BY RAYE SNOVER | What would you do if someone you’ve shared the most intimate details of your life with and who has helped you change for the better, metaphorically stabbed you in the heart? What if he or she was unrepentant? Would you forgive the person? Could you? These are the questions that spawned Susan Shapiro’s unique new memoir, “The Forgiveness Tour: How To Find the Perfect Apology.”
In her best work to date, Shapiro, a Greenwich Village icon and New York Times bestselling author of “The Byline Bible,” discovered her addiction therapist had betrayed her by seeing the only person she asked him not to see — her protégé. As he offered no explanation or apology, Shapiro angry and hurt, cut her “core pillar” out of her life but couldn’t leave it at that.
Obsessing over this duplicity, Shapiro had nightmares, couldn’t eat and argued with the doctor who wasn’t there. You can just feel her angst emanating from the page. Needing some relief and resolution, she spoke to members across the religious spectrum — Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu — and even delved into the “forgiveness industry” seeking insight.
The results of these explorations were ambiguous at best. One rabbi told her, “You are under no obligation to forgive him until he apologizes,” while an Anglican reverend explained, “They were taught to…forgive as Jesus didn’t wait for an apology.” Meanwhile, a Jungian astrologer told offered, “Forgiveness is overrated. Holding a grudge can be protective.” As for the forgiveness industry? They recommended “radical absolution.”
Moving on from theory, Shapiro embarked on a journey around the country to talk to 13 trauma survivors about how they live with the pain and “what apology they wanted to hear.” She interviewed a Holocaust survivor, a survivor of genocide, a sexual-abuse victim and a transgender man. She talked to people who had lost loved ones, from death or divorce among others.
Shapiro uses a deft and sensitive hand as she relates these heartrending and compelling stories that make you want to read on and on. Chris, the transgender man, wants an apology from God “for putting me in the wrong body” and wants to hear “I’m sorry I did this to you and made you suffer for so long.” Manny the Holocaust survivor tells her, “You find tiny ways to lessen the pain, to remove it pebble by pebble,” since there are no apologies forthcoming from the Nazis at Bergen-Belsen.
Doggedly continuing her quest for answers, Shapiro’s anger levels off as she absorbs the lessons her subjects have to give. Lessons like patience, which Leah taught her as she waited for her estranged son to come around. Meanwhile, from Kate, whose partner left her emotionally and financially bereft, Shapiro learned she “could live well without forgetting you were wronged, hearing regret or receiving reparations.” Using the knowledge she has gained, the author looks within, finding that there may be those she needs to make amends with to heal the rifts of the past.
At times, sad, funny and profound, “The Forgiveness Tour” paints a poignant portrait of the power of apology.
“The Forgiveness Tour: How to Find the Perfect Apology,” by Susan Shapiro, Skyhorse Publishing, 264 pages, $16.99.