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.