How does one forgive the unforgivable?

Being able to forgive is something which everyone can benefit — no matter where they live, how old they are, or how much money they make.

On March 12, best-selling author Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt, daughter of actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger and broadcast journalist Maria Shriver, will be speaking about forgiveness in her newly published book, “The Gift of Forgiveness: Inspiring Stories from Those Who Have Overcome the Unforgivable.”

The event will take place at 11:30 a.m., at the Center for HOPE Luncheon, at the Country Club of Darien, 300 Mansfield Ave.

Schwarzenegger Pratt will be joined by Darien native Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse died in the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012. Lewis recently spoke in town about a charitable organization called the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement.

All proceeds from the luncheon will benefit the Center for HOPE and The Den for Grieving Kids, Family Centers’ programs offering counseling and support to residents of lower Fairfield County coping with a loss, a critical illness or life-altering circumstance.

Tickets start at $150 and are available on the Family Centers website, at familycenters.org. Those who attend the event will receive a copy of the book, which publishes March 10.

In a recent telephone conversation with The Darien Times from her home in Los Angeles, Schwarzenegger Pratt said in doing research for her book, she interviewed 22 people. These include Elizabeth Smart as well as a Charleston shooting survivor and a Rwandan genocide survivor.

Giving back

A lot of the advice Schwarzenegger Pratt said she gives in the book came from talking to other people about their experiences.

“I learned a lot from that,” she said. “I wanted to be able to give back to other people.”

She said she hopes the book will inspire readers to learn to practice forgiveness in their own lives.

When researching for the book, she said it was important to her to “have a really great collection of people with a variety of different stories, from all walks of life.”

Some have been able to practice forgiveness very quickly and easily while for others, it has taken more than 30 years. Some are still struggling.

This shows how complex the struggle really is, according to Schwarzenegger Pratt, and why she said she became interested in the topic.

Why forgive?

Based upon her research, forgiveness is important in that “it allows you to feel an incredible sense of freedom that you don’t feel when you’re unable to practice forgiveness,” Schwarzenegger Pratt said.

It allows you to “cut the chains” that are attached to a specific incident in your past, she said.

Making peace with the scars and trauma in one’s past “allows us to open our life and ourselves to so much more,” she said.

Based off the people she interviewed for the book, “At the end of the day, not a lot of good can come from letting anger and pain lead and dictate your life,” she said.

By learning to forgive, “you open up so may more doors and freedom in general for yourself,” she said.

Journey to forgiveness

Whenever she’s talking about her book, she said everyone wants to know the top three things one can do to practice forgiveness.

“There is not a specific formula,” she said. “There are no specific steps to go through that you have to do.”

Also, what forgiveness means to one person can vary greatly from what it means to another, she said.

“There is no right or wrong way to forgive. There is only your way — be open to it,” she said.

“Be open to the idea that you want to forgive and want to practice forgiveness in your life, and be open to the journey that it takes you on to get there,” she said.

For some, forgiveness can mean writing a letter and never sending it or even writing it in one’s own mind.

It’s not necessarily an easy journey, according to Schwarzenegger Pratt.

“It’s not the most be sparkly, pretty experience to go through. It can be a painful and challenging experience — to relive past trauma and pain and hurt and come face to face with your past experiences,” she said.

Overcoming painful experiences

Whenever Schwarzenegger Pratt talks about the book, she said most people pause and start thinking back to a moment in their life where they need to practice forgiveness.

“They still feel that hurt and they are still walking around with that pain and with those scars — and they are very real,” she said.

The types of things that people seek forgiveness for can vary greatly, she said.

While forgiveness can be related to a horrendous crime, it can also involve a devastating breakup with a best friend, infidelity in marriage, someone who broke up a business deal, or, in the case of this Darien Times reporter, someone who bullied her in eighth grade.

In addition, the passage of time bears no relevance to one’s feelings, she said.

“Just because you’re not seeing them every day or they may no longer be in the world, you still can be carrying around anger and pain and resentment towards something that happened 30 or 40 years ago,” she said.

Making peace has nothing to do with the person who caused the hurt, according to Schwarzenegger Pratt. “It has everything to do with you.”

“You want to practice having empathy and compassion for yourself and be able to forgive those people as a gift to yourself — so you don’t want to have that pain and hurt anymore,” she said.

The decision to stay where one is or move forward and make peace with that point in one’s life may not be an easy road, “but it’s totally possible,” Schwarzenegger Pratt said.

She said when practicing forgiveness in her own life, she’ll draw inspiration from other people’s stories.

“I’m not an expert on forgiveness. I have struggled with it in my past and have been able to successfully forgive,” she said. “I’m sure I will have moments in my future where I still struggle, and that’s OK, too.”

sfox@darientimes.com