I'm working on a piece about forgiveness, and spent an hour today reading through stories at The Forgiveness Project. It's appalling what some people have gone through, and it makes me wonder how I would react if someone seriously harmed me or someone I love. I'd like to think I'd be gracious and forgiving, but... well, I suspect there's part of me that's not there yet.
I am working on it, however. My ability to apologize for my portion of an upheaval (without fixating on the apology I think I'm owed) has gotten better. I think this is a function of age: humility's easier when you're past needing to prove something to the world. But sometimes I focus so much on the wrongs that have been done to me that my heart is frozen in self-righteousness; I forget that I can break the logjam of anger simply by admitting my own contribution to the difficulty.
But that's a lot easier in retrospect than in the heat of the moment. This morning Big Guy spent a long time staring at the breakfast table instead of eating, and then took a 15-minute shower instead of a 5-minute one. Hence he missed his bus. Big Guy's school is in another county (we don't have a car), so missing the bus means he misses school. I hadn't factored having him around into my day's agenda, and I smoldered quite a bit. The smoldering subsided rapidly once Big Guy got around to saying he was sorry. Amazing how those two words -- I'm sorry -- act as a fire extinguisher. When one person says it, it's a thousand times easier for the other to forgive.
But unless we want to lug anger around all the time, we have to be able to forgive even when "I'm sorry" never gets said. When we nurse a grudge, or hold on to anger, we lug the past into the present. In the children's picture book Zen Shorts there's a story about a young man who carries a crotchety old lady across a cold river, and gets only abuse for his efforts. He glowers about it for hours, and later in the day complains about the ill-treatment he received. His companion, an older monk, says, "You put that old lady down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her in your heart?"
Two lines I read today that had resonance:
- carrying resentments is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die
- forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past
Hopefully some day I will be able to forgive in all circumstances (though hopefully I won't encounter any that require a big test!) Everyday life gives me plenty of opportunities to practice letting go of offenses. Hopefully, I will eventually find that forgiving has become a habit, and I can leave a legion of cranky old ladies behind me instead of carrying them around forever.