I have had the idea of writing about disappointment and forgiveness for several weeks. This morning, I started to google quotes to lead off this post that would reflect its content, but had to cut the search short to teach my bi-weekly writing workshop to female inmates at a Boston prison.

At the end of each class, I ask the women if they are willing to hand in what they have written. They always do. Today, only 2 hours after I began my internet search for quotes, I discovered this written in the margins of a young woman’s exercise: “Please God help me to forgive myself.”

I have no idea what this woman has done to make her turn to her God to absolve her of her guilt. Perhaps her transgression was not far off from one of the things I’ve felt guilty of in my life–shoplifting a candy bar in junior high school, not playing enough with my daughter, spinning a lie so complex that you can’t even remember where it started. Clearly, the very obvious difference is that she is incarcerated, and according to another margin note, “in pain.”

I have recently gone through a series of disappointing others and of being disappointed. I’ve always felt that the older I get, the harder it is to repair damage in a relationship. In my 20s and 30s, what were considered arguments, as life gets a bit more complicated, turn into a “falling out(s),” and those, well, in my experience, never quite mend completely. Wrapped-up in these disappointments is the question of forgiveness–can we forgive the other, will they forgive us, and most importantly, perhaps, can we forgive ourselves?

When I was in 6th grade, I mercilessly bullied one of my classmates, a socially awkward girl who tried desperately hard to befriend me. My best friend and I hurled insults at her on the playground. We called her “Dog Face.” As an adult I look back on this and am mortified by my behavior. It is not in my nature to behave like this. I envisioned an episode of Oprah, before bullying became a national topic, bullies and those they bullied, coming together to facilitate an apology for what the bully had done. This fantasy opportunity pre-dated facebook by about 20 years, and then, one random day, I received a friend request from her.

I panicked. I called a former classmate to ask his advice. Was she going to seek revenge in some way? Tell me I had ruined her life? On the other hand, the opportunity to apologize had just been handed to me, and I hit “accept.” She quickly sent me a short message that began like this:

“It has been a very long time. Hope life has treated you well”

I took my time to construct a response that would convey the shame I carried for so many years over what I had done to her. I told her that I didn’t recognize myself in that person who could’ve treated anyone that way. This was her response:

“Don’t sweat it. Life is too short to worry about the past. Too many other things to keep you up at night. I don’t hold grudges, especially for 30 years. But I truly appreciate you taking the time to apologize.

I always tell my girls to be nice to everyone, you never know what will be in the future and you don’t want to burn any bridges.”

I responded by telling her how much grace she showed in her response. I was forgiven, but, I don’t think I will ever forgive myself.

Ironically, it’s been facebook that has led to some of my recent disappointments. Nuances in posts and comments are often misconstrued. They can trigger unexpected responses, interpretations, and push buttons (Incidentally, it’s been the lack of comments and acknowledgement from some very dear friends,at a really exciting time in my life, that has disappointed me.) Both people are put in the position of wanting to be heard and oftentimes, no satisfying resolution is reached. You wait and wonder if the relationship is in fact now irreparable, or if time will be the healer it’s supposed to be. My tendency, after I’ve apologized or told my side of things, is to retreat, and see if the other person eventually works their way back into my life. If they don’t, as painful as it always is, I assume that the damage has been too deep and that that person has chosen to exit my life.

Few things are more painful than watching my nine-year-old daughter be disappointed. Yes, the source of those growing pains may be as simple as having a playdate cancelled or missing a favorite tv show, but I envy her the simplicity of those snags. It is so hard when I know that I’ve let someone down, surprised them with an action completely unintended, but it happens, and certainly will continue throughout my life.

I did find the below quote in my quick search and believe in it wholeheartedly:

“Forgiveness is the economy of the heart… forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.”
Hannah More



  1. Dan

    So much here, Gaylie. Hard to know where to begin. First, let me say how glad I am to see you blogging again. As a devout "follower" of yours, I have missed your voice!I sometimes wonder if I've allowed myself to put too much on Facebook's "back," so to speak, when it comes to maintaining these once long-lost friendships. It's an odd venue, and it's NOT the same as picking up the phone and calling, let alone visiting someone. I have to remind myself that FB may have brought all these folks back into my life, but it's up to me to do something with them now that they're here, other than gawk at their photos and giggle at their status updates periodically. Loved your forgiveness story; she sounds like a strong individual. I've got a BIG forgiveness story at the center of my life. Maybe I'll call you and tell you about it, or wait till I see you in June!

  2. I am so excited you are blogging again Gayle! I love your writing style and can go on reading your stuff for hours. I can't wait for the book. Maybe one day all the blogs will be the book.In junior high school I was bullied by this group of girls that were my best friends in elelmentary school. It was a painful time but helped make me the person I am today. I am FB friends with them and they have all apologized individually and I've spoken to them on the phone since then. I can hear the shame in their voices, but truly, for me, that time in my life made me stronger and taught me never to treat anyone badly. In the end, I think they helped me more than they hurt me.Loved your story. Let yourself off the hook and take from that experience whatever lessons you were meant to learn from it.

  3. Hmmm. Being disappointed in a time of joy or crisis is jarring. I've been there. It's almost understandable when the lack of friendship is in a joyful time. I have learned that forgiveness is about being more gentle about others, and yourself. We all have our shortcomings with each other. I choose to focus on the wonderful and generous gestures , however small to the other person but big to me, that I have experienced. That more than makes up for everything else. One of the more wonderful events in my life has been seeing you fall in love and marry again…also, reading all about your wonderful daughter…pure joy to me. Thank you.

  4. i wonder if people would treat themselves & one another more thoughtfully if forgiveness wasn't ever an one's perfect so i guess we need a way to 'reset' our relationships …like you, Gayle, as i get older 'breaks' don't recover like they used to and things are never as easy or comfortable or 'close' as they once were, and i think forgiving gets harder because in hindsight the 'disappointment' always seems to have been foreseeable & avoidable. somebody (or me) just didn't care enough or think through what he or she was doing or not doing enough to spare me (or another) the hurt. is that the fault of 20/20 hindsight helping us to rationalize "she should've known better!" or "how could i have been so stupid?" i don't know.but what i do know is that it's good that you're blogging again.

  5. Oh, Gayle how beautiful and thoughtful! You amaze me and I so appreciate your words. Love,Annie

  6. kathy o'connor

    As the oldest of four children, in an Irish-American catholic household, I did the very best I could to keep peace and some love in a household that was run by an alcoholic father and an enabling mother, who wanted to love her children but wanted her husband to love her more! I cleaned house, I sent flowers, I watched over the much younger siblings and I lost my youth and my teenage years. As I reflect back, I did this all with love and good intentions because I was the oldest and thought that this was my responsibility.
    Now, many years later, I realize the true meaning of the words “adult child”. I have forgiven my parents because I truly believe they did not know any better but I am very sad that two of my siblings have not recognized that my need to take charge was because I was the oldest and if I did not assert myself, no one else would. Forgiveness is a gift to myself…I may not forgive how I have been treated over the years by my two sisters but I forgive myself and know that their anger toward me belongs only to them. I have become very proud of who I was and who I have become. My life is now to for-Give. I Give the responsibility to them as it is now for them to FOR-GIVE. My work is done.

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