Shanti Emerson: It’s an inside job
So your best friend in high school read your diary and blabbed all your secrets. Your first spouse ran off with your next door neighbor, and your stepmother squandered all your father’s savings. A doctor misdiagnosed your mother, and she died years earlier than necessary.
All this happened 20, 30 or 40 years ago, but you are still angry. Every time you think about it, your stomach hurts, your throat tightens and you dream about getting revenge. A punch in the noggin? A lawsuit? Even murder? We hope the worst happens to those who hurt us.
What do we do with all those negative memories and uncomfortable feelings that linger in our mind and come forth when evoked?
One of the most memorable quotes in the Bible is from tormented Jesus suffering on the cross saying, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” Another, “Forgive them their trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us.”
In modern times, it is the Dalai Lama who gives us the inspiration by forgiving those who have taken over his homeland, murdered many of his priests, and caused him to leave his beloved Tibet forever. Every day he prays for those who have hurt him. He seems like a content guy.
There is a reconciliation program for families of victims to meet the persons who murdered their loved ones. Many of those meetings have resulted in forgiveness.
As we go through life, we meet people who help us, people who inspire us and people who treat us like dirt. We don’t have a choice as to who our family is, and we have to do the best with what we are given.
Your mother, your father, your spouse, best friends, your children, and even yourself … will let you down, and you will let them down, too. After all, we are imperfect humans trying to make sense of this crazy world.
We have our conscious mind and our even stronger, unconscious working at the same time. We are whirling in space at a galactic speed. We have verbal communication and non-verbal, both at the same time. We hear a hundred different opinions a day. We hear conflicting news stories and wonder what is true. Men are from Mars and Women from Venus … but we live on planet Earth together. Some people don’t feel safe with a gun in their house while others feel afraid without an arsenal.
Throughout the years, I have made mistakes, sometimes terrible mistakes that hurt other people. And yet, I did what I thought I needed to do at the time. I hope the people I’ve hurt can forgive me. Last year, I spoke to my first husband for the first time in 30 years and found him to be a very fine person. Our few conversations about a sick child were healing to both of us, and I felt a huge relief as the black clouds slipped away and the sunny blue sky shone through. It was my sweetest memory of 2018. How could I forgive him for all he did to me? Even more, how could he forgive me for all I did to him?
At my 50th high school reunion, I saw the class president/football captain who’d teased me mercilessly for years. I told him how much he’d embarrassed me and hurt my feelings. He was shocked. A half hour later, he tapped my shoulder and told me that you always tease the one you like best. Now I know he didn’t like me best, after all his girlfriend was the most beautiful popular girl in school, but 50-plus years of resentments vanished in the moment.
So how do we bring about the peace of mind that we all need if these characters and stories are living in our brains? First of all, we must have the intention that we want to forgive them. Then we should humbly look at ourselves and see that we too have hurt other people, often the people closest to us, the ones who need our love the most.
Here are some quotations that might help:
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” Bruce Lee
“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one who inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” Marianne Williamson
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Mahatma Gandhi
So the motivation for forgiving those who have hurt us is to gain peace of mind which is necessary to lead a fulfilling life. Forgiveness is not letting the past control your present and future. It takes an emotionally mature person to understand human frailty and put things into perspective.
It’s very helpful to be able to talk to the person you are forgiving to express your feelings, but that is usually not possible, so it’s an inside job. It’s letting those memories slip out of sight and being grateful for all the good people you know and staying in the present.
Perhaps it is hardest to forgive ourselves as no one is more aware of our shortcomings. So we try to do our best, apologize when we’ve been wrong and learn to accept ourselves and others.
Shanti Emerson is a Nevada County resident and a member of The Union Editorial Board. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the board or its members. She can be reached at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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