Diapers and Dragons

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Draco De Ira

One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn over the last not-quite two years is how to forgive and what forgiveness really means. I've learned, among other things, that forgiveness is more about healing oneself and less about healing others. I've learned that apologies often follow forgiveness rather than the other way around. And I've learned that forgiveness needs regular application, since anger and resentment tend to ooze back into one's soul over time.

Forgiveness is rather like Preparation H, when you think about it. Or Tums.

I learned that first major lesson about forgiveness nearly a year and a half ago, on a day when I planted myself next to a small lake and begged God to please make two particular people Very Sorry for all the hurt they had caused me. The geese stared at me and honked moodily. Then I sat there and begged God to forgive me for the hurt I had caused those two people. This seemed a bit better, but I wasn't quite there.

So I sat, surrounded by goose shit, which seemed rather apropos for my mood, and read a bit from a book, perhaps one by Anne Lamott, who also struggles with anger and forgiving and therefore gets through to me with some deft application of verbal hammering on my brain. I don't remember any longer exactly who the author was: at any rate, the words were about forgiveness and about how we make huge errors in thinking that (1) withholding forgiveness does any damage to anyone other than ourselves, (2) apologies are requisite precursors to forgiveness, and (3) we are better than the people we have to forgive. And then the author drove home that when we refuse to forgive someone, we're as much as yelling to the Universe that we are better than God, who forgives us for much more than we have to forgive.

That sounds like Lamott, so it probably was.

I remember sighing, because the idea of forgiving these two people, who had no interest or willingness to recognize any need to apologize, seemed like a greater task than I was capable, especially in a time of such great stress and pain. Nevertheless, I bowed my head, and this time when I prayed, I asked that I be granted the strength to forgive. Then I said out loud (much to the surprise of the geese) that I forgave those two people, and I named them. Then I said it again, just to be sure, and found the words easier to say the second time.

Imagine my surprise when I felt a tremendous weight lift off my heart.

I've had to forgive those two people again since then, for the same original pain and (in the case of one of them) additional pain caused over time.

Regular application, especially when the acid burning of anger starts up again.

Since that day by the lake, both of those people have apologized to me for the pain they caused. It's a cycle, really, the forgiveness and apology and forgiveness again, and with time the pain truly does ease.

Other times...you're blindsided.

This last weekend I found myself enraged, furious, reacting far more strongly to a frustrating moment with The Widget than the incident truly deserved. I stood in the walk-in closet searching for clean and comfy clothes, and I asked myself what was really going on.

And I realized that my anger was at other people entirely, over a situation over which I have no control, where I feel guilty for even being angry at all, where the anger comes from years of hurt and pain and loss that I have shoved deep down over and over and over again because I do not feel justified in my anger.

But the anger is there. And because I have never embraced that anger, recognized it, and forgiven both myself and those other people for these decades of pain and grief, I have never moved on. I have, in fact, allowed that pain to poison other relationships and prevent me from opening myself fully to love.

MTL found me in tears and I poured out my grief and anger. Just saying it, just letting it out of my head, was a step. Writing this post, which has taken me two days, is another.

The next step is bigger. More painful. It holds more delving into truth, a stripping away of shadows and shame.

It's a choice I have to make.

I am stalled in the moment. The skies hold no answers. The window is drenched with autumn rain.

4 bits of love:

Betty Herbert said...

I recognise that so strongly - the way that anger can surge up when you think you've put it out forever. But you're right - forgiveness is essential for all of us; we only exhaust ourselves by holding onto bitter resentments. Keep going! x

Katie said...

Good for you for not only being a forgiving person, but being a person who WANTS to forgive.

I'm not quite there yet.

Draft Queen said...

Oh forgiveness. Totally necessary, not totally easy.

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