Ellie Levenson: Why I won't be asking for forgiveness today

I hold grudges. It is the downside of having both a good memory and an irritable disposition
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The Independent Online

You may get to work today to find a few interesting e-mails asking for forgiveness for things you have completely forgotten about, or perhaps, if the sender is being churlish, forgiving you for something else you no longer remember. That's because today is International Forgiveness Day, as designated by the e-card website www.123greetings.com.

I like this website, which allows you to send endless free e-cards, because it's a fine way of keeping in touch with people who you can't be bothered to actually see. I don't expect to be sending that many forgiveness cards, however, as this is an attribute that does not come easily to me. In fact, I am one of those who do the opposite of forgive; I hold grudges. It is the downside of having both a good memory and an irritable disposition.

A few years ago, a man I knew through work seriously screwed me over. His actions had me in tears for days, wondering about my career prospects and credibility, although in the end it blew over and nothing happened. I met this man recently at a social event and he said hello. I'm older now, and more assured, so was able to respond in a grown-up way. "Sorry," I said, "but I still can't bear to talk to you."

He was astonished. "In that case," he said, "why have you been smiling at me every time we've walked past each other since then." I hadn't been smiling, I explained, I'd been grimacing.

He apologised and asked for forgiveness, but, as I explained to him, since I've held the grudge now for three years without him knowing about it, I will have to hold the grudge against him for another three years, with his knowledge, to get the full benefit.

That's not the oldest grudge I hold. When I was six, a teacher took a class at my infant school and ran a lesson along the lines, "If an alien came to Earth and you had to describe a bus to them, what words would you use?"

I remember this lesson clearly because I said, quite accurately, that a bus is red (they all were at the time). "Aliens," said the teacher, "wouldn't necessarily know what red is." It was a fair point, except the next child said that buses are big, and she allowed it. Not only would aliens not necessarily know what big is either, but big, unlike red, is a relative concept.

I bumped into this teacher at a wedding not so long ago. Her sons were friends of the bride. I thought it was time to get this particular grudge off my chest. Not surprisingly she had no recollection of this incident, nor did she seem particularly bothered that I have stewed over this for the past 20 years. In fact, she laughed nervously and moved away very quickly.

My mate Gavin holds a grudge against me. "Why have you never put me in one of your articles?" he asked recently. I'm hoping this mention, on International Forgiveness Day, will help him forgive me.

Gavin also holds grudges against all the people who stand on the left of escalators, when everybody should know that the left is for walking and the right is for standing. I share this grudge. Like Gavin, if I see someone standing on the left then even if I am feeling lazy and don't want to walk up or down the escalator, I do so just to make them move.

Despite my personal tendency towards long-held grudges, International Forgiveness Day has come at a particularly handy time for me, because as a lapsed Jew I didn't go to synagogue a couple of weeks ago on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Today's secular atonement day, however, allows me to achieve the same without religion being involved. In fact, the best forgiveness card on the e-card site has no religious symbolism at all. Rather it has a cartoon insect on the front, and the message inside is: "I know I've been a bug so on International Forgiveness Day I wanna say sorry." Yes, I too would throw up all over my desk if someone sent this to me, but it is still ever so slightly more appealing to me than a day of fasting and prayer.

Nor is it just lapsed Jews who may benefit from International Forgiveness Day. It should prove equally helpful for lapsed Catholics, who no longer go to confession, or anybody else who is not religious. Perhaps it is due to our lack of faith that society has given awareness days vast amounts of importance, and created ways for us to explain precisely how we feel. So much so, in fact, that I would be in far more hot water if I were to forget Mother's Day, for example, than I would if I forgot to wish her a happy Jewish new year.

Of course if I were a reactionary columnist, I would say that we need help articulating our feelings and giving forgiveness, in part because of the breakdown of community, and how community elders kept bad behaviour in check.

This nostalgic view is nonsense, of course - it was much more likely then that the whole village would turn against the offending person, burn them out of their home and start a war with a neighbouring country.

Now we're much more civilised and just go on Trisha. This at least has the effect of reaching a far wider audience than a private discussion with God. And with the television host there to articulate how each person is feeling, there is never any chance of mistaking a grimace for a smile.

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