In the cleanest college library I’ve ever seen, women of various ages and ethnicities were seated around a long wooden table. A few were chatting, but most were nervously shuffling notebooks and pens or staring at the floor. The men – there were five, ranging in age from early 20s to mid-50s – showed up just before class began. I tried to divine, one by one, what horrible tragedy had brought them all there.
This was the Tuesday night forgiveness course at Stanford University. I was there strictly to observe. Formalised forgiveness training – complete with a reading list, lectures, practice sessions and homework – was for people who had survived genocide, not for me with my garden-variety baggage (even if I had read everything I could about forgiveness training, developing a not-unhealthy obsession with the topic). Professor Frederic Luskin told me I could sit in on his class, but would have to participate so it wouldn’t seem weird. No problem. I prepared an almost-true story about a fight with my mother.
Then, his large eyes flashing and greying hair standing on end, Luskin held his hands out in front of him like a zombie, palms down and spaced about a foot apart. ‘Most of our disappointment in life stems from wanting this,’ he jabbed at the air with his left hand, the higher of the two, for emphasis, ‘and getting this,’ he said, jiggling the lowered right hand. Then he stared at all of us, intently. ‘OK? And forgiveness is about what you decide to do with this space in the middle. Are you going to adjust what you expect and let the rest go, or are you going to live in this space? Because I’ll tell you what, living in there is miserable.’
Shit. Now all I could think about was living in that terrible, empty space between his two giant hands. How I’d been stuck there for years, waiting for things to change and then being angry and disappointed when nothing happened.