Archive for the 'forgiveness' Category


September 4, 2014

I was telling this story to someone last night and I thought I might as well mention it here, judging from the reaction I got.

A family member was having a medical emergency a couple of weeks ago on a Friday afternoon.  And I suggested they call a relevant clinician they had been seeing for quite some time, to get some help at least in finding some help, and they called — and were told “It will have to wait until Monday, he’s not in until then.”  And my family member explained it was more urgent than that and asked if there was someone else in the practice who could help, and the answer was no.

And then my family member called back another number, which they had cold-called earlier and been turned away from, and this time they were told they could come in.  Their ride to the ER turned into a ride elsewhere and they got some treatment and it helped.

No, it couldn’t wait.

It’s a pattern I’ve encountered before, in different variations and with different people in different roles — myself sometimes in the role of the patient — and with different outcomes, some pretty disastrous.

I think the point of the lesson for me has been to understand that people who seem to be supposed to help us may decline to do so as part of their exercise of human free will (and will in all likelihood not be troubled by it).

Forgiving them for this is a different issue from accepting a world in which people don’t have to do what seems obvious to us that they should.

In for a penny

January 28, 2014

I have in mind the saying, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

I was thinking about it in connection with a story I heard about a genie who kept abusing his power with respect to the person who had uncorked him.

At first he may actually have been unaware of the true impact of his interaction with this person.

He may also have done what he did on purpose, when he realized the “wrong” person had opened the bottle;  that is, someone who couldn’t really help him in return.  Of course, he was flawed and somewhat deceitful himself;  why he expected to be paired with someone who did not mirror that back, the story doesn’t say.

Then, the story goes, at some point he became aware that he was doing something harmful and he became acutely embarrassed, even ashamed, thinking this indicated some fault in himself he could not erase.

So he began to embrace an image of himself that was, at its heart, a consequence of his feeling bad about what had happened.  He wore black, he cultivated a rogue/outlaw image.  And he kept repeating the damaging behavior.

This was the “in for a penny, in for a pound” part.  He believed he was irredeemable.  He believed the person would not forgive him at that point.

The person actually, more than anything, just wanted the harm to stop.  In fact, the person was so harmed, they couldn’t speak for themselves and ask.  They sent someone else to ask on their behalf.  The genie didn’t recognize them, since, of course, they were not the person with whom he had the relationship.  Eventually, though, the genie became open to hearing the plea.

When he realized that just stopping now was in itself a good thing (perhaps even a significant good thing), and that perhaps eventually the harmed person would let go of any resentment, once they were in better shape, he stopped.

I think the concept of being “damned for all time” is a self-generated one, I don’t think the universe thinks in those terms, thinks at all, for that matter.  Things happen, some do cause harm, each party must then figure out a path forward.  There is grace for when that isn’t enough and it serves their greater good and the greater good in general to add some “outside” help to the situation.  I think people need to feel that there is always the possibility of forgiveness, at least at some level, even if another person directly involved can’t find it in themselves at the moment.  Moments pass.  When we feel better, maybe we can locate that forgiveness after all, unless we have willfully decided not to.  The problematic behavior does need to stop, though, for most of us to feel better enough to do this.

So the genie reforms his behavior, the other person eventually feels better, and in the ensuing iterations of the story, something else happens between them instead of the harmful behavior.  Perhaps both of them become satisfied with these next iterations, perhaps not, but they are making progress.

Forgiving those who disagree or don’t want to

October 29, 2013

Organized religion, including Christianity, may do this already, but I think forgiveness must be accepted as including forgiveness of the person’s not wanting to become enlightened or even believing it’s possible or a good idea.  I think it includes acceptance of people as a group, and individuals we know in particular, as they are.  And most of them aren’t interested in becoming enlightened or undertaking the process of becoming enlightened.  They won’t give it a try.  I think we need to accept that, and accept the apparent fact that they won’t, and maybe never will, no matter how often they are given the opportunity, and no matter how hard or well we try to teach them — or even no matter how much we encourage them, to do so, including with a foretaste of what it would be like.

We forgive them and we forgive the universe that the way things may play out may include that the potential we see in the world may never be realized, that the solution we see may not be implemented, that the way things could work out well won’t happen.  And that that is as “correct” a playing out of the human condition as anything else — if that’s the best we can do, humanity is still beloved of God, to use traditional language.  God is not angry or resentful about that, but neither can God change the consequences of all that, I don’t think.

I read Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation this morning and I wondered about all the preachers who forgive their audiences for not wanting to follow what they teach.  When they forgive that, do they go on teaching, or does that acceptance reveal to them it would serve the greater good if they did something else?


October 16, 2013

I wrote a comment to Maureen Dowd’s column today that is, probably, really a criticism of “bystanders” in dysfunctional relationships such as bullying.  The bystanders do their thing, feeling they are only doing what is socially acceptable.  When things don’t end well, for either the target or the bully, the bystanders are left to regroup — regroup socially and regroup within themselves.

