Once there was a very old man who lived next door to me. He'd lived there forever; I'd grown up with his children, and his wife was my confidant. Long after I grew up, I moved back into the old house to raise my own children. He was still next door.
After living some years as friendly neighbors, sharing rakes and shovels and plates of Christmas cookies, I discovered that he had taken something from my garage. Something that had been there from my own childhood, just some old junk of my grandma's, probably only worth ten bucks at a garage sale. It's value to me was mostly that it had belonged to my family for three generation. But still, he'd just come over and taken it.
I confronted the old man. He sorrowfully professed his apologies but said the item had since broken and he'd thrown it out; there was no returning it. I was vastly annoyed and wanted little to do with him after that, though still being close with his wife, I had to swallow my irritation and make nice.
Another while passed and my children began watching one of those antiques shows on television where people sell their attic-finds for pennies or fortunes. They discovered that the item the old man had stolen was not worth the mere ten dollars I'd imagined but was being bought by collectors for a thousand dollars. I began to doubt that grandma's junk had so conveniently broken as the old man had claimed.
My anger and resentment of the old man grew. Bitterness galled in my belly when I saw him in his yard. My relationship with his wife withered. I realized that I had to forgive him for my own sake, if not for his. I told myself that I hadn't lost anymore than when I was unaware of the actual monetary value of grandma's piece. It was simply a bit of family history and I still had my memories of grandma, after all. It took a long time of inhaling So and exhaling Hum, of praying for peace and seeking to see the divine in the old man. But finally, I could smile at him and actually mean it.
Eventually, the old man's wife became ill and died. My family and I went over to help him sort out his belongings and close up his house before he moved in with his daughter. I found a note addressed to me in his wife's handwriting, wavering and spotty, clearly written just before her death.
The note revealed that in her last days, the old man had confessed to her. For decades he had been breaking into my house and systematically stealing my grandmother's treasures. After emptying the storage boxes in the garage, he decimated the long neglected attic. He'd even brought in knock-offs to replace the valuable antiques he stole from the main house. My beloved family heirlooms, the tangible bits of long ago memories, the irreplaceable things I'd so adored because I thought they held the imprint of my grandma's touch were all cheap fakes. The dead woman guessed that the old man had sold my belongings for hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least a half a million, probably more. She'd thought he'd been fortunate at his online trading, when in fact, his trades had been disastrous and it was the sale of my own goods that had kept the two of them out of financial disaster many times.
I was shocked into immobility while my mind raced. What good had been all the work I'd put into forgiving him for the one theft I'd known about? Had his apology that I'd struggled so to accept had any value at all? Could he possibly have had any repentance for the one when he still continued with the other? Was my hard-won forgiveness worth anything at all in the face of this deeper and infinitely more personal violation?
Worse than the loss of the material goods he'd stolen was the sense that his theft had been from my soul. He'd stolen forgiveness from me with his fraudulent apology, capitalizing on my own inner belief in turning the other cheek. I wished I'd never wasted any effort at all on the struggle to forgive him for his now-petty crime. I wished I'd built up the wall between our houses, cut off relations with his wife, guarded myself from his thievery. He'd manipulated my goodness and his wife's to serve his own greed. He'd exploited my trust to cover his poor judgement in stocks. His rape of my innocence tainted even the memories his false heirlooms once inspired. I couldn't even think of my grandma without being ripped off by him all over again.
I doubted that all the novenas, all the so hums, all the praying in the world could ever give me the grace to forgive the old man again.