If Alexander Pope’s dictum ”To err is human; to forgive, divine” is true, I have given many people an opportunity to ascend to divinity. Egregious examples include: Making gingersnaps for my sixth-grade classmates using whole instead of ground cloves. Asking a woman who had recently gained weight when she was due. Attempting to throw out a piece of paper from my seat in eighth-grade science class, missing, and consequently being consigned to sit in the adjacent storage room. The teacher – probably relieved by my absence – forgot me when the lunch bell rang, and I was discovered by the superintendent of schools, who happened to be my father. The list of such mistakes could, as Macbeth says of Banquo’s descendants, “stretch out til the crack of doom.”

Fortunately, most mistakes elicit laughter as the pain they caused recedes. One of my most memorable missteps occurred during a ninth-grade basketball game. Being one of the least talented players on the Scarborough team, I was surprised when the coach called on me to start the second half against Westbrook. I was even more surprised when the tap came directly to me. As I raced to the basket I thought, “This is exactly as I imagined it.” I laid the ball up and in. Cheers erupted, and it slowly dawned on me that the cheers were from the Westbrook fans because I had scored for them. I had forgotten that teams switched baskets at the half. I was soon removed from the game.

Why do our mistakes linger in the memory when our ordinary successes do not? At least a part of the reason for this is that we learn from our mistakes. A few years ago my wife and I went to Stratford, Ontario, to attend some plays in the annual Shakespeare festival there. Among the plays we saw was “Romeo and Juliet.” Much of the tragedy results from youthful characters’ rash actions and overreactions: Tybalt’s killing of Mercutio, Romeo’s revenge killing of Tybalt, Romeo’s hasty suicide before Juliet can awaken, etc. But it is the adults who finally learn the lesson: It has been their feud and unwillingness to forgive that created the culture that led to the tragedy, and it is they who finally learn to forgive.

After seeing several plays, we left for Toronto. We had driven for over an hour when I realized I had left my wallet behind. We reversed course and drove over an hour back and retrieved my wallet. My wife never once berated me or expressed any anger over the additional hours of travel my error had caused.

I try to remember her forbearance whenever someone’s actions inconvenience me. We all make mistakes, and as long as they are not motivated by malice, we all deserve forgiveness. And, since we all need forgiveness, we must learn to extend that forgiveness to others.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: