Forgiveness can be tricky business for some.
“Let it go.” “Put it behind you.” “Forgive and forget!”
I’ve come to realize that forgiveness is nothing less than power. It’s taking control and not allowing an event to determine how we think, feel, act or even how we will treat another human being. It is relinquishment and that in and of itself is very empowering.
I was watching “Capote” with a friend, a movie about Truman Capote’s experience writing his greatest and last non-fiction novel “In Cold Blood.” The movie and actor depicted very well Capote’s brilliant but narcissistic personality. What was interesting for me was his relationship with his childhood friend Harper Lee, a brilliant writer herself who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The contrast between the two personalities was brilliantly done.
In one scene we are at Harper Lee’s book launch party where Truman is sulking in a corner, complaining about a snag in the progress of finishing his own book. He is completely disregarding Harper’s feelings, pulling the spotlight from her accomplishment down to his need for attention. Harper merely patted his arm for comfort and walked away, nonplussed and unoffended.
“I can’t believe she stays friends with him!” I remarked, thinking in my own mind I would have dumped the selfish turd a long time ago. But then my friend said something very astute.
“Yeah, but you don’t give up childhood friends like that very easily.”
He WAS being selfish, acting out of total disregard for another human being, even his very best (if not only) friend. But Harper had the power. I’m sure there was more than once she wanted to just smack him good and hard across his skull. But she knew him, understood him and where he came from. And she knew herself.
Several years ago I had an epiphany when my sister whacked me good and hard across the proverbial scalp. To cut to the chase lets just say I sat on the phone for two hours while she raked me across the coals recounting incident after incident of how I had really pissed her off over the years.
I was stunned. You mean — I wasn’t perfect? Over the next period of just a couple of weeks and through several additional family members I was raked, baked, stewed, and fried with so many simmering spices that I was surprised I had any flesh left.
They were honest.
It was brutal.
I was devastated.
I didn’t know where to start. It was a complicated emotional, psychological and spiritual mess that I had to start digging my way out of—and for the most part—alone.
Fast forward a month. I am sitting on my bed, miserable not only with hurt feelings but with one humdinger of a cold. Remember my friend’s statement about not giving up those childhood friends? My sister was my longest and oldest childhood friend. We had not spoken since our Oprah moment a few weeks before and I was really missing her. I just wanted to hear her voice.
Since I wasn’t a drinking woman I couldn’t turn to booze for liquid courage. So I did the next best thing. I threw back a shot-glass size of Nyquil and dialed the phone. As soon as she heard it was me her voice melted and said, “Oh, I am so glad you called!”
We eventually repaired our relationship, but to be honest it took a good two years of work to do that—and that was with both of us committed to the task. The best part is that today our relationship is better than it has ever been. The other family members? Lets just say it’s a work in progress . . .
I need to make two important points here: we had both forgiveness and reconciliation. The twain do not always meet. Forgiveness is not contingent on the other but it can be a very enriching experience. And it is a rare and rewarding gift.
In Matthew 18:21 Jesus admonishes his followers and disciples to forgive seventy times seven. I really doubt this was a magic number leading to when we are given permission to let the skull cracking begin, but rather a counsel of how to live. Forgiveness becomes a practice, a way of life because—as we non-perfect humans are wont to do—we will mess up again—and again—and yet again. Forgiveness is not a guarantee that the person will never mess up again. In fact most often the practice of forgiveness is through hours of inner, very private struggles.
The practice of forgiveness can still be a challenge for me and it usually depends on who has inflicted the pain. I do know that the sooner the process of forgiveness (and reconciliation) is begun the quicker and greater the chance for success.
It wasn’t easy, but working things out with my sister sure made me smile.