I guess that’s where my sense of what happens ends.  I don’t have all that much evidence of what bystanders do afterwards.  I can tell from the attempts of some people I know who have tried to ask the target to say it was all okay, that some bystanders feel they did something wrong.  But it usually comes across as “I had to do it, and I would do it again, but please tell me it’s okay as if I am saying I won’t do it again.”

I think this is called asking someone else to hold your anxiety, or at least something parallel.  I think we are engaging in enabling if we agree to do it.

I don’t think the target necessarily feels any emotional satisfaction in telling bystanders who look for this kind of emotional exchange, “Thanks, but no thanks.”  I think the difficulty of the situation only allows for them to do not much more than to recognize the limitations of human beings.

So I don’t think we get resolution either as a bang or a whimper or even a hug;  I think the resolution is neutral acceptance that stuff happens, including stuff that causes real and lasting damage, and that there is not always recourse available for redressing that damage.  And that it should be left there:  no bitterness, no rancor, but no shifting, back onto the target, of the burden of holding the tension.

Expecting too much

February 27, 2013

I have been thinking about how I fall into the pitfall of expecting more than a person’s level of emotional development allows them to give.  This is in connection with a pattern of how relationships often run aground in my experience.

It’s for me the equivalent to a man at a club realizing, before it’s too late but after he has already got his hopes up, that the young woman he’s got his eye on actually is underage, just all dressed-up, all made-up to look all grown-up.

For me, the key is how I can find an alternative way of getting my needs met if structurally in my life the person in question is the one who could meet my needs.  With minor children, we use foster care and adoption when their parents can’t meet their obvious needs.  What do we do when other people in our lives can’t meet our less obvious needs?

Insisting that they do I have never found to be effective.  Walking away at least gets me out of my expectation that they will and allows me not to be damaged further.  And walking away opens up the possibility that someone else will enter my life who might.

That somebody else might even be God.

The piece I can actively work on is seeing the person more clearly the way they are, and not having unrealistic expectations.

If I can go back to my club analogy, if the other person has the trappings of maturity — older than I am or materially successful or claiming to be smart or inter-personally astute, for example — I assume a level of emotional maturity that actually turns out not to be matched by the child that they actually are operating as.  This image is actually somewhat accurate — they are operating as a child under the make-up of success or age.

The helpful thing for me is that it is pretty easy for me to have compassion for a “child,” regardless of their age and success.  I can love that damaged child, feel compassion for them.  I may not stick around to enable them to remain a child or to damage me further, but I also wish them no harm and in fact I wish them all the best, including healing.

If they lash out at me if I “leave,” whether metaphorically or literally, or if they become angry with me or even retaliate if I indicate my damage, dissatisfaction, or negative experience of them, then I can have compassion for that, too.  I’m sure I have my own moments, too.

Insiders and outsiders

February 16, 2013

I wrote a comment on the NYTimes website (a reply to replies to a comment I wrote last night to Gail Collins’ column) just earlier about my sense that we need to address our tendency to insist on forming groups and designating “insiders” and “outsiders.”  As I wrote, we instead seem to become serially indignant at the manifestations of this dynamic (and that that is like trying to cut heads off the Hydra).

I thought I’d link here to a song that helped me clarify this concept a long time ago.  It’s by Ralph McTell and called, I think, “Father, Forgive Them.”

I go back and listen to the line about how we are the ones who “make outsiders and it’s we who give them names” when I want to revisit my understanding of how pernicious and fundamental this mistake is.

It also includes the idea I find so helpful about trying to remember that other people are laboring under their own burdens and damage as they move through this world and our encounter of them.

The limitations of explanations (and of their sources)

January 6, 2013

I have encountered a pattern among people who see situations only from one perspective, the perspective of a self so closed off from itself, and hence from others, that it cannot put itself in the shoes of others:  the person promises to do something important for my welfare and then finds it inconvenient or difficult to do and so doesn’t do it, I pipe up with some sort of protest, and the person then explains why they said what they said originally and why they’re doing what they’re doing now (occasionally they also re-promise, but it is even clearer that that promise is not going to be kept).

The part I am continually amazed at is that they really don’t comprehend that their explanation does not meet the need that is also not being met by not doing that which was promised.  To put it somewhat rudely, do I really care why they’re not following through?  In one case it was a forgotten theater ticket; “Yes, I made plans over weeks to drive you home from surgery but I just realized I have a ticket to a theater matinee performance,” he said the day before my surgery.   That’s the easiest example for me to write about, but there are half a dozen more, at least, in my life.  The promises are equally explicit and about significant matters, and the person just doesn’t do it.

What I’m writing about here is Stage 2:  the explanation.  Because sometimes the person does feel compelled to explain, especially if I pipe up and ask for what I need and what they said they would do.

It’s sort of the “That and 50 cents will get you a ride on the subway” kind of issue:  just what am I supposed to do with the explanation?  Wrap it around my naked self like a torn blanket that does not cover?  Use it to produce magically another person to drive me home from the surgery?  Take it to mean the person does care and that should be enough, even though they do not come to grips with the difficulty to me from the situation they have left me in?  They have induced me to extend myself and then not come through with the support to make that extension work — where do they think that support will come from if they bow out?

