I am nothing if I am not robust with my grudges. My inability to move on from a perceived wrong is of such a strength, that a poster of an indignant me is used as training motivation at the DMV.
We all have our strengths.
I’m not known for my skill set in forgiveness. I’ve had the same grudge held close to my chest since I was about fourteen years old.
It’s not like I grew up in a refugee camp or was the victim of an unspeakable crime or born a ginger, but I do think I’m like most everyone else: trust was broken somewhere along the way, and the thick skin that grew over the wound hasn’t allowed for the fresh air of vulnerability to do its painful irrigation.
It’s as simple as that.
I’ve been doing a lot of work this year. All of it painful, all of it humbling, all of it infuriating, all of it about as comfortable as a wool coat in the summer.
Unsurprisingly, I’m pretty horrible at being a wise and enlightened altruistic Tibetan monk, mostly because I was born an Irish Catholic.
When it comes to forgiveness, I find myself immersed in some interesting habits. Like many things, this is a process, and with all processes, I fight with the strength of a thousand armies trying to hold back torrents instead of riding them. It’s exhausting, and it leaves me battered, pruney, and sputtering.
I’ve read dozens of quotes and metaphors on forgiveness recently, my favorite so far is one Anne Lamott threw out to the universe, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
But what they don’t tell you is how good that poison tastes at the time.
It’s that shot of tequila that you take with one eye open at 1am. The one that you know is going to keep you up all night and make you shave your tongue in the morning. In that moment though, the impulse is just too strong. It feels so much easier than closing your tab and going home.
It feels a lot harder to close the tab on the wrong I feel, than sticking with the ease of charging emotional debts.
I don’t exactly have a hard time charging bacon-ranch fries, either.
Other than that intoxicating bitter taste of resentment and anger, there’s something else we don’t discuss: the very real grief when you forgive.
There’s an emptiness where the pain once lived, and it can be really confusing finding out what to fill it with once you make the choice to let your hurts die.
For those playing at home, this is where I’m stuck. I have just about finished the funeral service for my hurt. I’m still at the afterparty, flipping through a slide show for The Pain that Once Was, and sort of don’t want to wrap up and go home because I don’t know what to put in its place.
I know I have to eventually pack away the notion that my past can change. That’s my definition of forgiveness, and it sounds like a lot of work and a lot of grieving.
Forgiveness, I think, isn’t something conjured from thin air. It’s something we’re born with, like quads. And like those muscles that only get used rarely and begrudgingly, employing them can be painful. And when realized, you’re often surprised you had them in the first place.
This hits home since I haven’t left the comfort of a turkey sandwich in about three weeks, and am pretty sure my bones have eaten my muscles just for the fiber.
And I suppose, not unlike my turkey sandwich safe-haven, I have to ask whether my resentments have actually helped me. They and my sandwich have not. So what’s the point of keeping them around? Because they fill my gut, and that feels familiar?
Believe it or not, we do have it in us to forgive. I know this first hand every time one of my nieces sneezes in my mouth. I haven’t shipped them off to military school yet because I forgive them. It’s just a muscle we have to work on a little bit more when the hurt comes from someone who should know better.
And another thing. Forgiveness doesn’t mean a lack of accountability. I’ve learned this the hard way this year.
Forgiveness is not resigning to defeat, nor is it a strength vs weakness thing. This is a personal struggle that has no grading scale of brawn.
It’s ok to set very clear boundaries and also let go of the cement resentment shoes you put on every morning. That’s tres badass.
This also isn’t absolving a wrong, what happened can’t be undone. Forgiveness and fixing are two different things, and probably two different copays on your insurance.
Nor is it about vengeance, no matter what our egos say. Don’t confuse appropriately placed indignation with getting even.
Get angry! When it’s called for, anger can be an amazing rocket to ride in taking action. Then put down the torch. In the ashes, once the fire of that indignation is over, it’s pointless to keep holding the hot embers. Move on to rebuilding the house you need to live in, and give it a damn hot tub and I’ll bring the wine.
Full disclosure I am absolutely a martyr to my own ego, and just love roasting someone to death for the slightest indiscretion. It is not my natural state to choose benevolence over the feeling of warming myself next to the fires of my own smug righteousness.
And as I have been flailing and stumbling and skinning my knees trying to find my own feet with this, especially this past year, I’ve learned a few more things.
Forgiveness is empathy.
An empathy that has accountability.
But accountability without shaming yourself or others.
Forgiveness is a radical act of self interest and empowerment.
Forgiveness is about choosing to take your joy back.
So go freaking get it.
Not happiness. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is a skill set, a muscle. It’s built.
Bono of the U2 Bonos said somewhere that I’m too lazy to Google, “Joy is the ultimate act of defiance.”
I may truly suck at this, but I *love* being defiant. Ask my mom.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take all of that weight - all of the anger and the sadness and disappointments - and I’m going to put them down and stand on them to see the next thing that I can choose to enjoy. I knew it would all be good for something.
The first thing I’m going to do is spend tonight with my nieces making a mess and eating cookies and watching Mary Poppins.
That’s a damn good start. Tomorrow I’ll try airing out old wounds and all that grief stuff.