I remember the distinct feeling of wanting to throw a frying pan at my brother’s face in the middle of an argument, but six months later, as he visits Sydney from Melbourne, all I feel is love and the urge to give him a hug. How could my feelings for him have changed so dramatically? Was our reconciliation just a matter of time?
As my rollercoaster feelings about my brother have taught me, time is a powerful phenomenon. It is the natural path that allows reconciliation between individuals or groups. My personal guru, Justin Bieber, asks for forgiveness and reconciliation in his renowned song Sorry: “Yeah, I know that I let you down, is it too late to say I’m sorry now?” In fact, as I could tell Justin personally, it is never too late to say you are sorry, rather you just have to give the person you’re apologising to enough time to be able to accept your gesture of reconciliation. In contrast, seeking reconciliation hot on the heels of an argument is never a good idea. That’s when you really could end up with a frying pan in the face. Time allows the sting of hurt to fade. Our memories, especially of pain, don’t linger. I remember the sharp flame of the anger I felt towards my brother, but now it is distant, dim. Just a memory with no power.
Almost every adage about reconciliation expresses the common wisdom that ‘time heals’, just ‘give it time’ and ‘time softens the blow’. But why is time such a powerful healer? How does it help reconciliation? It’s more than just forgetting. Having time allows one to reflect, and this can lead to acknowledgement to take responsibility for our own part in the hurt that has occurred. This recognition is the first step to reconciliation. When storm clouds are closing over a relationship, time is the light that sheds understanding on a situation.
In Gwen Harwood’s poem, Father and Child, time plays an interesting but key factor. It is clear in I Barn Owl that the father and child share a relationship lacking in trust as the child secretly “crept out with (the) father’s gun”. However, in II Nightfall, as forty years have passed, the child reflects on the relationship, fondly stating: “what memories pack them home”. Has time allowed them to overcome mistrust and reconcile? Has it cleared the skies over their relationship? Or was there another decisive factor, perhaps the father’s approaching death?
If time was a person, death would be its older sibling. The painful experience of death, as the end of time, has the ability to force reconciliation as an imperative, in a way that time does not. Infinite amounts of time allow for an infinite number of future opportunities for reconciliation. Death marks the last and ultimate deadline for this opportunity, creating a strong incentive for forgiveness before it is too late. But why does this urge occur? We are taught at a young age, from the classic Disney movies, that there should always be a happy ending at the close of every story. Cinderella forgives her evil step-sisters, before riding into the sunset with a prince. Perhaps from childhood we subliminally believe this fairy-tale message that being generous, forgiving and reconciling with those who’ve hurt us means we might be rewarded, maybe with a prince?
When facing the end of a life’s story, with death, the concept of a happy ending through reconciliation finds expression in popular psychology as ‘closure’— the healing or conclusion to a personal loss or trauma. Why leave the story unfinished with loose ends? In terms of reconciliation, one simply needs closure to be satisfied, otherwise the pain of death is all-consuming.
However, maybe it isn’t time or death but our primal need for social interaction that allows reconciliation to occur? Ultimately if we didn’t crave connection, we would have no compulsion to reconcile. Relationships are too complex for tensions not to arise – and so we are constantly having to resolve this. If I wasn’t able to forgive my brother for always dipping his fingers in my tea, my parents would have to celebrate two separate Christmases. Humans need family; we need friends and partners in order to be happy in life. Reconciliation isn’t always motivated by love; it could be the result of our innate fear or anxiety of being alone. We have to be able to reconcile, or else we would live a solitary, and sad, life. The lonely storm cloud in a sky of blue: separate and distant.
Ultimately, regardless of why reconciliation occurs, it is a self-determined process. In Father and Child, the mistrust between the two protagonists are relatively minor, or at least able to be overcome in their eyes. But would that be true if their relationship had suffered a more serious wound? It is up to the individual to decide whether the relationship is worth reconciling; to decide whether the problem is forgivable, or even if they have the will. Do they want to wake up to blue skies instead of grey? I always forgive my brother, knowing that within 24 hours of him being home he will wind me up again. I reconcile with him on the understanding that even if his behaviour is unlikely to change, it is more painful not to be reconciled. The feeling of connection provides an embedded metaphysic map to reconciliation. Perhaps every relationship is a series of betrayals and reconciliations.
Reconciliation helps an individual progress their identity, and better understand themselves and others. Like most things in life, reconciliation is a learning experience and a choice, irrespective of the factors that contribute to it.
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