Forgiveness

When do you decide to bury the hatchet? To reconcile, let bygones be bygones and move on?

It depends, mostly, although religious people say we always ought to forgive and forget. Let the prodigal back in and give him a place at the table.

Let me tell you about my friend. This is a true story, although the names are changed.

David grew up in a Denver suburb with his sister and two brothers. His father worked in retail, a good fit for his sunny, outgoing disposition. His mother stayed at home to raise the kids. His parents were good Catholics, but didn’t make a big deal out of it.

Solid. Prosperous. And nice. (Or, to be cynical, as nice as you can tell from the outside.)

When she was in her early twenties, David’s sister moved out. She didn’t warn anyone, and she left no forwarding address. She left a note saying she’d be okay, and that she didn’t want to have anything to do with them. As far as the family could tell, there was no inciting incident, no boyfriend—no reason at all.

They hoped it would be a passing phase. Instead it has lasted up until now, more than 30 years later. Occasionally, they’d hear that she was alive. They’d let her know they still loved her, that she was always welcome back, that if she wanted, she would always have a home with them.

They sent messages collectively and individually — mother, father and brothers, just in case that might open up a crack in the wall. She didn’t answer.

Years passed.

After he retired, David’s father hired a detective to locate her. He felt that if he could see her in person, hear whatever it was from her directly, make a plea, that it could help. Maybe she’d come back — not home, but back in their lives somehow. He was old. I suppose he wanted to be sure that he had tried everything possible.

The investigator found her. The daughter was living in a cheap studio apartment in a so-so area of town in Los Angeles. Happy that she was alive, the father contacted her, and said he’d meet her wherever she wished. The daughter agreed to see him. They set a time, 3:00 pm, her place. He flew out.

He arrived, knocked, waited, and … nothing. After a few minutes, she opened the door an inch or so, said she couldn’t see him after all, and shut it.

Soon after this visit, the father suffered his first heart attack. This started his decline. Six months later, he died. David’s mother then fell into a long illness and died in her turn. David was freelancing by then and ended up being her primary care giver. Both times, the brothers let the sister know that her parents were near death, both times she refused to come.

Of course, she has her story to tell, and has probably spun it out a few times, at least, maybe late into a relationship or in the second hour after meeting someone, over drinks.

But I wonder what David would do if she had a sudden change of heart. She’s getting older, too. She might want to mend things. More likely, she’s on a track that won’t change until she dies.

But what if she did show up? Should he embrace her, slaughter a fatted calf or two, and forgive her?

Or just not answer the door?

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