It’s happened several times over the last few weeks. You know, that moment when someone says something about you or does something towards you that is simply unforgivable. At least in the moment. I am quite clear that every time it has happened, I didn’t deserve their harmful words and action; that it wasn’t actually about me. Yet, the words tumbled down straight into that well of pain I know so well.
It’s been some kind of a wake-up call for me. After a very “rich”, personal and professional life, life is now largely peaceful, respectful and joyful. I don’t spend much time with people – friends or clients – who are stuck in negativity or blame. It’s a conscious choice, and a good and healthy one. I don’t encounter anger the way I have come across it in personal and professional fields in the past. It’s rare that someone gets angry for no reason – as in they get angry only because they feel anger for their own reasons…
What I have been struck by is the amount of courage it takes to let the words drown at the bottom of the well and look up again with a loving smile on my face. It takes courage, wisdom and emotional maturity to forgive someone who has just hurt you. I never thought I would ever get there. Well, I didn’t, and then I did. And I am sure I won’t again at some point – let us hope this will not be too soon! What I have learnt is that it is worth trying. Each time.
My prison visits over the last four years have taught me much about forgiveness and I am particularly grateful today for what I have learnt from the guys there about how hard it is not only to ask for forgiveness, and obtain it – or deal with the fact that we didn’t -, but also about how complicated it also is to actually forgive ourselves. It requires us to love ourselves in spite of, beyond our darkness. And how do you find love for who you are when you have murdered your best friend in an alcohol infused bar brawl ten years ago? And when his mother you knew well at the time won’t forgive you for taking her son away so early? How do you accept what you have done or what has been done to you, and let go of the resentment, bitterness, anger or hatred?
And at the risk of upsetting my religiously inclined friends, I still think it’s somewhat of a cop-out to enter a confessional in a Catholic church and expect to be “cleansed” of any unforgivable words or actions – I somewhat grew up there, so I know. It’s not the same thing as actually working through the impact of one’s words and actions and finding ways to be kind to oneself and well, truly forgive oneself.
I believe that life often challenges us in the ways we need the most. I got challenged these past few weeks about my ability to forgive. And well, I didn’t do so well first time round in that I was able to reach forgiveness for myself – I reacted to my friend’s harmful words with my own harmful words – and to reach forgiveness for the other. But my friend wasn’t able to do the same. So, I guess I lost a friend, or maybe he wasn’t really a friend. I forgave him but he can’t forgive me. And I am fine with that, because I did everything I could to get his forgiveness and have forgiven myself. A good lesson, and one I am very grateful for right now.
Second time round, I did better. It still hurt like hell though. So I retreated for a while, and then invited my friend for a drink and a chat. I had the chat this week and it was marvellous – that forgiveness thing can really work sometimes…
And third time round, I surprised myself. After the initial shock of the swelling pain, I moved away and after a brief moment, turned back and asked my friend for a hug. She smiled and relaxed immediately – there was clear relief on her face. It was a done deal, within a few minutes.
What I noticed is that in all three occasions, I said how sorry I was about the situation – and I was the one being hurt initially – and none of them could find it in themselves to return the apology. That’s how hard it is to say sorry, or thank you, for some, sometimes. And maybe that is another thing to learn to forgive: when you particularly feel you need the thank you or the apology and it simply isn’t coming…
So, there you go, I am feeling a little shaken after that series of unusual events, and deeply grateful for them. That is how life goes. It’s not about what is good or what is bad but how I ultimately respond to whatever happens to me.
And I got dragged into the cinema this week to watch this great film – one of those you know will become a classic. It’s called “Bridge of spies”. And Tom Hanks plays the main honourable character. I loved the film, and one verbal exchange has captured my imagination since. Tom Hanks character saves this young American pilot from further Russian investigations – this is a story about spies in the Cold War era – and the latter asks around about who he can thank for his freedom, who he can be grateful to. No one responds to him – they don’t know whether his rescue was worthwhile yet. So, he turns to Tom Hanks – who is actually the one he could express gratitude to – and says to him that “he didn’t tell them anything”. The thing is that in the spying business, no one really knows who is telling the truth… So Tom Hank character looks at him – here is the key line – and he says: “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what they think: you know what you did”.
And this is it for me: “It doesn’t matter what they think: you know what you did”.
And maybe that is where forgiveness starts: acknowledging our integrity – or lack of -, accepting our response to the great challenges life decided to confront us with, whether it was honourable or not. After all, it doesn’t matter what you say or do, what matters is how you face and deal with the impact your words and actions have on those you have targeted with them. And it doesn’t matter what others think in the end, because you know what you did…
So, how to forgive?
Saying sorry is the first challenge – see my earlier blog on that if you like…
Then embracing oneself, hugging oneself whether the victim or the perpetrator is the next challenge. The greatest challenge.
Because it requires that we acknowledge we are sometimes weak, fragile and well, unkind. And that is ok, provided we realise and acknowledge it wasn’t ok at the time.
Then, it offers opportunities to hug or have a cup of tea and a chat, as it happened this week, on separate occasions.
Worth a try. Any time. It’s boosted my confidence in practising forgiveness more effectively – I’ve got to keep positive!
So, it’s been a good week. All about how to forgive…