What does it mean to forgive? To truly, completely, and compassionately forgive someone of all their misdeeds towards you? It sounds really hard, a concept that takes a lot of individual strength. Everyone has a story where forgiveness played an important role in their life, a proverbial fork in the road (if you will) that depended on forgiving someone or not. Does following the expression, “forgive, but never forget” the correct way? That implies installing a safety net of sorts, always holding back just in case it were to happen again. But, wouldn’t that mean you would be holding on to a grudge if you never forgot what they did? On the other hand, is “to forgive is to forget” the right expression that explains the true concept, that forgiving means to forget the past? Again I ask, what is the correct way to forgive?
Reading the Mistress of Nothing, by Kate Pullinger brought up so many questions about forgiveness. As I turned the pages, the unfortunate life of Sally Naldrett unravelled before my very eyes. She was orphaned along with her sister Ellen, and then sold into a life of servitude. She had a lust for loyalty, she lived it, and breathed it. Yet, it was those who she was most loyal to that hurt her beyond compare. They brutally shoved her aside and didn’t stand by her. It was her attitude alone that really got me through this book. I was ready to scream at the injustice she faced at the hands of her Lady, but it is the way in which she bore her struggles that really moved me. The only person who really voiced Sally’s injustices was her sister Ellen:
“She told me I’d ruined your life. That you’d lost your position while I had flourished. That I’d made my way by climbing on your shoulders, and allowing you to sink. She said you’d end up in a London gutter and that it would be my fault entirely” (pg 242 -243).
It is how she responds to this that amazes me. With a calm demeanour, thinking only about ending Omar’s misery about what he had so rightfully done, she replies that she is alright now. WHAT?!?! Words could not even begin to describe the anger bubbling inside me as she just, let this perfect opportunity to put him in his place go. However, as I mulled this dialogue over, I realized that she remained the stronger one by not lashing out at him. Throughout the entire novel, she remained strong and very much alive. The juxtaposition of Sally and the sickly Lady who could not find it in her heart to forgive Sally for the secrets kept from her, only heightened Sally’s remarkable capacity for forgiveness. Sally Naldrett’s story was a tale of forgiveness, ironically unforgiving and cruel. [If you don’t quite get what I mean, pick up this novel!]
This novel made me question if I was as able to forgive those as easily as she did, like the effortless flow of water trickling down a stream. It is so easy to hold grudges and lash out, but it takes something else entirely to genuinely forgive someone.