I had to forgive someone recently.
Let’s just call a spade to spade: man, it’s shitty to have to do it. And I knew I had to do it, because thoughts of this person were consuming my mind. I couldn’t sleep. And no matter how well things were going on any particular day, my conversations were all dominated by this person and the situation.
Did I have a reason to be angry? A justification for wallowing in my pinched, uptight, irritable unforgiveness? Oh, I certainly thought so. And everyone I complained to about it thought so too. (Word to the wise: if you’re holding onto pain, all the people in the world agreeing with you won’t do a single thing when it comes to alleviating the pain!) For a while, I even fantasized about posting it here as a blog entry, with a big photo of the offense and titling the entry “Small Life, Slow Life: What to do When You Have a Hater.”
But you know? Something about growing a baby brought a firm reality check. When my body was uptight, my daughter’s home was uptight. When I was walking around super toxic, I was exposing her to that energy. And so while I will say that while I walked around angry longer than I should have, the unwillingness to suffer came along much more quickly this time than it had in the past. Simply put: while I might be willing to expose myself to pain before, it seemed totally ridiculous to expose my innocent daughter to something to petty and so small.
And then, in the middle of the night one night about a month ago, I caught myself. “Shit,” I thought, “this again.”
And there’s only one thing to do when you’re caught up in that.
You know what’s so weird about letting go? It doesn’t matter how many times you do it: it’s always freaking hard. Your thoughts try to tell you all the reasons why you don’t really have to let go…and there are so many reasons. Sometimes, they’ll even say not to let go as a form of protection. Forgiving means I’m saying it’s okay! Letting go means I let them off the hook! It means I’m saying it’s fine to do it again!
No, it doesn’t. Letting go means YOU are off the hook…from your suffering. Letting go means you’re saying it’s okay…to not torture yourself over someone else’s actions.
(It’s so much easier said than done.)
(I mean really, why does it have to be so freakin’ hard every time?)
So in the middle of the night one night when I couldn’t sleep over this person’s alleged transgressions, I gave my sweet husband relief from my incessant tossing and turning and padded downstairs with my phone. I huddled on the couch with a blanket and took the deepest breath I could.
I typed into the Safari search bar, “Quotes on forgiveness.”
I remembered, during the breakup with C, that reading about forgiveness was sometimes enough to hammer just a tiny crack in the exterior, so that I could begin to let some peace in.
Well, it didn’t go so well at first. (Does trying to forgive someone in the dark of your house at 3am ever go well at first?) I read quotes from A Course in Miracles and Wayne Dyer. All the usuals were there crowded around the couch with me: Rumi, Deepak, the I-Ching, Mary Oliver…everyone came to my party in the middle of the night.
Finally, after almost an hour, I asked myself, “Am I using this anger for so-and-so to justify something?”
Yes, came the answer.
“So this anger is useful? I’m using it for something?”
“What am I using it for?”
I had to listen for the very small voice, but soft and clear like a bell, there it was:
I’m using it for an excuse to be unhappy.
But I knew it was true.
It hit me like a car accident from the side. BAM. The truth does that sometimes, after ducking and hiding for weeks. Sometimes, when you just ask yourself what’s up, the painful, illogical answer just smacks you like that.
“Why would I want to be unhappy?”
I…don’t know, came the answer.
“Well that’s a pretty shitty reason,” I shot back.
All was quiet. I mulled it over for a while.
After a bit, I forged on. “From this person’s perspective, is there a pretty good reason to have acted this way?”
“Is this person using that anger for something, the same way I’m using mine for something?”
And then, right there, an hour later at 4am, the party whooshed away, and the peace came.
Somehow, just being able to recognize that from the person’s limited perspective (and also realizing that my perspective was also duly limited), that I could actually be the one who looked like a giant asshole, gave reasoning behind such a mean thing to do. What we both had in common was hurt: we’d been hurt by the other.
Those thoughts allowed me to let go.
And after a few minutes of breathing in my newfound peace, I went upstairs and went back to sleep.
I’d love to wrap this story up with a bow and tell you I made up with the person the next day, and that we had this tearful reunion and trading of stories about what a silly misunderstanding we’d had, but that didn’t happen.
Actually, even more blows came to pass, but I didn’t find myself reacting as I had before. And when I felt my chest getting tight and my face getting pinched and the anger rising up in my throat, I remembered what I’d realized that night: that sometimes, I could look like a real asshole. And that almost always, bad behavior is caused by hurt.
I’m in an online book club called Novel Grapes (you should join!) and this month, we’re reading Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott. (You don’t need to be Christian to read it. I am not Christian.)
There’s an essay on forgiveness as one of the chapters, and man, are there some amazing quotes in there. I was reading it over breakfast this morning, and I realized that I wanted to share some of these quotes with you. It also showed me that I had a let a little-teensy-tiny bit of the grudge against the person come back in. Simply recognizing it was enough to allow me to let go again.
I highly recommend Small Victories. It’s a lot about grief, a lot about letting go, a lot about compassion. Here are some of my favorite quotes of Lamott’s on forgiveness:
Left to my own devices, I’m a forgiveness denier–I’ll start to think that there are hurts so deep that nothing can heal them. Time alone won’t necessarily do the trick. Our best thinking isn’t enough, or we would all be fine, instead of in our current condition. A lack of forgiveness is like leprosy on the insides, and left untreated, it can take out tissue, equilibrium, soul, sense of self.
The beginning of forgiveness is often exhaustion. You’re pooped; thank God.
Horribly, when all you want is relief from the pain, you instead need to tune in to it, right in to the lonely clench. You need to know how much the toxin has invaded you.
The choice is whether you want to stay stuck in being right but not being free or admit you’re pretty lost and possibly available for a long, deep breath, which is as big as the universe, stirs the air around, maybe opens a window.
So you sacrifice the need to be right, because you have been wronged, and you put down the abacus that has always helped you keep track of things. This jiggles you free from clutch and quiver. You unfurl your fingers, hold out your palm, openhanded.
Forgiving people doesn’t necessarily mean you want to meet them for lunch. It means you try to undo the Velcro hook. Lewis Smedes said it best: ‘To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.’
Forgiveness is release from me; somehow, finally, I am returned to my better, dopier self, so much lighter when I don’t have to drag the toxic chatter, wrangle, and pinch around with me anymore. Not that I don’t get it out every so often, for old time’s sake. But the trapped cloud is no longer nearly so dark or dense. It was blown into wisps, of smoke, of snow, of ocean spray.