Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forgive. Able.

Oh, forgiveness is graduate level study, isn't it? Even the beginning lessons are like a non-Euclidean geometry test with a synchronized diving event for 30% of your final grade.

I'd say that I've been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately but that would imply that I'm thinking about it more now than I usually do. That's not strictly true. I really don't feel good at forgiveness yet but I feel like I ought to be learning faster so I think about it as often as I can stand. So a lot but not...enough, I guess. Especially after all the high dudgeon that was gotten up around the election. I'd like to be able to forgive some of the stuff I heard and read and inspired over the last six months but I don't think I'm there. I can justify it ("It comes from fear" "They've been lucky, they don't understand" "Variety is the spice of FUCK THEM") but I'm pretty sure that's not proper forgiveness.

If I were to be completely honest I'd have to admit that if this story had happened somewhere else I would have skimmed it, pronounced it a lovely Christmas tale, marked it as read and moved along to news of someone's cancer or someone else's baby or a little more of that highest dudgeon. It happened in Waterville, ME, though, so it stuck with me. My maternal grandparents lived in Winslow, ME which is right next door to Waterville. In order to see a movie, go to church or post a letter they had to go to Waterville. Winslow's small. Pretty but tiny. Well, and stinky until the paper mill went under. I spent a lot of time in Waterville and I had no idea they had nuns.

These nuns seem to have a real handle on this whole forgiveness thing, which isn't surprising but is heartening. Nuns are supposed to be good at forgiveness, aren't they? All Christians are, right? And yet...I'm wary of organized religion. This is not entirely rational but there have been incidents. Have I told you about the guy who repented the time he spent with me? Yeah. Really, that's a relatively harmless example, too. Regardless, the fact of the matter is I'm wary and I think it might leave me with a tendency to over explain my own spirituality and to do it from a negative standpoint. Do I start too many sentences with "I'm not Catholic/Unitarian/Mormon/Lutheran/Whatnot"...? How many is too many? I don't know. Is that offensive to some people? I'm sure it is. Why did I write this paragraph? Also not clear. I've read it three times, though, and I find I can't delete it so in it stays.

Anyway, about the nuns. A member of their congregation, mentally ill and off his meds, killed two of their order and seriously injured two more. Immediately "We went to see his family. And what could we do but just hug one another. We could hardly speak, it was so horrible." OK, so someone kills two of your sisters and nearly kills another two and you go immediately to see his family. There is a command of one's emotions in that sort of action that I find both marvelous and fantastic in the more traditional sense of those words. The surviving women understood right away that this man's family could as easily have been victims and that the family would be hurt in other ways even though they escaped the physical brutality. It didn't take them years to come to this conclusion or to take action on it, they reacted in the moment and shared their support and grief right away.

Now, just for kicks, think about someone who hurt you. I'm going to assume that no one has stabbed your sister recently but maybe someone insulted you or ignored you or betrayed your trust. Now imagine receiving that insult again and having your first response be to want the best for the person pitching it. Imagine immediately being able to process a way in which you could defend yourself and love the person betraying you all at the same time. There's no going home to lick your wounds, put up a web site where visitors can fling virtual poo at your betrayer then have a nice nap and wake up refreshed and ready to work for the benefit of that person. Oh no. You have to do it right away, no nap, no snack, no virtual poo. How's it going for you? I know! Me too. Even harder than it looks. And it looks like climbing Everest in your undershorts.

The story doesn't end there in the moment, though. Years later the nuns involved the attacker's family in their pre-Easter foot washing ritual as a symbol of the forgiveness they'd come to. The incident was still with them in everything they did and they wanted to give both the good and bad parts of that space in one of their most holy observances. I'm finding an enormous lesson (PhD level, perhaps) in the fact that, even though compassion was a first response, healing is a long term project requiring vigilant, innovative work toward a goal that is not completion but simply the opportunity to learn the next excruciatingly difficult lesson. Is there a remedial school for this stuff because in a couple of years I might be qualified to attend that.

The holidays are hard. This year has been hard. I'm about to go and turn 40 which feels like a new chapter in my life which doesn't seem hard but does seem...big. My previous chapters include a number of inspired paragraphs but not a few cross outs, over written sub plots and grammatical errors. I know that forgiveness of others, and of myself, is the way to a life-novel I can be proud of and this story is an invaluable study guide. Not sure I can learn this one on my own, though, I might have to head up to Waterville and see if I can get myself a tutor.


  1. You know. I'm printing this post off and carrying it around with me.
    I am.
    Its damn good and it hit the ball right over the center field wall for me.
    I've read it a couple of times already and you just posted it.
    And each time... more tears... and I know exactly where they are coming from.
    You got to me.
    I'm going to work on this.

  2. Here's the thing; the fact that you're even THINKING about this, never mind thinking about it as often as you do, is huge. I'm not saying that's ALL you have to do, certainly, but it is an important part of the process.

    This part got to me:

    healing is a long term project requiring vigilant, innovative work toward a goal that is not completion but simply the opportunity to learn the next excruciatingly difficult lesson.

    I think this is where you hit it out of the park. So many people want "closure" or "answers" or "finality," and I'm coming, again and again, to the realization that those things simply do not exist for people who live authentic, mindful lives. Sure, there are some who can cut off a friendship or call halt to a relationship and never think on it again. These people are not evolved, though; hell, even amputees feel phantom limbs, right?

    What I'm saying is that it IS a process, and that, like my post yesterday tried to explain, we should be patient with it. We're not going to get it "right" (whatever that means) MOST of the time, but the fact that we keep trying brings us that much closer every time.

    I love you.


  3. You are definitely correct in that healing is a process. It's not an easy one, it definitely takes time and effort.