“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank.
This quote was printed out and placed in my chair at a retreat the other day. It resonated so deeply. The act of giving, for me, is the ultimate act of being alive. Giving resources. Giving time. Giving heart. Giving space. Giving love. In giving, I feel my truest sense of connection to self.
Giving is not always easy. But it is always worth it. And I never feel like I’ve lost anything when I give. I never feel like I shouldn’t have given. I certainly don’t feel that I’ve gone poor. The very opposite is true. I feel more vibrant and energized than ever in being of service. So much so that I want to dedicate my life to giving.
I never realized that this might have anything to do with the act of forgiving, though.
Tony and I have talked about forgiveness, and I’ve asked: but what does it really MEAN? Although I don’t harbor a lot of resentment about my childhood anymore, a part of me has known I haven’t fully forgiven my abuser. I’ve gone through the grieving process approximately 6 billion times, but I still wince a little when people say, “you have to just let it go.” Like, where does it go? I told it to go, but I’m pretty sure it’s still here. Why aren’t there doves flying out of my chest yet? I don’t think it’s working.
I haven’t fully forgiven the person who caused such torment, who changed the way my brain works by exposing it to chronic trauma. Or the bystanders who knew but did nothing to intervene. And, if I am honest, I haven’t forgiven myself for not finding a way out sooner, for not standing up to him, for coming back to visit even after I was an adult and pretending like everything was okay.
It’s not that I don’t want to forgive. I do. It’s just that I haven’t really known how. If you mindfully say “I forgive you” is that enough? Is it a momentous spectacle of releasing inner demons into the night? Is it a letter you write but never send? How do you know when you’ve really done it? And if you try, but then his image comes up in your mind at the worst times or you find yourself struggling still, it feels like forgiveness has failed.
When Tony suggested we write about forgiveness I was less than enthusiastic. My first post was a list of twenty angry questions. My second had nothing to do with forgiveness at all. Finally, I realized maybe I just didn’t know enough to write about it, so I wanted to learn. Then I recalled this quote about giving and thought – wait a minute – the word GIVING is half the word. For giving. I am absolutely for giving. So I must not be too far from forgiving. Naturally, I turned to Google to tell me more.
And like a trusty old friend, there was the answer. It turns out the word “forgive” comes from the word “pardonare” which means, to give completely without reservation.
It’s easy to think of people having reservations about giving in general. Like the way people don’t give money to someone begging in the street because they’re worried they don’t have enough to spare. Or that the person isn’t deserving. Or they might go buy booze with it. Or it might become a habit. Or whatever it is that holds people back from giving.
I can now begin to see the thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that have held me back from forgiving.
I’ve been worried it means I’m not protecting that little girl. I’ve been worried it means I somehow legitimize the acts, even though intellectually I know people say forgiveness doesn’t mean that. Maybe I’ve been worried it will mean I’m not strong or I have Stockholm Syndrome or I won’t get to process any grief after that because I should have already gotten over it. If I fully forgive such heinous acts against my body, heart, and mind, won’t I lose my integrity? Won’t I lose love for myself?
I’ve been worried I’ll go poor emotionally. And my worries are reservations that make true forgiveness impossible. I’ve been holding on to this need to hold on. I’m not totally sure to what. But damn, now that I see that what’s stopping me are these reservations – I can actually work toward letting them go – for whatever that means.
I want to give. It’s who I want to be when I grow up. Compassion. Love. Empathy. To every being. Without reservation. Including any reservation that I can’t give because they hurt me. Or they are undeserving. Or if I forgive them, I will cause harm to myself. This epiphany has just come to me, so I may need to follow up in the future and maybe there will be kinks to work out. But from what it feels like in my heart, I’ve expanded immensely.
So today, I begin to forgive in the way I give, without reservation. Unconditionally. With no expectations of particular outcomes. Knowing that no one ever went poor by giving. And I won’t go poor by forgiving, either.
“When you forgive,
you in no way change the past,
but you sure do change the future.”
There was a time that I would play the blame game… ‘How could he do that to our family? It’s his fault that I’m depressed, angry, and full of fear. I wish he would burn in hell!’ That’s a tough way to live, though. At some point it was time to let go and to not take things personal anymore. I’ve learned that when someone is hurtful or negative towards me, that I’m more than likely NOT the reason for their behavior. There’s a good chance that they’re dealing with their own issues without the proper tools to work through what the Universe throws at them. Unless of course I cut them off in traffic or blew a kiss at their girlfriend. Then maybe the middle finger salute or a punch in the face is justifiable.
I have engaged in small acts of mercy before, such as the time someone robbed our little home in the country, stealing my CD player out of my bedroom along with all six of my CDs that I had collected at the time and other items throughout the house. Picturing this person cruising down the road rocking out to my music didn’t sit well with me as my family tried to figure out who the hell would rip us off. It’s not like we were around the corner from a 7-11 or any ‘neighborhoods’. The nearest quick stop for us was some thirty minutes away. It turns out that it was a friend of a friend that had been a guest who hooked up with a hoodlum who liked to buy things with a five finger discount. When I found out, I felt kind of bad for the guy for going down that path and destroying a friendship that had lasted for years.
