned at the power and clarity of what you have written, thank you so much for sharing it.

    • I had one other thought this morning as I continued to ponder this post…and I realize it’s not something that counts for much to someone long past the throws of this kind of violation. I am adding it here as much for any woman who comes to this post later, possibly struggling with the same horror and displaced guilt.

      Stated categorically: Rape has NOTHING to do with virginity. What those boys said to you was not only uncaring and unchristian, it was just FLAT WRONG.

      Virginity is an element of sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy is a gift we give of ourselves to others (for the first time or otherwise).

      That animal (and I use that word intentionally because as a man, I do NOT accord him the status of manhood) certainly took many things from you that night. Your ability to trust, your sense of yourself and your safety, your control over your body and your free will in that moment, and worst of all your sense of your purity and your worth.

      I think that sexual assault is the worst non-lethal act that can be perpetrated…and I’m not even sure that murder is truly worse. Rape leaves a lifetime of damage, murder is the end of a lifetime…I can’t say which is worse.

      Please understand that for all the things he stole from you, your virginity and your purity (in some Christian sense or otherwise) were not things that he could take.

      I am overwhelmingly sorry that the boys you told didn’t understand that, but please, to any woman reading this who is facing this, PLEASE know that a man worth the gift of real intimacy already knows that virginity and intimacy are gifts that are given and can never be taken.

      Real men value who you are as a complete person: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and sexually; and we value what you have to give to a relationship…which is a part of yourself, your time, and your desire to be together. Those things are something that only you can give, and can never be defiled or stolen by force.

      Real men will never hold against you what someone tried to take against your will.

  7. I am so sorry. Sorry it happened. Sorry you didn’t feel like there was anyone you could go to that night, the next morning. Sorry that when you screwed up your courage to tell people close to you they were too immature to understand even if they felt they couldn’t marry you in the future, they could hug you and be your friend in the moment. Huge hugs to you. And a huge kick in the balls to the boy who raped you.

  8. Oh, I am so sorry, that this ever happened, that your friends weren’t supportive, that you had to (and still have to) deal with this experience. Your desire to forgive is magnanimous… I see your point but I’m not sure I would ever be able to do it. I hope that you’re right and those people have grown up enough to know now what they didn’t know then.

  9. Jean

    I’m sick at the thought of the lovely girl that was lost when this happened to you. I hope the exercise in forgiveness helps, someway.

    And I’m curious – do you know what happened to those awful boys that are now fathers?????

    • The three of them are fathers to 8 children altogether. One is a minister, one is a Christian musician and home-builder, and one was recently laid off in marketing. As far as I can tell they grew up to be good men and loving fathers. They were good boys then, or wanted to be. They were way over their heads, as we all were.

  10. I’m not sure what to say. I read your post with increasing horror and I can’t even begin to understand what it was like for you to go through.

    So, I’ll say this:

    I’ve seen several bloggers doing the 30 days of truth exercise. However, I most look forward to your posts because they are the most truthful. The most real. The most visceral. I’ve thought that for several days now, but today’s post just validates it for me. Whether the topics discuss something good or bad, I think they get to the heart of what the exercise is.

    • Thank you so much. I have to admit moving on to a simple writing-related post after the week working on this one was a relief, but I anticipate the rest of the month won’t be so gentle on me.

  11. Very brave of you to write this, and to forgive the boys for refusing to open their eyes to the reality of the situation.

  12. I am so very sorry that happened to you and you did not get the support you needed. I would have been there for you if we knew each other, even at that age.

  13. Pingback: 2010- The Year in Review | ELEANOR’S TROUSERS

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