Forgiving can be difficult, cheap says songstres Mara Louw, but allows you to move on. Helen Grange reports.
Within a couple of months of declaring Mara Louw to be his “soulmate” on a TV talk show, Bill Thompson became abusive towards his wife, calling her “fat and ugly”.
His real “soulmate” seemed to be the bottle, and he had little time for her outside of his local drinking hole. Mara at the time was working relentlessly long hours. She had her show Muvhango, and was one of the judge’s on the panel of Idols. She put on a brave face, but the continuing verbal abuse took a terrible toll on her self-esteem. “He was obsessed with my weight,” she recalls. “The things he said were so nasty they don’t bear remembering.” Apart from the hurt, she felt deep disappointment that after 15 years of a mostly happy marriage, Bill seemed bent now on destroying it.
And in the end, he did. In 2003, Mara and Bill, the very first mixed race couple to get married after the old Immorality Act was scrapped, parted ways. He had started a relationship with a woman much younger than him, and today Mara doesn’t even know where he is. Yet in the last three years, despite the pain Bill caused her and the fact that he never said sorry, Mara says she’s forgiven him, reclaimed her dignity and moved on with her life. But she hasn’t forgotten, and certainly hasn’t sanitised the memories.
“In fact, the only things I remember now are the bad things,” the 50-something songstress says. “It’s just that I’ve realised that it wasn’t about me, it was about him. And I decided I didn’t want to carry all that baggage around with me anymore.”
Mara’s journey will strike a chord in millions of people, and sadly, many have yet to break free from destructive relationships.
In the Heartlines film Crossroads featured on television recently, forgiveness is explored via the character Eliza, who is robbed of her brother because of someone else’s negligence and irresponsibility. Like Mara, she endures terrible grief and anger before she can forgive the man who caused her brother’s death.
Forgiveness is no easy journey, and in reality, many people cannot make the liberating transition this side of the grave.
In her extensive counselling, Dorianne has found that people with a generous emotional disposition can forgive more easily.
“Nelson Mandela is the essence of emotional abundance where forgiveness is concerned. And I’ve never been more touched by its power as when I met the parents of Amy Biel. These people have a spiritual presence and I find there’s no gap between what they’re saying and who they are. There is no defensive or critical energy, and that is very rare.”
Part of the forgiveness process is creating the space to gain perspective, but as Mara will testify, it’s not about forgetting or condoning their behaviour.
“It’s important to understand that forgiving someone isn’t about letting them off the hook,” says veteran psychologist Dorianne Weil (Radio 702’s Dr Dee).
“It’s about freeing yourself from anger and resentment that would otherwise fester and work its way into the fabric of your life with very detrimental effects.”
Even if you have no further dealings with the person who hurt you, there are little triggers in everyday life that can generate the same feelings and the resentment manifests again and again, she says. “Sometimes what we resist persists. So it’s healthier to forgive, and for many people, this means going to professional counseling.”
Belief in God is often a critical tool in people’s ability to forgive. The Biel parents believe it was not for them to forgive their daughter’s killers; it was only possible by the grace of God.
But there is no doubt about the personal effort involved.
In biblical teaching, the message is that to forgive others, we need to grasp just how much we need it ourselves. It’s about reflecting on your own flaws before judging others.
That said, and in South Africa where murder and violence is part of our society – the crime against us far outweighs any wrong we’ve done.
“I never want to underestimate a person’s pain,” says Bishop of the Highveld David Beetge. “I don’t think it’s simple at all to forgive, and certainly not automatic. But it’s an option so say, like Adriaan Vlok has done, ‘I can’t carry this any longer. I want to move on and clear the parking space, as it were’.”
Mara Louw has cleared the “parking space” that her ex-husband occupied. Her life isn’t perfect ¬– “I do get lonely sometimes, and I’m probably over-cautious with new men” – but she’s a far healthier, more integrated person.
And that, the experts agree, is the payoff of forgiving. – Heartlines Features.