My own take on this is that it is a path towards a fuller relationship with God:  to quote Dave Carter, “in praise or lamentation, peace or desperation / any way I do, I come into the presence of the lord” (from “any way I do”).  God is the dance teacher who will dance with me when my date who brought me to the dance won’t, and this is a blessing.

The catch is getting hung up in an argument with the human partner who won’t dance with me.  They want me to see it their way and assure them it’s okay in a way that it’s not.  It is okay in the great scheme of things; it’s by their own system of values and view of the world that it’s not okay.  I don’t have to subscribe to their system of values and view of the world, and I don’t, but I also can’t get them to subscribe to my system of values, view of the world, or view of the particular situation and my (unmet) needs, any better than they can get me to subscribe to theirs.  If I get hung up on getting an acknowledgement, I create difficulty for myself.

To go back to my surgery example, I needed the ride then, I would have chosen a different appointment and/or made arrangements with someone else for a ride, had they not promised.

In the other situations, a way to regroup has actually been less clear.  They have involved things others could not provide for me, or me for myself (or children).  There has been real damage as a result.  I have learned enough to know that those are my issues now to deal with, and I have learned enough to know that no one has to make amends to me or that such amends will meet the original needs.  What I am still struggling with is acceptance, the “How could you?” part of my reaction.  One of the tools that has helped me here is thinking about the meaning of “No room at the inn” in the telling of the story of the birth of Jesus — it helps me to know that this is a part of what is encountered on a spiritual journey.

The person will never see themselves as I see them, is what I can get stuck on, especially if they want to have some kind of on-going connection with me.  It’s like the tunnel constructed by drilling in from both sides of the mountain that doesn’t meet in the middle.

For me, the lesson seems to be, “It happens, it’s not the end of the world, it’s painful, difficult, etc., etc., but there are always forces greater than I who can guide me through and through whom I can feel sustained.”

I know others have foundered trying to land this airplane, that is, trying to play out an ending to this script that doesn’t look like the end of a grand or soap opera (with bodies strewn all over the stage).  Their difficulties finding a way through inform how I handle my turn.  And I know that the more mature age at which I have encountered this scenario has helped, as has my having been happily married for a reasonably long period of time before this.

But it’s still a rough landing, I don’t deny it.  Some of the folks who have gone before me have said that it has helped them come to terms with their own attempt to hear me learn from their experience, to hear me point out what helps I have had that they did not, and to hear me point out how hard I find this.

In the end, some of this story is about self-forgiveness, forgiving the self for trusting another human being and having that trust have been unsuitable for the person and situation, and forgiving the self for having had the need to trust that other human being at all in the first place.

The other part, for me, is about learning to recognize the difference between expectations I can have of God and expectations I can have of people, even people who want me to see them otherwise.

Writers seem to preach that writing about things helps expiate them or accept them or see them in a new light.  Maybe it’s testimony to the fact that I am not a writer that I don’t find that to be true, or maybe it’s just that I haven’t written about these things thoroughly enough or precisely enough yet.


November 4, 2012

My apologies if I’ve written about this before, but I was thinking about how this person “done me wrong” if I go by their way of looking at the world, and how if I use my own, I can see it quite differently.  I can see that they are so caught up in a limited worldview that they don’t realize they are confusing the other person with a reflection of themselves and the reflection of themselves with the other person.  I can forgive them for inability.  If I used the worldview they are pressing on me, paradoxically I wouldn’t have the basis for forgiveness, I would be insisting instead that they done me wrong and took my role and played it badly.   But how can you blame a person for not recognizing themselves in the mirror, for not recognizing that what they’re seeing is a mirror image of themselves?  “Objects may be closer than they appear,” or whatever the sideview mirrors say; how about, “Objects may be the opposite of what you process,” instead?  “I” and “you” merge into “we” if we learn how to merge — at that point, mistakes in processing mirror images don’t matter.


July 16, 2012

I had a situation this morning that brought home to me a situation I get stuck on: somebody could do something that would help me but declines to, in order to increase their own pile of gain.

I can see this as a damaged individual (or group of individuals or even a company as a corporate entity) trying to protect itself.  Usually at some point on some day I can actually feel compassion for the person or persons doing what they’re doing.

But I stop short of sending my forgiveness to them directly.  I take it up with God or the universe.  I find that spot of compassion and forgiveness through an interaction with God and the universe, and I eventually ask God and the universe as an intermediary of sorts to send the other person love (from me, on my behalf, etc.) — love to help the other person or persons reach that development of themselves that serves their greater good and the greater good.

I don’t send my forgiveness to the other person or persons directly because if I were to do that, they would just repeat the dysfunctional dynamic out of which arises the behavior I am forgiving.

Once I hit the forgiveness note, letting go (of the transaction — and maybe even of the relationship, at least as it stands) becomes much easier — not easy, but easier.