Thanks to a person who I admire, and who I am lucky enough to be friended with, I found out that today is National Forgiveness Day. Forgiveness is something that, in trying to live my best life, I have tried to practice again and again.
The part that has always been the hardest? Forgiving myself.
I have kept a journal on and off through the years, and I can go back to one of these old journals and find the page that has a clipping from a daily reflection book taped to it. It was about Eloise, the girl who lived in the Plaza Hotel in New York City. One day she goes to dinner, and sits at a table filled with amazing food. But it turns out that the food that had looked so delicious when she sat down; it was actually made of stone. <Forgive me if I botched that, I actually never read those books.>
The author of this reflection compared forgiveness to that stone food. Our anger and grudges start off by feeding something in us, they are very filling, appetizing to that part of us that wants to be mad. But as we continue to eat the stones and hold them within our bodies, they end us doing us so much harm. That stone food, in the form of anger and grudges, well it continues to weigh us down as we carry it around. But if we forgive, we no longer carry that within us.
Since reading and reflecting on this several years ago, I have tried to remind myself of the stone food when I find myself processing my hurt, in search of the power to forgive others, in search of the strength to forgive myself.
I remind my overly rational, engineer mind, the mind used to complex cost-benefit analyses and multi-variable equations, that it isn’t fair that I hurt more than the person who offended me. Or maybe it is my overly rational, engineer mind that tries to remind my heart this. “Heart,” my mind says “if we let go of this, we will win (or at least stop the losing,) we will stop the hurt, the equation (of hurt) will start to be balanced.” But my heart, used to feeling all the things, it fights back. “I still hurt” says Heart to Mind.
Have you seen those pictures of marathon runners who get a cramp just meters from the finish line? In the one I am thinking of, a man is on his hands and knees trying to crawl to the finish? The determination, and yet the surrender? The resignation that today was not the day despite all the preparation? Well that is the best way to describe what it is like when Heart says “I still hurt.” It’s a “I want to do the best thing, but its not happening today” kind of thing. Mind has learned to understand, or better said, Mind has learned to accept this. There really isn’t another choice.
So here is the only way that I have learned to balance these things. I give myself the time to work through the hurt, through the feelings, through the complex, overly-analyzed equation, and then, and only then, do I work on the forgiveness part.
Three or so years ago, I volunteered to teach religion class to 9th graders, and I did a lesson on this. I took a bunch of string pieces. I crumpled and threw them around until they were impossibly tangled. I gave each student one and set them on the job of untangling the string.
The lesson was that it is okay to take the time to feel those feelings of hurt, of betrayal, maybe even anger at our Divine Being. We might need to focus on something that distracts us during that time. Like the darn string, like meditation, deep breaths, or throwing a ball against the wall, but then the string is untangled.
And then maybe it is time to set our minds to the forgiveness part.
I wanted them to know that we cannot have one without the other. That the anger and hurt are necessary to move to the forgiveness.
So Aunties, on National Forgiveness Day, let us not deceive ourselves that forgiveness is easy, or that it can be done without feeling the hurt. But do remember that the string will eventually be untangled. With time, Heart will be ready to balance Mind’s equation. And through all this, this Auntie will be here, never asking you to rush to the forgiveness part. I’ll even find you a string.
**Title of this blog from Hamilton, “It’s Quiet Uptown.” I cried the first time I heard it.