Hugging the cactus, asking for forgiveness, moving on

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past can be changed”
–Oprah Winfrey

Last week, Robert Downey Jr. made headlines when during his acceptance speech at the 25th Annual American Cinematheque Award Ceremony he asked the audience to forgive his good friend Mel Gibson. For the last five years Gibson, who has admitted to suffering from manic depression and being an alcoholic, has been on a downward spiral—with a drunk driving arrest in 2006 leading to a number of separate incidents where he was belligerent, and spewed either racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, or homophobic rants.  Since that initial drunk driving episode, Gibson’s 28-year marriage ended, his career came to a screeching halt and the mother of his child accused him of domestic abuse—a claim he’s denied.

Downey, who in his own past life was no stranger to making headlines thanks-to his addiction troubles, told the audience of how Gibson lent him a hand and offered him advice when he was at his lowest.

According to Entertainment Weekly, Downey said, “I asked Mel to present this award for me for a reason,” he said. “When I couldn’t get sober, he told me not to give up hope and encouraged me to find my faith. It didn’t have to be his or anyone else’s as long as it was rooted in forgiveness. And I couldn’t get hired, so he cast me in the lead of a movie that was actually developed for him. He kept a roof over my head and food on the table and most importantly he said if I accepted responsibility for my wrongdoing and embraced that part of my soul that was ugly—hugging the cactus he calls it—he said that if I hugged the cactus long enough, I’d become a man. I did and it worked. All he asked in return was that someday I help the next guy in some small way. It’s reasonable to assume at the time he didn’t imagine the next guy would be him or that someday was tonight. So anyway on this special occasion and in light of the recent holidays including Columbus Day, I would ask that you join me, unless you are completely without sin in which case you picked the wrong f—ing industry, in forgiving my friend his trespasses and offering him the same clean slate you have me, allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame. He’s hugged the cactus long enough.

As always, Downey has a way with words. And the man does make a point, if Gibson has hugged the cactus long enough and has sought help and guidance, then shouldn’t he be forgiven already?

Soon after the news of Downey’s request broke, the Internet was buzzing with varying views on whether Gibson deserved a clean slate. While most seemed to echo Downey’s sentiments, or not really care at all, the negative nature of some of the comments really took me by surprise.

I, myself agreed with Downey—not that my opinion matters—but why not just forgive the guy? We’ve all said and done things we regret and wish we could take back. And some of us happen to be repeat offenders. Why pass judgment on him? I get that he acted like a complete ass, and I get that he offended a whole lot of people, but we don’t know what caused him to react and behave in that way. We weren’t in his shoes.  So forgive him, and let him move on with his life and career. I know I wouldn’t want to be judged for the rest of my life solely on my mistakes.

The problem with forgiveness, though, is that it means something different to each individual. Some believe forgiveness means pretending the offensive act never happened. Others think that by bestowing forgiveness upon Gibson, it will in a way lessen the severity and offensiveness of his words—it would be on par with patting him on the back and saying “its fine, really, its not a big deal.”

But I have always believed that forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different. I thank Oprah for that definition and agree with it wholeheartedly. Did Gibson say horrible and disgusting things? Yes. Did he offend people? Yes. Were his rants absolutely wrong and uncalled for? Yes. Can anyone go back in time and change what happened? No. Absolutely not. What’s done is done.

So then, what’s the point in withholding forgiveness? The act of not-forgiving hurts all parties involved. Doesn’t it? It gives rise to grudges, anger and hate—and who wants to live with those toxic emotions running through them everyday?

Perhaps, what we all should be feeling is compassion.
Any one of us could be in his shoes one day. We all have the capacity to lose our tempers and say horrible things. Do horrible things. Become something we’re really not. We all have the capacity to have this dark side that we don’t even know exist till it shows up.
Perhaps we won’t commit the same mistakes as Gibson—but I guarantee mistakes will be made and we’ll likely want to be forgiven for the error of our ways. We’ll want someone to wipe the slate clean and say “Yes, you screwed up big time but it happened, you can’t change it. Learn from it and be better. Do better.”

Whether Gibson really is a sexist, bigot or homophobic is beyond me. I don’t know the guy personally, so I can’t judge him. But I will take his friend Downey’s word for what its worth. Gibson’s closest Hollywood friends have obviously been wiling to give him a fresh start  and clearly they have his back—that for me is proof that the ass like behavior isn’t the real Gibson.

The question that remains though is whether the powers-that-be behind the studios in Hollywood and the fans that buy the movie tickets, will forgive him.

But with friends like Downey, who lend a hand when its needed most, who grant you forgiveness when the world wants to keep you on your knees, Gibson may have all the forgiveness he needs to go forward in life.

I for one forgive the guy. Because you never know when you’ll need some forgiveness yourself.

And besides, Downey’s awesome. And if Downey says Gibson’s hugged the cactus long enough. Then he’s hugged it long enough.


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