I ran into him at the local county fair a couple of years later. I had grown a bit taller by then so I was actually looking down on the fella. He was shaking and stuttering his words with the anticipation of me kicking his ass and throwing him through the goldfish ring toss booth, knowing that I had found out about the robbery. I patiently listened to what he had to say until he finished. Since I had made peace with this already, I simply reached out and shook his hand wishing him well in life. He had suffered with it far more than I.
That person wasn’t too hard to let go. It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to forgive someone that has impacted my life in a more conflicting way. The process may be a little different for everyone. For me, it didn’t involve walking up to my father and stating, ‘I forgive you for scrambling my young brain as a child’. I had to let go from within first and realize that he was obviously dealing with some severe emotional issues and demons of his own. I did get a chance to talk with this man that caused me quite a bit of hardship growing up.
I met him at my childhood home where we had spread his ashes after he passed on in this life. It wasn’t easy, but I did it anyway. It turned out to be quite an emotional and strenuous process. As the tears began to flow on that cool night, I let him know how I really felt for the first time and even apologized for some of my behavior throughout the years. The stars were out in a moonless sky with the sound of the river flowing in the distance. A faint silhouette of the surrounding foothills were barely visible as I stood on the edge of that little rocky mound that supported our home. I reached within to grab whatever courage that was in me and spoke out loud, crashing through the gates of indifference that had been holding back all the unhappiness between a son and his old man.
This was a seriously draining process as I sat back down in my car and waited until I was fit enough to drive. As I drove home that night along those country back roads with the city lights in the far distance, it felt as if ten elephants, a humpback whale, and a cricket had been lifted off of my shoulders. It was a powerful feeling of release that I hadn’t experienced in such a capacity up to that point in my life.
As challenging as this process of letting go can be, I hear of others in the world that have done the same with painful traumas such as losing a child. Robbie Parker is the father of one of 27 victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. He lost his six year-old daughter after she was gunned down. It makes my heart sink to read about this tragedy and am not exactly sure of what my reaction would be if I were in Robbie’s shoes. With a voice trembling and a tear stained face in front of cameras, he stated, “We’d like to offer our deepest condolences to all the families who are directly affected by this shooting. It’s a horrific tragedy and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter and can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you and I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well.” How about that! Can you imagine the train wreck of emotions that are turning inside of this man? He continues, “As we move on from what happened here, what happened to so many people, let it not turn into something that defines us, but something that inspires us to be better, to be more compassionate and more humble people.”
How inspiring! It amazes me how quickly this man thought of others in such a tragic time for the lives of so many people including his own. He could’ve easily held a grudge and pointed the blame at the shooter for ruining his life forever. He could’ve calculated his revenge to get even for all the pain and suffering caused. What would that accomplish? He could turn to anger and depression causing sleepless nights and ill heath from stress, locking himself in a mental prison.
Instead, he dug down deep in his heart filled with compassion and forgave this sick individual almost immediately. This could not be an easy path to take as he will have the weight of that event on his heart and soul for the rest of his life and beyond. In choosing love, Robbie Parker will be able to grieve gracefully and will now be there to humbly support others as they heal from this unimaginable ordeal.
No matter the trauma, forgiveness can be a major step toward healing. For many, this could mean letting go in layers. Like an onion, tearing off the outside layer only to find another tear activating layer underneath that has to be worked out. I’ve had a few onions to forgive. Some I dealt with piece by piece as more became revealed. At other times I was able to take the whole eye burning veggie filled frustration and chuck it out of my life for good! I’m sure there will be plenty more metaphoric vegetables to deal with as my journey continues on this marble floating in space.
So far, the hardest person that I’ve had to come to terms with is yours truly. It’s hard enough to make peace with an abuser, a thief, or to imagine losing a child. But to look inward and show compassion and love for the father of my son was and still can feel like a foreign concept and a bit awkward. For most of my life, I haven’t been my biggest fan. ‘We are our own toughest critic’ is a huge understatement when it comes to the relentless judgement that I have placed on myself. ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I don’t like the words that I speak’, or ‘what a loser I am’. I was the Guinness book of records largest condemning, self-ashamed, sunlight blocking onion on the west coast and barely had peeled the skin. But the cool part is, I did begin the process. As strange as it may be for me to look internally and connect with my soul, taking steps towards the light is exciting. I’ve actually said to myself, ‘I forgive you’ for a minor infraction such as eating the rest of the apple pie that could’ve fed four people. I had looked around to see if anyone had heard or seen me in the act even though the words were silent and I was home alone. Once I had realized that nobody had witnessed the scene and that lightning hadn’t struck down upon my cranium, I felt a sense of relief wash over me. I noticed an odd feeling with my face that seemed to have contorted into an odd shape that resembled a smile. I was able to laugh at how simple it was to let go and move on, which was and is currently so much easier than holding on to whatever is dragging me down.
Forgiveness is not something we do for
It’s something we do for
to Move on.”
Overall, forgiveness was a hard concept for me to understand. Sometimes it still challenges me. There was a time that I couldn’t fathom letting someone off the hook for their actions. I thought I would hold onto that anger and resentment all the way to the grave. What I hadn’t realized is that harboring those toxic emotions was actually killing me. I’ve heard of people forgiving the unforgivable like Robbie Parker. In experiencing this myself, I have now tasted freedom and feel more humble today than I did before.