No Time for Unforgiveness
We were ten miles outside of Eugene when my sister Rache and her boyfriend broke the bad news.
“We invited Aunt Rosemarie.”
“Pull the car over,” I commanded immediately.
“You can’t walk back to Eugene! We’re too far away!”
“I can walk back to Eugene, and I will, thanks.”
They refused to pull over, so I grumbled and growled for the next several minutes of our drive up to Portland. “You’re going to regret it. Seriously, you’re not even gonna be able to talk because she’s gonna be too busy talking about how Mom stole her precious silver hairbrush when they were kids. She’s going to conveniently not mention that it was for a slumber party, and Mom returned it the next day. And as you sit and try to escape that terrible, awkward conversation about ridiculous events that transpired between kids decades ago, I am going to laugh at you because you did it to yourself.”
Nick was sure I was exaggerating. He soon discovered I wasn’t. As I watched him conversing with my aunt from a distance, I could see his discomfort rising by the second. His eyes screamed “help me!” even while his mouth remained locked in a polite grin.
Later, he’d say, “You were right.” He was astonished how long someone could hold on to such lingering antagonism over something so inconsequential. I might have been, too, if my childhood weren’t shaped by that rage and unyielding, unrepentant unforgiveness.
Later that same day, my aunt cornered me. “Don’t you want to spend time with me?”
“No, I really don’t,” I said matter of factly. “Our only connection is my mom, who’s given her all to raise me and whom you’re intent on trashing for things that happened ages ago. So, no, I’m not interested.”
“The things your mom did to the family!” she howled.
“You don’t do things to ‘the family’ unless you’re the Mafia,” I replied, before wandering off for quiet time with my loving, forgiving friend Jane.
My mom stressed forgiveness. She got a kick out of my snappy retorts when I was in high school, but if I ever seemed like I was earnestly withholding forgiveness, she’d grow quiet and sad. “You really hurt yourself when you do that, honey. And people do stupid things that they’d undo if they could. There’s really no good to come from holding on to that.”
Her eyes always looked into the past when she spoke, so it was clear she was remembering being unforgiven. Still, she would never talk about what she did to earn her family’s ire. I knew it had to do with more than a hairbrush, and her vocal, early rejection of Mormonism, but I didn’t want to press the painful point with her.
Rache learned Mom’s great and tragic secret from our brother last week. This was the one she perceived was her gravest misdeed against her family, and the one her own mom most likely recalled when she told my mom she deserved all the misfortune that came her way.
My mom was watching her brother when he sustained a life-altering injury. He’d already been challenging to raise, but the injury made things all the more difficult.
They were children. But she was there, and she was responsible–in the court of her mother’s opinion (as I witnessed though I didn’t understand its source), and later her sister’s–a responsibility that weighed heavy on her heart until the day she died.
I’ve been mulling this over for the last week and a half.
I’ve been wishing I could tell my mom that I forgive her, not that forgiveness should be required in the case of youthful or even adult accidents. For acts of abuse in my childhood, she asked me for forgiveness dozens of times when I was in college and law school. I’d laugh awkwardly and say, “What’s done is done. I understand how terrible and stressful things were for you. I don’t really think I need to forgive you for any of those things.”
How much would it have cost me to say “I forgive you”? How much would her heart have been uplifted to hear, for once, that she was forgiven?
I wish I could go back in time and say these words now, but I’m not going to waste a lot of time on that wishing.
Because that’s all it is: wasting time.
The past cannot be changed.
In light of these revelations, I’ve been thinking about things I’ve done wrong. There have been so many. Every single day, there are so many.
Regret itself does no good. Regret alone changes nothing. Change comes exclusively from looking at what was done unskillfully, and choosing to do it better next time. Nurturing aching, eternal regret takes away my time and energy from believing next time can and will be better, and from my actively striving to make it so.
I am so not interested.
To whomever has hurt me and those I love, I forgive you. My mom was right that forgiveness heals, and I yearn to be an active participant in healing the world that is today. I want my son, bless his beautiful heart, to continue forgiving freely, and to know that it is right to do so, though sometimes, for repeated transgressions, forgiveness must be granted while walking away from the forgiven.
To whomever I have hurt, I apologize.
To whomever has forgiven me, most especially my siblings, I thank you.
To whomever has not forgiven me, I understand, but though I will apologize, I will not waste time chasing forgiveness.
The past is done. There is no action I can take to change it. I would much rather focus on the wonder of this moment, and all the possibilities the future holds if met with a willingness to forgive–myself and others–and to constantly strive to do better next time.
It pained my mom that my siblings and I didn’t consider her family our own.
She would be glad to know her lessons in forgiveness finally took, and gladder still to know I’ve befriended my cousins. I’m even Facebook friends with one of her brothers.
When I received his friend request not so long ago, I struggled with whether to accept it. What would I be inviting in if I accepted? I wasn’t sure, but I was sure I wanted to live in a way that would make my mom proud. So I took a shot, and very little has changed as a result of it.
Very little, that is, but the sense my mom’s light shines brighter upon me with each step I take toward living with heart wide open.