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The Quality of Mercy

Shakespeare – specifically Portia in the Merchant of Venice: The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘T is mightiest in the mightiest…..

Consider the words, perhaps somewhat brought forward 400 years or so. The value, the innate goodness of mercy, sympathy, is not forced or contrived. It flows freely just as rain falls with no force or effort from above. It drops on us from above and envelops us. And, it is of wondrous value, to the one lucky enough to be granted mercy, but also to the person granting it. It is the greatest gift one can bestow upon another. To grant someone mercy, forgiveness, is both figuratively and literally, divine.

But how to forgive? How do we transition from wronged, from hurt, from betrayed, to forgiveness. You may have heard, and even believed, that time heals all wounds; I don’t buy it. At least not from a “all gone, all better” perspective. Wounds may heal, close, but not without an ugly scar. And at least for me, some of my physical scars still hurt, as do many of my spiritual scars. Surely not as they did upon inception, but they remain tender. The sad truth is that you can’t always do that; we can’t always “forgive and forget”. Depending upon the depth of the cut, the atrocity of the act, sometimes walking away is the best option; for both. And frankly, that can be considered an act of mercy unto itself. Rather than dragging each other through the mud and the blood and the tears, turn and walk.

Of course that decision is unique and personal to each person. If it is an act of a moment; a poor decision, bad judgement, and the depth and value of the relationship is great, you don’t just walk away from something like that capriciously. It should take a lot – a whole lot – to convince yourself to turn away. On the other hand, a misplaced trust in a friend, a chameleon, an actor who was mendacious, disingenuous, deceitful, or just plain dishonest – what’s the point in trying to save that relationship? Why would you want to continue down that road? That’s when you run der reader! Run the other way!!

But truth be told, the reality is likely somewhere in between for most all of us. And in some ways, that is harder. Certainly a lover of a great many years is worth fighting for until the final sun sets in your last sky. And the person that convinces you to help them when they’re in great despair and then drains your bank account is worth no more than a trip to the police and not another thought. But what of the “friend” at work that plays you up for information on something and then uses that to their advantage to leverage themselves above you? How to reconcile that? How to be gracious, magnanimous, and merciful and forgive them for that? And should you even? The answer is both yes and no.

We need to forgive; it is less of a blessing for us as the one granting it because we are angelic or walk with the saints, not by a long shot. It is a blessing for us because it provides a release; it urges us of the hurt and negativity associated with whatever it is we are forgiving. It reduces the stress and strain of agonizing over it; it is essentially a negativity eraser. Granting mercy heals us; to the point of Portia’s timeless wisdom.

And now back to how, instead of why. There is no magic button or switch we can use to suddenly feel charitable and merciful and readily sweep away the hurt. While you can’t just roll in the hurt like a mud bath, you do have to climb in and feel it. You have to understand it. You have to reconcile what, specifically and exactly, is causing your pain. Why does it hurt? What is it about whatever it was that was said or done, that hurts? Is it damaging to your ego? Is it a betrayal of trust? Is it embarrassing? What exactly hurt? You need to examine your feeling and clearly understand why you’re offended or hurt in order to help decide if you wish to try to grant someone forgiveness. And it truly has nothing to do with the egregiousness of the act; I’ve been blatantly and intentionally eviscerated (figuratively dear reader, figuratively!!) and found it easier to forgive and move on that other times when a seemingly innocuous word or act cut me to the bone to the point I was unable to forgive. As I said earlier, it is personal to each.

It is equally important to examine the context of the moment, and especially the perspective. Recall how your personal filters can alter the reality of what you’re seeing. What you perceive to be a harmful word or act, could be misunderstood, taken out of context. Don’t assume, don’t leap to conclusions; communicate – ask. More than half the hurt feelings we’ve experienced could be soften or even eliminated with clear, open, transparent communication. But in the cases where you get the answer you really didn’t want to hear, that is the time to begin evaluating the worth of the relationship, the value of the person, and amount of effort it will take to be able to forgive. Don’t rush that process and don’t even begin it until you’ve had at least 24 hours to emotionally reconcile all you are truly feeling.

The quality of mercy is not strained……it really can’t be when you think about it. But truer words were never spoken in that if you find mercy, forgiveness in your heart, both of you will be blessed. Ego aside, the value of friendship and family shouldn’t be easily discarded.

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