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The art of self-forgiveness

Two words that suck out all joy from existence are ‘if only’.

September 18, 2021 / 07:51 AM IST

Many of our regrets stem from the inability to go back in time and fix life’s typos. With hindsight, one remembers words spoken and actions taken, desperate to fix the past so as to rejig the present. Recriminations range from mild to intense, derailing what could be contented lives, injecting toxicity that sometimes warrants nothing less than a public admission from mountain peaks, a scream of such self-loathing and sorrow: ‘I goofed up!’ Two words that suck out all joy from existence are ‘if only’.


It is natural to gloss over raw emotions in time, retaining only a memory of the lack of control, the vulnerability once felt. As any sci-fi addict knows, parallel realities or alternate words could co-exist side by side. So even as we sob over the road not taken, a version of us did just that and is right now living the life we wish we did. Inside our head we carry these imaginary worlds that clarify when they catch the sun, lighting up the interiors and minute details of who we think we could have been. The upholstery in there is inviting, the lighting is soothing. Which makes inhabiting the present an uphill task.


What we simply forget in the hurly burly of routine is that the ‘first come first serve’ algorithm is applicable to emotions that assail us and the responses programmed. The first person to say ‘I love you’ and the last one to say the same perhaps evoke two different levels of feelings in the listener. The umpteenth betrayal is just a dinner table anecdote; the first was an etymological excavation into the name Judas, a first-class demonstration of hysteria and hyperventilation. We may even remember these primal spasms with a slight pang, the times we cried like an abandoned baby.


It is that level of sophistication or a measure of distancing that went missing in the primary scenes of our life. Now, with our facial muscles under control, with our vocabulary expanded enough to include euphemisms and tepid replacements for flammable words, and our hand gestures less animated, at last we are ready to face the world, a world that once tested us and treated us wrong.


It is living that gives us the layering. First time round we are still a work in progress, under construction as we emote. Life makes warriors of us. We face adversity after adversity, loss upon loss, and remake ourselves constantly. By and by we are a different people. And now we have other armaments. Context comes in, perspectives change and suddenly we are too zen, too cool, to understand who we used to be.

The raised voices, the shrill accusations, the childish desire for revenge – was that passionate person really us? Thankfully everything is relative. Soon we are going to be more different, not the we who we are now, and will no doubt ridicule the current us. If personal change is the only constant, we need to be more chill and just go with the flow. Whatever I say and do today, I am only embarrassing myself down the line.

Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
first published: Sep 18, 2021 07:49 am

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