Conversations with our elders: Forgiveness is the gift we give ourselves

Christina Greer PH.D | 7/16/2015, 12:35 p.m.
I recently had lunch with an 82-year-old relative. She went to college in the late 1940s and received her master’s ...
Dr. Christina Greer

I recently had lunch with an 82-year-old relative. She went to college in the late 1940s and received her master’s in musicology in the early 1950s. She owns a cellphone (we text regularly), an iPad and a Kindle. She reads almost every book that gets published, watches and reads the news more than anyone I know and seems to know the latest about everything. She might as well buy stock in Amazon because she uses the website for almost all of her shopping needs and wants.

Needless to say, she is brilliant, knowledgeable about almost any subject you can think of and is a source of knowledge on so many things, especially when the conversation turns to race relations.

During our last conversation, I expressed to her my frustration with the current race relations and also lamented that I was not able to forgive the murderer who committed the massacre in Charleston, S.C., as quickly and easily as the families and members of Emmanuel AME Church. She quickly reminded me that forgiveness is not for the person who has transgressed or committed a crime against you. Forgiveness, she reminded me, is a gift one gives to themselves.

I thought that was such a powerful concept. She went on to explain that the act of forgiveness is what can free you so that you can move on, grow, love and live. I felt a weight lift from my spirit when she said those words.

As we know, carrying around pain, anger or sadness can physically harm your body. Journalist and author Esther Armah consistently writes about the trauma African-Americans face and how that trauma is internalized and manifested in heart disease, fibroids, cancers, migraines, chronic pain, depression and more.

My octogenarian relative then explained that humans essentially only have two emotions, love and fear. She said if we aren’t experiencing one, then we are likely practicing a manifestation of the other. When thinking about so many of the evils African-Americans have faced and currently face in this country, I stepped back to analyze the wise words of my aunt. I realized that so much of what Blacks in America are experiencing is an outpouring of fear that manifests itself in racism, anger and violence. However, someone else’s fear is not for us to carry. We can place that burden on the individuals who have fear in their hearts.

Listening to our elders is essential. I am amazed at the wealth of wisdom I receive each time I sit across from my older relatives. An advisor once told me that I should keep friends in every age decade, meaning I should have real and true friends who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, and if I am lucky enough, friends in their 80s and 90s. I have found that developing friendships with women across the age spectrum has given me a tremendous amount of love, advice and wisdom.

Begin to strengthen the friendships and relationships that fill you with love and definitely reach out to your elders. They often hold so many of the keys to a more peaceful and productive life.

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.”