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.”