In the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, there is a duet between Tevye and Golde in which Tevye asks his wife of 25 years, “Do you love me?” After all that time together, Golde is surprised by the question: what does it even mean? But Tevye persists. Eventually, Golde summarizes her feelings about his wondering:
For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him,
fought with him, starved with him.
Twenty-five years my bed is his –
If that’s not love, what is?”
In other words, I’ve lived as though I loved him. Therefore, I love him. That’s how it works. Actions speak louder than words.
One of the complicated side-effects of love, especially within families, is the necessity for forgiveness. I’ve been wondering whether Golde’s formula can be applied here, too.
“For twenty-five years I’ve lived as though
this never happened, that never was;
for twenty-five years I’ve held my tongue.
If I’ve not forgiven, who has?”
There are times when this has been a helpful approach. There are times when I remain unconvinced. Love might involve living as though we love; living as though we have forgiven; living with a plausible denial of the inconvenient truths of the difficult sides of relationships (does it really, Golde?). But forgiveness: doesn’t that take a little more work? A little more honesty and candour? True reconciliation can’t paper over the cracks. Only once the depth of the chasm is recognized can a bridge be built, or a staircase down to the base of the valley. We might never find our way back up. But without trying, we will never know.
This morning, in episcopal cafe, Bill Carroll offers the insight that while “reconciliation is a two way street[,] forgiveness, by contrast can be unilateral.”* This helps with the problems left over by the above: how can we forgive the dead? Or those whose memory is irretrievable? Or those who are otherwise lost to us?
Golde’s approach may be prosaic rather than poetic, pragmatic rather than romantic, but it has legs. Twenty-five years.
Do you forgive me?