"You can't forgive without loving. And I don't mean sentimentality. I don't mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say " I forgive. I'm finished with it." - Maya Angelou
The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world." - Marianne Williamson
37 years ago today was one of the most significant days of my life when I was gifted with one of life's most valuable lessons and pearls of wisdom. It was also a day that I was immersed in a tragedy that forever shattered the innocence of my young world. The life lesson for me that day was the commencement of my journey into the adult world of forgiveness. As a naive and tender 15-year-old girl then, I wasn't prepared nor could I appreciate and understand the experience or the enormity of what was being offered and its impact on my life until many years later. August 20th marks the anniversary of my sister Julie's murder.
On that cloudy, sticky Saturday in late August, the day before my mother's 45th birthday, my then 19- year-old sister Julie came to visit and brought with her a birthday card. The visit, which turned out to be the last few hours of my sister's life, was not one most people would consider joyful nor any type of pre-birthday celebration due to my mother's blatant indifference toward my sister not to mention her ongoing attempts to make her feel unwelcome by continuing on with her housekeeping chores as though she were not there and leaving my sister, for the most part, to sit alone at the kitchen table. As I witnessed this I could see, in spite of my youth, the anguish my sister was feeling and made a futile attempt at compensating for my mom's less than warm and fuzzy demeanor. My sister stayed for only a short time as a result of this treatment and my mom, feeling satisfied with her heavy dosing of dismissal toward Julie, did make the effort to walk her out to her car and the two of us waved our last goodbye as she backed out of the driveway. It was only hours later that my mom received the news that her eldest daughter and my only sister had been shot to death.
Thinking back on that day I can still hear the heart-wrenching screams and unfathomable grief of my mother echo in my heart. The feeling of helplessness and having been blasted by an emotional canon in my gut washes over me as I remember seeing my mom sitting, at the very table she denied my sister's presence hours before, with her head buried deep in her arms and sobbing, as she over and over again hit her fragile fisted hand on the table and cried out "my baby is dead, oh my God, my baby is dead"!
I realize today mom's unbearable pain that day, and for the remaining days of her life, was more than from losing her child; it was the stinging realization and guilt over having squandered those last precious moments of time with her now dead daughter by refusing to talk, acting out her anger and withholding forgiveness for some unknown transgression. Reflecting back on that life changing moment in time, I find myself longing to ask my mom "what can you tell me about forgiveness?" It is a question, I'm certain, she could answer from a place of hard earned wisdom and enormous suffering. I genuinely hold gratitude for my mom for having taught me, through her life, a most important lesson about forgiveness.
As members of this earthly tribe we all eventually are confronted with the need to forgive or be forgiven sooner or later. Forgiveness knocks on the door of our heart and presents us with the questions of how do I forgive the unpardonable? How do I forgive myself? What does it mean to truly forgive? Why should I forgive? Etc. The answers to this most noteworthy question could fill the Library of Congress but no answer can be as powerful and life changing as what I refer to as the action of forgiving.
For me, to forgive is a verb that requires action - an act of giving another human soul something so personal and potent that it has the power to change a life. Forgiveness is giving the gift of granting another the right to be human, make mistakes and still know our love. As we all know, to truly forgive is often easier said than done and can sometimes present itself as a conundrum to us especially if we must first forgive ourselves for our inability to forgive another.
What is more, forgiveness necessitates that we make strides toward seeing the "bigger picture" and to dig deep into our repertoire of understanding and expose the roots of our limited perception to a place of higher knowing. It asks that we let go of our ego, our pride, so that we may obtain a 360 degree view of a situation.
To forgive demands fairness and a vigilant effort to not make the mistake of secretly holding another accountable for something we've not had the courage or common decency to share with our offender. Additionally, absolute forgiveness requires that we hold ourselves to a higher standard and ask of each other, "is it not our moral obligation to uphold the sanctity of forgiveness by at least giving another an equal voice to our own and the chance to rectify a wrong beginning with - "I'm sorry I hurt you?" All of us at times want to avoid the "uncomfortable" that comes with voicing our hurt to another and often choose silence, avoidance and denial over genuine forgiveness. Truth be told, the story of my mother Phyllis's life - post my sister's passing - was an unequivocal testament to the tragedy that can unfold for the unforgiving heart.
You might be thinking at this point, what is the purpose of resurrecting the old pain that caused us to not want to forgive when it is much easier to simply forget and move on? The problem with that type of "sweep under the rug" mentality is that it ultimately comes back to bite us far worse than the pain of confronting the hurtful issue. Life has a way, and we all can attest to the fact, of teaching us lessons our souls need to learn and I definitely have known the repercussions and dangers that lurk from traversing through the dark forest of our buried hurts for too long. It is by the grace of the Divine coupled with wisdom in heart that we come to understand the hurt, the emotional pain we housed away in the hidden recesses of our souls. Buried pain doesn't go away and no Jeannie in the bottle approach or mindset will make it all go away! The fact is, and science, specifically psychoneuroimmunology, has proven that our stored toxic junk festers and eventually makes its face known in one unpleasant form or another from depression to physical illness. My choice based on the many studies that clearly uphold the connection between the expression of disease in our bodies and unresolved emotional pain would be to forgive. Everyday we are reminded of the power of forgiveness and its ability to open our mind, body and spirit to healing, to humble us, make us better human beings, and the world, our personal world included, a more sacred and civil place to be.
Why not swing open the door of your heart today and invite in the healing elixir of forgiveness? The bottom line here is we ALL make mistakes; we all need to forgive or be forgiven. The time to forgive is now, the moment to ask for forgiveness is the present and we acknowledge that we can't afford to wait for time waits for no one.