Giving and Forgiving

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   November 21, 2019

Considering how many things we are warned not to “take for granted,” it is good to bear in mind all the others – of which, may I suggest, the most precious is someone’s love. Love is a gift we grant and receive with no expectation of return. We take it for granted. Therein lies the heartbreak, because so many gifts of love are not – indeed often cannot – be returned, or even acknowledged.

Think of all the celebrities and other famous people who are loved by millions, but have no personal way of responding to the outpouring brought on by their own form of charm Think of all those sad souls in schools, work-places, and wherever people gather regularly, who are deeply attracted to someone they may see every day, but are too shy or feel too inferior, or are simply too unlucky, ever to reveal the love that consumes them.

After all, there is simply not enough romantic happiness (or any other kind, for that matter), to go around. Many of the coins in life’s fountain are bound to bear wishes which will never be fulfilled.

Yet there are those among us who insist that life itself is a gift, who can wake up in the morning, regardless of their age or condition or status, and simply bless the fact that they are alive and breathing, and have another day granted to them. The rest of us may envy such people, but can still appreciate the smaller gifts that time may bring.

Some of these gifts may come in the form of compensations for misfortune. To me, for instance, one of the greatest endowments which most of us possess is the gift of healing. No, I don’t mean healing others – that is a much rarer quality – I mean healing ourselves. How are we so blessed that, without any conscious effort on our part, the skin which is cut and bleeding from some small wound one day may show no trace of it a few weeks later?

But not all gifts are so unquestionably righteous. Indeed, the tradition of deceptive donations is so rooted in our history that most people who have never read a word of Homer are well aware of the meaning of the adage “Beware of Greeks bringing gifts.” The “gift” in that case was a wooden horse, large enough to contain a contingent of armed men – though I must confess to being rather puzzled as to why the Trojans, believing the Greeks to have given up their long siege and sailed away, would, “trophy” or not, have so readily pulled this souvenir into the heart of their city.

Since then, of course, the term “wooden horse” has acquired all sorts of metaphorical meanings. It was used rather cleverly as the title of a book by Eric Williams about a true episode involving a successful escape from a German prisoner-of-war camp in World War II, a story which went through several metamorphoses to finally become the Hollywood epic, The Great Escape. The “wooden horse,” in this connection, was a gymnastic vaulting-horse, placed on the same spot near the fence every day, within and beneath which several prisoners were able to tunnel their way to freedom.

Birthdays and holidays are of course considered special gift-giving occasions. The British celebrate the 26th of December as “Boxing Day” – which, you may like to know, has nothing to do with pugilism. The boxes referred to are “Christmas Boxes” – traditionally gifts or gratuities presented to faithful employees, such as servants and domestics.

But surely the greatest of all gifts is that of forgiveness. In my own family, especially on my mother’s side, I regret to say, there was no such thing. Because of some unresolved minor dispute, siblings might not speak to each other for years. It could take some catastrophe to soften long-standing hostilities. (By the generosity of Providence, I myself was not afflicted with this failing, and have never borne grudges.)

But, if it is hard for individuals to forgive each other, think how hard it is for nations! And of course, it is neighboring countries which are most likely to carry long memories about ancient wrongs. Irish griefs against the English have a life of their own. And, going back to Troy, the legendary abduction of Helen – whose face was said (by Marlowe) to have launched a thousand ships – may have been the start of ill-feelings between Greeks and Turks (under various names) which persist to this day.


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