As I was reading D. Patrick Miller’s “A Primer on Forgiveness” [September 1994], my level of disagreement with his philosophy reached a new high.
Miller’s thoughts on forgiveness appear to be fed by the mass acceptance of victimization in our culture. According to him, victims can throw off pain and suffering by forgiving their perpetrators. But when everyone has finally realized he or she is a victim, there will be no one left to be a perpetrator. Perhaps Miller would say that everyone is both a perpetrator and a victim in a perpetual dance of forgiveness.
I say there are no victims, not because there are no perpetrators, but because everyone is responsible. I can hear the howl now — no victims of the Holocaust? Of abuse in all its forms? These are all tragedies and my heart and mind ache for the suffering. But the fact remains, we are all responsible for reality. Our innumerable conscious and unconscious choices have created our world, be it heaven, hell, or something in between.
Then it dawned on me: total forgiveness is the exact and perfect opposite of total responsibility.
D. Patrick Miller responds:
I agree with Schantz that we are all responsible for reality. When I was an investigative reporter, I tried the method of preaching to everyone (including myself) that he or she should be more responsible. No one (including myself) paid much attention. Forgiveness links one’s perception of what is wrong in the world with the profound care and revolutionary compassion necessary to move toward making things right. Forgiveness changed me and all my relationships for the better — and therefore changed the world a little bit for the better. I’m not saying that anyone, including Schantz, should forgive anything. But because of my experience, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend forgiveness to anyone who is suffering. Merely preaching about responsibility isn’t very helpful.
The only thing appalling regarding Alison Clement’s “Suzy Joins the Sex Club” is Lisa Cohen’s letter [Correspondence, September 1994]. The story shows a woman making a difficult decision, one she has to live with. She did not “yield” to anyone. The story doesn’t imply that there is no sex in Suzy’s marriage. In fact, Suzy says that things between her and Ellis are “hot.” Maybe Cohen wouldn’t choose a long-term love relationship over short-term passion, but obviously Suzy would.
I usually read The Sun from cover to cover — even the letters. But lately some of them are starting to get on my nerves. Like the one from Lisa Cohen, who was “mostly appalled” by “Suzy Joins the Sex Club” [July 1994]. It was a good story. It had something to say, and I really related to it. People like Cohen seem to think that everything degrades women — that they’re more easily degradable than men.
Then a while back there was a letter complaining about Sally Bellerose’s “The GirlsClub” [September 1993], a fine, moving story about a lesbian with a colostomy bag. Someone said it wasn’t well written. And someone else wrote that Sy Safransky ought to hang it up as a writer — that he couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag. First thing I do when I open The Sun is check out whether Sy had something to say this month.
And how about all the bluenoses who get bent out of shape if somebody says fuck in print? If they want Reader’s Digest, why don’t they read it? Another idiot was repulsed by Bob Saltzman’s great photo of his wife, complete with underarm hair [March 1994]. And then there was Wendy Ellyn’s great little one-page breathe-through poem “Daddy” [January 1994] that some misogynist thought was incestuous. That’s where he’s at.
Sometimes an article or story doesn’t particularly blow up my skirt, but neither is it appalling, or disgusting, or badly written. And the most inspirational pieces always stop short of sentimentality. They never make me feel ripped off like the stories in the New Yorker, Harper’s, or Atlantic Monthly sometimes do.
Maybe when the dust of my life settles and I’m not holding down two jobs and my three twenty-something kids are done sucking on my tit, I’ll have time to submit something to Readers Write. I read all of those too. They’re better than the letters.
A. Sufi’s compassionately written letter [Correspondence, August 1994] takes the position that people who write about sexual and physical abuse are intensifying their own unhappiness. Simply reliving awful experiences again and again is pointless, to be sure. But someone who has gone through a trauma needs to understand what has happened. This is particularly true in cases of abuse that took place in childhood, before the person could realize that abuse was not a part of normal life.
I found at age forty that I could go no further in my emotional development until I pieced together various memories and began to understand what had gone on when I was a child. For me, writing about this led to new perspectives on myself, my family, and human nature. The inner guilt and dread and anger began to dissolve — not just because I had expressed them, but because I had changed them into something I could use.
I’ve been reading your magazine in bits and pieces for three or four months now. The August issue finally did it. Gregg Levoy’s “Off the Map” thrilled and delighted me. The first thing that got me was the quote from Rilke: “The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” The very same epiphany had occurred to me in the shower that morning.
Next came the part about surrender being something that midlife excels at teaching. It was almost as if the guy had been in the shower with me.
I knew I was going to subscribe when I got to the bottom of the second page and read, “That clump of feathers was still stuck to my office window like a suicide note.” I don’t know who Levoy is, but I’d love him for a pen pal.
I don’t entirely understand it. In fact, I don’t know why my writing appeals to people at all, nor do I want to know. But I want you all to know that the response to my “Mr. HandyPerson” essays [August 1994] has been incredible. Strangers in all parts of the country have sent me some of the most wonderful and heartfelt letters I have ever gotten. One guy sent me two stories he’d written. They provoked gales of laughter when I picked up today’s mail. Laughing with delight is my idea of a good way to start any day.