Dennis Miller and I were gabbing on his talk show about the Gates-Crowley affair and a thought occurred to me: Professor Gates needs to forgive Officer Crowley and he also needs to forgive the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
Here’s what popped into my head on the Miller Show. At the age of five, my mother told me that if my father ever left her she would kill herself, and that if I wanted to prevent that from happening, it was my job to keep him around. This is a heavy responsibility to lay on a kid of five but I accepted it without question. I adored my mother. She was beautiful, smart, sexy and funny. She was also a self-destructive drunk who had room in her heart only for my father. He was a charming sadist with room in his heart for no-one: a hot-shot liberal who helped found the New England branch of the A.C.L.U. but in private often used the word jewbastard.
Their marriage was, to say the least, tumultuous. I had been sent by Central Casting to play the small but important role of the child. After each of their frequent and alcoholic altercations, my father would storm out of the house (actually, the rented, upper half of a house in a working class neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts…Gates-Crowley country) and head off to spend a few days with one of his girlfriends. I’d be sent after him, once actually barefoot in the snow, a sobbing ten year old, to catch up and explain how much I loved and needed him and beg him to come back. “Go home,” he’d tell me. “I’ll be back in a while.”
He would be back after a while and things would settle down for a time until the next upheaval. Shortly after my sixteenth birthday, my father left home for good and, true to her word, my mother went to the kitchen, lay down on the linoleum floor, turned on the gas and packed it in. I put our furniture in storage, made living arrangements for myself and went on with my life. After ten years of analysis, two years of Reichian therapy, fire-walking, re-birthing and then a second ten years of analysis, I had forgiven my poor, sweet, alcoholic mother. But my father remained beyond my powers to forgive. The last shrink I attended put it this way. “The no-good bastard isn’t worth forgiving. Live with it.”
Meanwhile, I had become a Christian… my own form of odd-ball Christian (leave out the middleman and deal direct with the Maker for big savings). Each morning and night I get down on my knees and thank God for my life and ask Him to make me grateful all the time instead of just most of the time. One morning, a few weeks ago, I realized that I had forgiven my father. I don’t know how or when, I just knew that it had happened. Not because the son of a bitch was worth forgiving and certainly not because he had asked for it, but just because, if I was ever going to feel grateful all the time, in other words, if I was going to become truly happy, I had to forgive him. It wasn’t for him (although it affects him, wherever he is) it was for me. The heaviness in my heart which he represented and which I’d always carried around, was just gone. I felt lighter. I loved my wife more now. I loved my kids, my grandkids, my friends, the blue sky above and maybe even guys who cut me off on the freeway. (Well…) I hadn’t tried to forgive my father. It had been, it seems, the inevitable result of my prayers to feel grateful, my determination to be happy.
Back to Professor Gates. He has spent a career immersing himself in all the bad stuff that white people have done to Black people. His head is full of it. It seethes in him like a cauldron and it hurts. He will never feel relief until he forgives us white folks. Not just good ones like Officer Crowley, an Irish cop who has worked harder than probably any white guy alive to understand the Black condition, but ordinary ones like me. Oh yes, and really bad ones like the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Hard, you say? If it was easy, as my dear old grandfather used to remark, everybody would do it. But it’s the only way. You can forgive and be filled with happiness and peace of mind or you can hold on to justifiable anger and be rich, famous, tenured at Harvard and miserable.