I refuse to forgive you but I probably will

by Janelle Hanchett

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness, and the way people often talk about it as this sweet, gentle thing. A delicate sort of gesture born of goodwill and high morality.

It’s never been like that for me.

I either forget about the transgression because I’m too lazy to stay angry, or I cling to my resentment like a drowning woman.

I ride that out for a while, just really milking that shit – how I was harmed, how wrong that person is, until I think I may be consumed in rage.

And then I forgive, and when I do, it’s not gentle. It’s not sweet. It’s a reckless, wild, radical thing that crashes out of me because I have no choices left.

A teacher asked me once, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be free?” 

I forgive when I want to be free, not because I’m trying to be nice, or want goodwill, or even to be friends.

I’ve been thinking about it because a few weeks ago I sat in a courtroom with my cousin, the man who killed my grandmother, and I stared at the back of his head.

There he is.

A man I’ve known my whole life, four years younger than me. I remembered him in his baseball uniform as a little boy, his huge brown eyes and curly hair.

He was quite possibly the gentlest, sweetest child I ever met.

He looked back at me two or three times in that courtroom, while I sat shaking, cursing the inefficacy of the Ativan I had taken.

What I felt when he looked at me is that he wanted me to nod, or smile at him, give some recognition. We were always good friends.

I glared at him. I tried to hurt him with my eyes.

In softer moments, I know he was sick. He was unmedicated and delusional and he stabbed my grandmother and killed her. In softer moments, I see that, and I know it to be true.

In other moments, I glance at the lamp hanging above the left side of my bed, that used to hang over the left side of hers, and I think about the way she died, and her suffering, and what he stole from her, and us – the last years of life – how many would there have been? – her plans, her smile, her vibrancy. He stole all that.

A death with her loved ones surrounding her. A final goodbye. He took that too.

And I think I want to rip his face off. I want to beat the shit out of him. I want him to rot in jail.

And in between these prospects, these thoughts, lies the space of freedom I refuse to face just yet. The space that calls to me when I’m quiet, when I’m not looking, and I know someday I’ll go there.

I’ll take one maniacal leap into illogical forgiveness.

I will see his humanity and fucking release him, and a part of me will hate it when it happens, and I don’t know when or how or if I’ll ever stand face to face with him again, or give voice to the compassion I sometimes feel but mostly abhor, but I know somehow the day will come when I will choose forgiveness over the all-consuming rage.

It won’t look soft. It won’t pat his head. It won’t excuse him or love him or even accept him. It will be to accept the truth, the whole awful ruthless bloody truth. Of him, of the boy and the man, of the sickness and the extinguished life – and me, standing aside, ready to be free, unwilling to die for sins that aren’t mine.


With Arlo a few years ago. She was going to study art and visit each of her great-grandchildren.


My book, I’M JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE, was out on May 1. I’m doing book events right now. Austin and Washington D.C. coming soon!  Come say hello.

And check out the book at the links below. I hope you enjoy.

more stuff I shouldn't have said out loud:

  • Debra L. Scott

    I wish there was another word for “this”. I have felt forgiveness and I have also felt what you are so vividly describing. I find myself groping for another word, instinctually shying away from forgiveness. After 9 months of PTSD therapy…I have dealt with my existance and his existance in relation to what happened and no longer am defined by it. I don’t know if there is a word that gets at its core emotional flavor. Your description resonates so deeply.

  • Steve

    Thank you for your honesty in your writing. I have someone from my past who I share the ‘all consuming rage’ & I haven’t forgiven. My ex wife destroyed our marriage, then took vengeance & destroyed 3 biological children’s & 2 adopted sons relationships with their ‘father.’ I haven’t seen the kids outside a County Courthouse in 13+ years. I know the rage has hurt my health & that my kids have suffered mightily for her insanity. One daughter was abused by the company my ex wife keeps…. had I still lived in the area, I would have went to jail. I decided that God will have to sort it out, because I won’t ruin the time I have left. Thank you for your truth & experience of something that happened. I am sorry it did.

  • Margaret Sky | Home In Wonderland

    Dude, you are nailing this whole being human thing. Because you are so very human and so very yourself and you don’t hide it and I love you for it. I’ve stalked your blog for years now, since before I even had kids, so thought I should pop into the comments and say hi.

