For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel.
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar lov'd him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms,
Quite vanquish'd him: then burst his mighty
Have you ever done anything unforgivable? Has anyone done anything against you that you think is forever unforgivable?
Who are our favorite targets of eternal unforgiveness? Perhaps an ex. Parents, of course, are often high on the list. Sometimes political or spiritual leaders who have betrayed our trust. Someone who has committed an act of violence against us or against someone we love. Someone who has hurt our children. Or any children. And, secretly perhaps, ourselves.
If we start our list of those from whom we would withhold forgiveness, we might find that some of those at the top are people we once loved. Maybe we still do. Like Caesar, we are most vulnerable to those to whom we have exposed our tender hearts. From those, we receive the unkindest cuts of all.
Therapists’ couches are populated with legions come to exorcise the demons of childhood, set upon them by well meaning or sometimes not so well meaning parents, by bullies, by best friends gone bad. At some point, forgiveness will enter the conversation, and become the key to freedom and moving on.
Not long after my mother died, I had a dream about her. In the dream she was standing alone chest deep in a small, shallow pond, fully clothed. She looked confused and disoriented. She tried to move to the side of the pond to get out, but wherever she turned, she couldn’t seem to reach the edge. I was standing nearby. Initially, I felt detached, like a neutral observer, but as I watched, I felt my heart slowly soften and I was filled with such deep, sad compassion. I wanted to take her in my arms and lift her up out of the water. I wanted to wrap her in warm blankets and stroke her hair and soothe her with lullabies.
When I woke up, I knew that whatever grievances I still harbored had dissolved. I saw her as she was, as we all are, perfect in her imperfection, loving in her own way, battling her own demons as best she could. A lot like me.
At some point in our lives, most of us find ourselves in our own pond of murky water, not sure how we got in there, not seeing how to get out. There are secrets lurking in the water. Draining the pond will give us a way out but will expose what we want to keep hidden. A tough choice.
A memory that still crushes my chest with shame is something that happened when my son James was two. At that time, I was living in Abidan, Ivory Coast, and I had traveled with him to Dakar, Senagal, where I was scheduled to participate in a panel discussion. Earlier that day, I had taken a ferry with some friends to do some sightseeing. As we were walking onto the dock to head back, I was horrified to see the ferry casting off. Somehow we had misjudged the time. Waiting till the next ferry would cause me to miss the panel. The ferry was still close enough to the dock that people, who like me had apparently thought they had more time, were reaching out and grabbing the rail, and stepping across to board.
Easy enough, but for me to do that, I had to hand my toddler to someone standing at the rail, so that my hands were free to get on board myself. I can remember like I am reliving it right now holding him out across the water while a friend reached out from the boat. I could see that she had him, but still I held on, asking her several times to assure me that she had him. She did. Letting go of him above that dark, oily water was terrifying. She clasped him in her arms while I easily took hold of the rail and jumped on board. I made it in time to the panel, but my mind was still on that dock, that moment of handing him over seared on my soul like a brand.
I’ll tell you I did much worse things than that as a mother. Things I have acknowledged and moved on from. So why is that that scene, even now decades later, now as I dredge it up from the murky depths of my dark pond of secrets to write the words, causes my heart to pound like the tell-tale heart of Poe? In my rational mind, I know James was not in any danger. But in my mother mind, terrorized by goblins of the night, I have a secret fear that in that moment I was more concerned about being late to speak, about letting people down and the attendant embarrassment, than I was about my child.
True or not, it doesn’t matter. I’ll never know. But how do I forgive myself for that? The unkindest cuts of all, the ones that haunt us, are sometimes ones we inflict upon ourselves.
10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) is a program to help us develop habits to grow a joyful spirit. Many of us sabotage our happiness by habits that we might not even be aware of. Identifying and changing these habits can build a reservoir of well-being to enhance our happy times and sustain us during challenging times.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
The Unkindest Cut
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I don't have an answer, though I think forgiving and letting go are two different things. I strive for the latter moreso than the former because letting go is easier than truly forgiving myself or someone else. I wonder if that makes me harsh or if it is a self defense mechanism but in any case thank you for an insightful post.ReplyDelete
That is an interesting distinction. I hope you might write a bit more about it. How is forgiveness different from letting go in your experience? Thanks for commenting.Delete
Hi Galen.....another great post on forgiveness. You are correct in stating that often the one we most need to forgive is ourselves. I have struggled with that concept for a great deal of my life....Until this happened...i was in therapy..yet again...lamenting how I had been such a bad mother to my son....after much rambling on...my therapist looked me right in the eye and said this to me." Jo, you have been coming to see me for over 12 years, all toll, isn't twelve years long enough to beat yourself up over the same thing." That was the day, my friend, I began to see with a new set of eyes.ReplyDelete
Sometimes those old wounds open up...but I'm able to let them go ever so quickly now.
