My great-great-grandmother was 109 when she taught me how to make hummus. She would churn the machine by hand to grind the chickpeas. No one did work like that anymore, but she said it helped her to remember how hard it was not to forgive. To hold up your enemy in your heart and offer them to God was a gift for you.
She would pray a blessing, peace, and names, over and over. I forgive you. Some of the names she made up because she did not know who had dropped the bombs on her village or who had killed everyone she loved. Though she would remind me, it is far more difficult to forgive someone whose name you know. In turn, the sky would open and forgiveness would fall from it into her eager hands. She needed every bit of it just to live, just to take one more breath.
We celebrated the Forgiveness Festival each year, making the meal that would remind us why we do this, how our chains were broken, and for my great-great-grandmother, where our peace comes from.
Born in 1969, she had lived an entire liftetime before I came along, but as she liked to say, just kept on living after that. She could remember her days, each of them, clearly because she had the mind of Christ, not the feeble mind people expect when your eyes are old and your hair is gray.
She could recall a smile at a friend's joke 40 years before and what she felt like the first time humans landed on Mars. She remembered the speech a great man gave in a dark place. She had memorized each word, but discarded the memory of the darkness. She remembered his funeral with tears and forgave his killers, who she had always believed to be her own people.
She had forgiven wars and horrors and selfishness, foolishness, and deception. She had forgiven me, I believe, and herself, if you can.
Her health was startling. Who walks that far without a cane at her age? She didn't have time to stand still, she would tell us. But she seemed to me to have all the time in the world. As long as the sun rose, so did she, and I imagined she'd live forever.
We chose our ingredients for the meal carefully. Each would symbolize our forgiveness in one way or another, some long completed, and others yet to come. Her entries were simple, usually items we could not find anymore. Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream helped her forgive a friend, though she had long since forgotten what for. The company no longer existed, so we made the ice cream at home by hand with an old machine that required effort like everything else.
Each Spring, before the festival, we would travel far to the east to a town called Ufa for Bashkortostan honey. The best in the world, she would say. I would heartily agree, though it was the only honey left in the entire world. Her reason for including it in the festival was strange to me. She'd been afraid as a child, often and of most things. The dark. Monsters. People. Deep water. The Soviets.
"Did you forgive them?" I would ask.
"Kind of," she would always say, then add, "They never attacked us, so there wasn't really anything to forgive."
And then I would prompt, "Did they ever forgive us?"
"No," was her answer every time.
I am still not sure what she meant, but it never sat comfortably with me. I felt there was more to the story. But we can't forgive for others, only ourselves, and sometimes we do not understand another's burdens.
We would come to the salad last. In the bottom of a glass jar would go the dressing, a glop of oil and other fats and something called Ranch seasoning. It tasted tangy and sweet, but was disgusting to me. It was bloblike and messy. It had long gone out of fashion, only the elderly ate it now, covering perfectly good food with it. And, so, we did too. Above that, the jar would be filled with vegetables, then seeds, walnuts, and at the top spinach or lettuce or nothing at all. She shook the jar before serving and poured the whole thing into a bowl. I asked her once who she forgave with the salad. She told me simply that she just liked salad and it was time to celebrate because our chains were broken and we were free.