Whenever I hear or read about forgiving or being forgiven, I recollect a story that never fails to probe the limits of the act. You may find its events controversial or you may consider those justifiable, holding equal potential to evoke revulsion and compassion. Personally, I've found it hard to judge or pass any opinion about it because I have never lived inside the souls of its characters, never known the size of the shoes they had to walk in and because my own life is riddled with a long list of terrible choices. But I prefer not to judge mainly because I believe that some choices in life so inevitably lead to struggles and sufferings that their making cannot be weighed in the everyday one-dimensional scale of right or wrong.
A friend of mine fell in love with a married woman. He was himself married for three years. They had come to know of each other in the virtual recesses of expressions, drifting from their own loveless unions, waiting for something they were not even sure of at the time. And right from the moment of their first exchange of emails something clicked too perfectly between them. There was no introspection, there wasn’t the usual delay and weighing of the sides – none of those things; they hurtled themselves at each other with the accumulated velocity of too old and too strong a desire. Having wandered for years in search of what they’d finally found, my friend and this woman had an understandably intense affair, filling the long looming void in each other’s existence. They fit into their mutual needs like pieces of puzzle. It was as if their union bore cosmic proportions, and they came into it showering endless affection and passion. She flew across two continents to meet him. And they spent three memorable days fulfilling every void, every corner of darkness in their hearts with the light of love. I was there when he saw her off. Who’d have known then that the kiss she blew across from the far end of the boarding gate while disappearing into the conveyance bus would be the last one in their story.
All this time I’ve been hearing from my friend me why there never will be another woman like her, why he’d give up everything to relive those three days. She was beautiful, smart, sensitive, kind and she loved my friend with all her heart. Often when I ask myself as to what could have propelled them so irreversibly at each other I realize that apart from deep, binding and overwhelming love there could be no other reason.
It was the perfect kind of love. Except that the only imperfection in their story made all the difference. Distance. What initially helped them fight the separation of a thousand miles was their mutual longing for love and a shared proclivity to express it. They proclaimed what they felt through endless trade of words. But in the end their story set itself for a sad realization that love can fight off many things yet its own demons sometimes conquer it. Living away gradually began to choke them. The apparent jealousy, the blank spaces in time when neither could be certain of the other’s state, the demands of their respective families began to surround the innocence of their affections. She was the first one who sensed it and immediately voiced the hope of a home.
She knew that their relationship needed to be given a formal foundation. She was confident that it was too real to be denied the dignity of recognition it deserved. But my friend couldn’t summon the will to suspend the people concerned, the families involved, in misery. He felt it would be betrayal. I remember once asking him ‘Why don’t you choose? It’s terrible to see you like this. Dying for a woman who is ready to live with you but cannot since you’re not able to leave your wife for whom you nurture no feeling at all’ All he said was ‘I owe it to her family. They never came asking for the marriage. It was mine which had gone seeking her hand. I can’t do this.’
‘But this suffering? This is too much. How long will you be able to last like this?’
‘I can’t trample upon the happiness of others for finding mine’.
‘What about her happiness? The woman you pledge your devotion to?’
‘Not being able to be with her is death for me. But it is a death I cannot avoid. For the choices I’ve made in my life mandate my bondage’
When you feel so strongly for a person but cannot love her the way your heart longs to, it wrenches the life out of your soul. What followed was a haunting ordeal. She tried to take her life, stayed at the hospital for three days. The effects of that act had the most tragic consequence for her health. She had to give up something precious to every woman. These were powerful wounds. Powerful enough to devastate to shreds the most sacred ties of affection. They separated. She took a call. She had to. He forced her to by his denial to hold her hand before the world.
A couple of years have flown by. I do not know what happened with the wonderful lady but I see my friend trying to perfect the pretense of living a normal life, in his home with his family, and relatives, doing his job. I see him celebrating festivals and laughing loudly and greeting neighbors. The world sees it too. But as his close companion I alone am privy to the nights he wanders away from sanity carrying the weight of emptiness, trying to beat his solitude with whatever he can grab, the unhelpful company of friends he can't relate to or some pointless indulgence here and there, searching for a semblance of meaning and purpose to his existence, scanning the shallowness of his being in the shadows of the dark. I quietly watch the reckless things he does as though there is this secret endeavor he is making to reach a point of no return. I observe the loss of aspiration that he suffers bit by bit, adding up, readying him for a final withdrawal. The very mention of the woman’s name makes him tremble like a child under the influence of something stunning.
He knows he cannot ever make good for what the woman lost. He can never give her back those days, those moments she gave away from her life. That is why I hope she moves on. Maybe, as I write this memoir, she has already approached that tipping point. I know my friend would want the same thing. Even though it would break his heart, I know he’d wish her to settle down. Find a man and make a home with him. He knows how dearly she dreams of those simple joys.
As for my friend, I admit, it devastates me to see him long hopelessly for her, who is one simple choice away, the choice of following his heart. A choice, I know too well he won’t make. I know the chains that tie him cannot be broken. For there is no one who can break those but him. And he won’t ever lift the axe.
Sometimes it occurs to me that he shouldn’t have married without love. If he did then he shouldn’t have had the affair. And if he had it then he should have seen it through. For all the immeasurable pain he inflicted on her by being unable to marry her, I pray that she is happy again, in real. She is a kind woman. She is loyal. She is truthful and brave. I know that she craves real love. Therefore I pray that she finds the love that she deserves, that she is made for.
And one day, when all this is over, when she is finally gone to a home, to another comforting pair of arms, to another path to her dreams; when all this is a memory, will then my friend be able to forgive himself? For not standing up when it would have made a difference? For not respecting the longings of his soul and failing it? From whom else should my friend seek forgiveness? From the woman he loved, the one whom he wronged by not taking their momentous love story to its logical end, or from his wife whom he is going to keep inside a smokescreen for the rest of their lives pretending to be in her need? And what price must he pay for absolution, if at all there would be any, given all the things he took away from the woman and the terribleness of the sufferings he let her undergo and the excruciating anguish he immersed his own poor soul in by giving it a temporary taste of what should only have been forever.
As for me. Well, I grudge time. It should have never let the two of them meet in the first place. It knew all too well how their souls are and what inescapable levels of attraction they would wield on each other once their paths crossed. Time knew that their future was not under one roof. Therefore, for the sake of love and the falling it took in the story, must not time remain unforgivable?
As I said at the start I won't judge anyone. Who am I to judge? All I can think of today, after living with their story for so long (June marked two years of the kiss she blew at the terminal) is that man cannot be created for such suffering, such disenchantment. Not unless some sort of a divine reprisal is the reason behind all of it. Maybe therefore, before anyone else, my friend and the woman of his dreams need forgiveness, for whatever wrong in whichever timeline of whichever birth they may have committed, the one that happens to foster the origins of their agony. As a helpless bystander I can only offer my prayers seeking that forgiveness for them and hope that the price of their absolution is no more dearer than it already has been.