We are often told to “forgive and forget.” From World War II comes a story about Steve, a wounded soldier who first had to forget before he could forgive.
Steve was recovering from his wounds at the U.S. Army Halloran General Hospital on Staten Island when his doctor noticed in his record that he was married. Odd, he thought, since the soldier had received no visitors. Thinking there had been a mix-up in the notification of the spouse, he tracked Steve’s wife Laura down, and she promised to come.
When she arrived, she questioned why she had been contacted since the couple was headed for divorce. They had married very young, with very little time together before he was deployed. She was immature and selfish, indulging in an affair which Steve had heard about. He sent a letter home telling her he could never forgive her. Surely Steve had no interest in seeing her. It was apparent she was filled with regret, even self-loathing for what she had done.
Laura asked how her husband was, and whether he would be all right. The doctor assured her that a full recovery was expected. But, he explained, her husband was suffering from amnesia. He had no memory of his life before he was wounded, and would require intensive support during his post-discharge recovery.
When the doctor brought Laura in to see Steve, he did not recognize her or remember their life together as man and wife. Nor did seeing her seem to jog his memory. His amnesia was clearly going to be long-lasting.
Laura stayed. After some time, she met the doctor again to discuss Steve’s prognosis. She told him she planned to live with Steve again until he was back on his feet. She did not intend to tell her husband about the affair, believing his recovery was the most immediate priority.
The doctor knew there was a huge risk in Laura’s plan. At some point, he said, Steve was likely to recover his memory, including his knowledge of her infidelity. What then? Laura was undaunted. “Until then, I can help him,” she said. After a period of further recovery, Steve was discharged into her care.
A year later, the doctor received a letter from Laura. Steve had indeed gained back his memory, and for a time suffered greatly from his remembrance of Laura’s betrayal. Then he took her into his arms and told her he forgave her. Her love and unselfish sacrifice had outweighed the anger he felt, and they were happy together.
Each of us faces instances where friends, colleagues, or family members abuse our trust. The Apostle Paul faced this problem more than most, and he has this direction for us: “Clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others” (Colossians 3:12b-13 New English Bible).