The good fortune of forgiveness – Chapter 8

A Time to Heal… focuses on a critical & challenging topic – – forgiveness.  This chapter has deep personal meaning for me.  It took me a long time to get to forgiveness, to letting go perceived slights hurts injuries.  To accept that in even the worst situation, I knew far less than there was to know.  That I barely knew my motivations.

It helps having been taught since a child that we can judge the actions a person takes but never their motives.   We cannot judge intentions.  The person might not even know the reason he or she did something, we certainly can’t.  Once that’s accepted, getting to healing forgiveness is a lot easier!

Rabbi Friedman’s words are in italic’s.

Rabbi Friedman shared the story of her friend, Kathy, who visited a fellow synagogue member who had been living for several months in a nursing.  Every visit brought out the woman’s litany of grievances, largely against her daughter, who had “dumped” her there.  No matter how Kathy tried, the woman  could not be pried off of her hurt and anger.  Kathy was surprised when she crossed paths with the daughter to see her genuine concern and devotion for her mom.  She learned that the daughter visited several times a week and that she earnestly tried her best to make life as good as it could be for her mother. – – Oh my gosh – this reminds me of a woman John & I interviewed as a potential client.  Her daughter, a busy doctor with a crunched schedule with a loving spouse, contacted me for help.  She was worried about her recently widowed mother, who seemed increasingly isolated & unhappy.  She lived in the same continuous care residence as other clients of ours & we’d been praised by all.  We’d seen some nice layouts there, but this woman’s living space was a total knock-out – – beautiful views, a lovely flow of three social areas, two large bedrooms, a stunning living room, a wow kitchen.  But the woman was like the Kathy’s mother, possibly worse.  She knew her daughter was hoping to team us up so we could alleviate her mother’s loneliness, but her mother was having NONE of it.  She was clear that would do NOTHING that might alleviate her daughter’s worry about her being alone because SHE should be there, at her mother’s beck & call, not anyone else.  Neither John nor I could ever have imagined a mother being so… words fail.  She didn’t want our help, which was good because we never would have offered it.

 

Evelyn was consumed by her grievance against her family.  Her anger left no energy to engage in the community in which she was living or in relationships that might have nourished her.  As we grow older, we are inevitably confronted with unfinished business from the relationships we have built over the years.  Resentment and hurt can fester and even grow.  This poisonous emotional baggage from the past can burden us just when we most long to be free.  It can block the way toward growth and wisdom. – – For most of my life, I’ve worked on rancorous – to me – family issues.  About eighteen years ago – Mom was still alive – I was making significant headway in coming to terms with the rancor.  I was shocked to find it created a crisis – I’d always had these issues to work on, they were part of my warp & woof.  Who would I be if they were resolved?  Interesting to feel that, to acknowledge it as a powerful force fighting to keep me where I was, to maintain an unhealthy status quo.  I know people so consumed by anger at others, they haven’t any room left for the good stuff.

 

All of us have amassed emotional scars by the time we pass midlife. Our wounds, even if in the background, are very much alive. – – Seriously?  Most of us have amassed emotional scars by the time we leave grade school!  And, yes – those wounds are very much alive.  By the time we pass midlife is when we finally have the experience & perspective to see the scars & acknowledge them & do what we can to promote emotional healing.

 

Many of us are nursing our grievances, perhaps even over decades, waiting for the other to take responsibility for the harm we have suffered.  Sometimes, the people who have injured us are no longer alive;  the grievance that we carry has outlived them. – – Talk about a grievance outliving its source – My oldest brother still rants about our maternal grandfather’s Victorian expectations of people remembering their place – it is REAL to him, yet our grandfather died in 1929, years before Peter was even born!  What a waste of energy!

I lucked out, due to fate & birth order. The baby, I was eight, ten & fourteen years younger than my surviving sibs.  The advantage wasn’t the spread of ages, but the big gap, left when Ian died, between myself & Mim.  That space freed me to notice things that would probably have gotten past me had we been closer in age.  Something that still stands out is how often & deeply they nursed grievances, holding them close, almost using them to weirdly define themselves.   From what I can see, my brother, Michael, isn’t so much this way, but his wife, Kerry – – she openly acknowledges never forgetting a slight or grievance.  Again, what a waste of energy!  As for the people who continue to hold on to perceived injuries, even after person has died – very sad to have a grievance become part of the person holding the grudge.  Creepy.

 

The problem is that the noxious ooze of anger and pain does not hurt the person who hurt us.  Rather, it is we who suffer.  When we hold on to our painful emotion, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi taught, we too are imprisoned, for “the jailer spends as much time in prison as does the prisoner.” – – see above

 

Many elders I’ve known have held resentments so long that they seem to expand, to grow so big that they have crowded out any goodness in their here & now lives. – – see above

 

What if we could be liberated from the poisonous burden of resentment?  What if we could be the agents of this release?   – – It was NOT easy to let myself be “liberated from the poisonous burden of resentment.”  But once it was clear I was holding onto ill-will because it had become part of my personal identity – a scary thought – it became essential for my best interests to let them go.  They were just stories that I believed.  Those toward who I held ill feelings had their own stories.  So let them go.  Once I learned to do this, particularly once I learned to think of perceived grievances as stories, it really did feel liberating.  It felt & feels GREAT to be an agent of such release!

 

“Acid corrodes the container that holds it.”  That’s what happens when we hold onto bitterness. – – We end up being the ones with the corroded spirit & pocked heart.

 

Forgiveness, … according to sociologist Donald Kraybill, is not about forgetting or condoning; it is not a pardon or justice or reconciliation.  Rather, it is “an act of self-preservation… because self-pity is toxic and makes you a hostage to the past.” – – Once it was clear that a sense of undeserved grievance was weaving its way into the very fiber of my being, it became imperative to shake it loose, to prick out the emotionally lethal thread.  What surprised me – and I experienced it for the first time this past fall – really & truly letting go of perceived past injuries freed me to feel, separate from unrelated baggage, when something that felt personally injurious was happening AS it happened & opened me up to responding to it in the actual moment, feeling shock & stunned hurt, letting it pass through me rather than storing it up as fuel for  later “poor pitiful Pearl” anger.

 

Forgiveness is a decision. … Forgiving is good for us, even – or especially – beyond midlife.  Forgiving allows us to soften our hearts.  Perhaps more concretely, forgiveness enhances our psychological, emotional, and physical health.  Forgiveness is the pathway toward release and ease.  When we release resentments and grudges, we can truly begin anew, regardless of the age at which we do it. – – Amen & hallelujah!