I MET a man during my recent spiritual journey through Asia and Nepal, who shared a surprising story. He was married for 25 years. He and his wife loved each other deeply. A few years ago doctors diagnosed him with heart disease and told him he had to dramatically change his lifestyle.
His wife was very supportive, and got involved with preparing good food. She gave up alcohol and her own love of desserts to encourage him. But she also started behaving strangely. In his version of events, they had been running a business together and at the same time as being wonderful, she began fiddling the books to protect herself financially in the event of his demise. Consumed with health issues, he didn’t notice.
It’s a legally complex story, but to simplify she left him; and when he went to pay medical bills he discovered the coffers were depleted, and their prime asset had been mortgaged. He was advised to freeze her activities and pursue the matter vigorously through the courts. But he made a strange choice.
“The diagnosis made me realise that life is so frighteningly short. My first 50 years had just gone like that. How many more did I have left? How many more Christmas lunches? I decided I didn’t want to spend one precious minute being angry, resentful, or heartbroken, or briefing lawyers and having to relive the betrayal over and over again.”
Against the urgings of everyone in his circle, he let the matter go. He took the money he still had, and went on a journey to find meaning and wellbeing. At the retreat where I met him, he’d discovered yoga and a diet which helped him regain his health and equilibrium.
He was chatting about his new business idea, and a sexy interlude he was having: “It seems I’m still in my prime,” he joked.
“I forgave her and walked away. No, it wasn’t easy. I wanted to humiliate her in front of family and friends; I wanted my money back. But litigation would have caused me enormous stress over years. It was the corrosive nature of my lifestyle that had affected my heart in the first place.
“I also knew I hadn’t been blameless in the marriage breaking down. Ironically, taking some of the responsibility helped me reconcile my anger. But I didn’t forgive her for her sake, I did it for mine; so I could move on with a happy life,” he said.
Despite my own spiritual practice, I suspect I would’ve fought to the death on principle. But looking at this man’s radiant face, I realised that he was right: Forgiveness may not be deserved by our friends and foes, but it sets us free to live.