The For­give­ness Tour: How To Find the Per­fect Apology

  • Review
By – January 19, 2021

One of the most impor­tant lessons one learns when read­ing Susan Shapiro’s thought­ful explo­ration of for­give­ness, The For­give­ness Tour: How to Find the Per­fect Apol­o­gy, is that hurt and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion are cen­tral themes in almost all of our lives.

The book cen­ters on a con­flict Shapiro faces: should she for­give her ther­a­pist who hurt her and refus­es to apol­o­gize? After unpack­ing their com­pli­cat­ed his­to­ry, Shapiro sets off on a quest to explore the role of for­give­ness in the lives of her friends, fam­i­ly, and neigh­bors, hop­ing that through them she might gain insight into what she should do. While her per­son­al sto­ry lays the foun­da­tions for her jour­ney, it is in these con­ver­sa­tions that the book takes flight.

Shapiro’s cast of char­ac­ters have encoun­tered a wide vari­ety of chal­lenges. In one chap­ter we meet Kenan, who is still try­ing to come to terms with his family’s per­se­cu­tion at the hands of Chris­tain Serbs. In anoth­er we meet Cliff, who recounts his strug­gle to for­give his father for aban­don­ing him when he was young. In still anoth­er we meet Sharisee, whose father decid­ed that a trip to Dis­ney World could some­how make up for his sex­u­al abuse of her. Shaprio is fore­most a jour­nal­ist, and this shows in her abil­i­ty to con­vey — in just a few pages — not only her sub­jects’ sto­ries but also their pain and humanity.

Through these sketch­es and in the account of her own strug­gle, Shapiro explores many of the fun­da­men­tal themes of for­give­ness: who to for­give, when to for­give, whether we should for­give with­out an apol­o­gy, and what hold­ing on to griev­ances does to us. As the book pro­gress­es, we see that these con­ver­sa­tions do not just exist onto them­selves. They have an effect on Shapiro, who is able to come to terms with the many peo­ple in her life that she may need to for­give: her ther­a­pist, a pro­tégé turned stalk­er, and her father, among others.

Though this book is not overt­ly Jew­ish, it feels Jew­ish nonethe­less. Ear­ly on in her explo­ration, Shapiro con­sults her friend Rab­bi Moshe Pin­drus, who explains that there is no sin that does not deserve a par­don. Lat­er she calls her par­ents’ rab­bi, Joseph Krakoff, who describes how he helped a dying man say a con­fes­sion­al prayer for sins that he was not will­ing to ful­ly own. As the book con­tin­ues we meet oth­er rab­bis, all of whom speak from their own expe­ri­ences. Each gives a slight­ly dif­fer­ent mes­sage about for­give­ness, but all under­score its impor­tance. Because these con­ver­sa­tions frame many of her oth­ers, Shapiro’s whole jour­ney feels spir­i­tu­al. Her yearn­ing to under­stand for­give­ness is in line with cen­turies-old Jew­ish ques­tions on the top­ic, and her book pro­vides a wel­come new voice in the conversation.

In the end, Shapiro has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet with her ther­a­pist and learns that like most things in life, his sto­ry is more com­pli­cat­ed than she sus­pect­ed. In this encounter, the book finds an addi­tion­al nuance, for we learn that the essence of for­give­ness is not sim­ply bad peo­ple seek­ing par­don from the inno­cent. Instead, we are all inter­twined in a web of com­plex con­nec­tions, messy rela­tion­ships, easy mis­un­der­stand­ings, and raw sen­si­tiv­i­ties that make for­give­ness so dif­fi­cult yet also so beau­ti­ful when it can happen.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

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