    Also, I’m so sorry about your grandmother, and your cousin, and this whole crazy world. (And I realize my saying that does nothing at all). And I think you’re brave that you’re willing (maybe sometimes, or maybe all the time) to let the “maniacal forgiveness” wash over you and do its thing when it comes.

    I’m a therapist so I’ve definitely had that weird compassion, that weird seeing-the-person-as-an-innocent-child thing, even for people who have done truly effed-up shit. It’s all just weird and crazy and thanks for sharing your stories and being yourself.

  • Elaine

    Janelle I just finished your book. It’s all dog eared and I’ve been following my husband around for several days reading to him the parts that I found the most beautiful. I sat mostly in my little gazebo with dogs and goats and children interrupting every few minutes and I must have looked like a crazy person. I laughed and cried and cried and laughed and was left wanting more of yourinsights and wisdom. I have never struggled with alchohol or drugs, but there were so many truths that I could identify with, things I never would have been brave enough to write myself. Thank you for writing them.

  • Sherry

    Every time you write the words, “In softer moments…” my eyes just burn and water and ache. Watching you work through this pain is both awe inspiring and heart breaking. Everything you say is correct and everything you feel is right.

  • Caris

    dear Janelle
    Thankyou for writing about your lecoetience, and your loss, and the process of forgiveness. I’m so dirty my love that you lost your beautiful grandmother. I hope you see her again one day. Thankyou for sharing her photo and your love and wisdom even through your pain. xxxc

  • Caris

    i meant to say “sorry” not dirty!

  • Christina

    Thank you for writing this

  • Elizabeth Bowen

    Forgiveness and suffering is like that. We humans hold onto so much suffering because of anger. Reading your words tonight was serendipitous because earlier today I had a revelation. The revelation that apologizing was less difficult than forgiveness because to forgive and reach freedom from suffering we have to first let go of our victim-hood that we cling to that seems to justify our anger and suffering. We’ll never be fully free of suffering, but there is a lot of suffering we can walk away from if we forgive.

  • Denise

    That’s grace, that thing that comes and grabs you when you’re not looking and you don’t even fucking want any part of it. I’m crying, evidently that’s what I do when I read your words. It’s Mother’s Day weekend and that just rips me apart, but this grace BS always puts me back together. Thank you for writing this.

  • Nikki-momma

    You articulate what so many before you have come to learn as the truth… Forgiveness isn’t for them, it’s for you. It’s so that you may move on for your own sanity and health and happiness; most people take years or decades to come to the conclusion you have as the rage eats at them and destroys their lives and relationships. Many times that blind rage isn’t even because of such a horrible experience… Forgiveness is a gift and a chance to heal. The death of your grandmother is horrific in so many ways, because not only did you loose her and all the future times together but also your cousin because of his illness and actions. That is a very difficult situation. Hugs. You got this whole adulting thing down…

  • Wendy Minto

    I feel for you – I am loving your book! Up to chapter 6 and balling because you have just left Mac even though I know you get better!
    All the feels from the book and then this – huge hugs ????

  • John

    Heartbreaking and painful. I can’t imagine.

    I always think forgiveness is really for the sake of the forgiver more than for the forgiven. Lily Tomlin summed up the harsh reality of forgiveness beautifully:

    “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

    I am so sorry for your family’s loss and the tragedy that surrounds it.

  • Sam C.

    Your words always hit the right spot. I have always struggled with forgiveness. I don’t understand it, and it eludes me. I think about it quite often, because I know that forgiveness is part of the path the grace, which is another thing I don’t really get how to have. Maybe your words of radical, messy, un-soft forgiveness will help me. Thanks, as always, for sharing your wild, open heart.

  • Emily

    You’re coming to AUSTIN?!?!?!? I’m so excited! I hope I can make it!

  • Linda

    I know this forgiveness. It is painful, torn from yourself in an act of desperation. You emerge bloodied, tired, and free at last. It makes deep sense–the act committed had no gentleness about it. The forgiveness wouldn’t be full without the struggle. It’s a gift to ourselves. Take the time you need to give birth to it. My prayers for you that you do not let it take over your life while you are in labor for it.