So if 12 years was enough, are you saying 25 years is long enough for me?! Hmmm. Maybe so. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Galen, you're absolutely right about the unkindest cuts being the ones we inflict upon ourselves. There's nothing like sweltering in our own internal fires. After I read this post, I was thinking of the "if only" situations. While most can really be rationalized, and come to terms with....there are those that never go away.ReplyDelete
Yes, I don't have an answer either. And crazily, over time, these become comfortable scars. There to remind us.
Somehow this post made me cry. Hugs to you, Galen.
Vidya, "sweltering in our own internal fires" Boy, I'm going to remember that phrase! Vivid! Another great phrase, "comfortable scars." Thanks for the inspiration. You have a great way with words.Delete
I read the same line, "sweltering in our own internal fires" and wanted to comment on how strong that imagery is..and noticed you had beaten me to it, Galen.Delete
I think it is helpful to remind ourselves that often the object of our strongest negative memories probably has no memory of the event at all. We are dragging ourselves through a painful patch for a "failure" that is only in our mind. Understanding that makes it easier to let go.
Wonderfully written Galen :-) I identify with pretty much everything you said. But I especially resonate with the story of your mother... as I had a dream that was similar. I wonder how many of us have issues with our mothers that remain unresolved somewhere in our heart. My mother released me in that dream... [such a beautiful dream]... and allowed me to move on at last. [She had died three months earlier]. Mothers [and I include myself in this] need to know when to let go of their children. When enough is enough. When we have done our best [for better or worse] and it's over to them. No guilty aftermath. Just acceptance. And forgiveness [even after the fact] Letting go is the very best gift of all.ReplyDelete
Jean, Interesting, isn't it, how we can resolve things in our dreams. Thanks for commenting.Delete
I am right now working very hard on the infliction I am putting on my self...ReplyDelete
I had to forgive my sister again today - no problem; about 15 minutes and the okay returned...but that I have failed myself in doing what I needed to do - tears at me - now I see that I do not know what to do about it either.
I had a dream last night about making a horse face mask out of folding colored paper and it was a master piece...I have thought about it all day, It felt creative, all day...going to go look up horse symbolism...(and out of as simple a tool as paper)
Forgiving the self - ah me!
Patricia, Interesting dream! I can't even guess about the symbolism. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Too many times I am afraid...I have flash backs of driving to fast with the boys in the car with me, I remember Craig my oldest son when he was but a few months old while in the grocery store, an elderly couple came up and just went crazy over how pretty my baby was and wanted to hold him and I ran a couple of isle over to get an item while they held him.....OH MY I would never do that now ....God is so good to protect the young mothers....ReplyDelete
Rhonda, Thank you for sharing your story. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who cringes at certain memories. I appreciate your comment.Delete
There are times when I think about what I was like as a young mom and cringe. So grateful that my children made it out of childhood alive and well. He is good!ReplyDelete
Alida, Yep, it's a miracle any of them make it to adulthood! Even little things like what to feed babies can seem fraught with danger. Conventional wisdom for my daughter and her baby is very different than when my son was a baby! Thanks for commenting.Delete
Wonderful post Galen and always insightful.ReplyDelete
You have said it well. We can hard it hard to forgive others but I also believe that the person we can find hardest to forgive is ourselves. Reading your post reminded me on how "guilty" I felt a few days ago while reflecting on my unwise actions to my daughter. Tears rolled. And with them, a stronger resolve to let go, forgive and be a better mother. I also asked her for forgiveness for being so unwise, unloving and impatient. I guess without awareness, I would still be punishing myself internally with harsh judgements.ReplyDelete
Thanks once again for a lovely post. It certainly touched a deep core. I believe that once we share our darkest secrets, the energy of "shame" transforms to something beautiful and freeing.
Evelyn, Thank you for sharing the story about your daughter. I think that many mothers can identify with what you and I wrote. I am grateful for a safe place to share my darkest secrets. In fact, I never told this story until this post. And you are right that sharing transforms the shame. Thanks for your comment.Delete
Oh, what a scary moment! I can clearly see why you have remembered it so well.ReplyDelete
When all things are put to rest forgiveness is our most important work here. I think most people see it as forgiving another person, but it is really about forgiving ourselves. We create our own worlds, our own realities. All things are brought forth from the murky waters over the boat docks to teach us things. We have to forgive ourselves.
Nicole, That was a scary moment! Forgiving ourselves is so central to our joy, and yet one of the hardest things to do. Thanks for commenting.Delete
What a beautiful piece!
I don't really feel guilty over things I messed up, and I never realized it until I read this. I feel more guilty over not doing the dishes than about serious things, like the time my son almost drowned us both and the time same said son at 4 walked right into traffic with 3 generations of his relatives sitting a few feet away in a restaurant.
You know what I think of at those times? Thank God and thank our angels for protecting us. These were SUCH close calls and could easily have gone the other way. If everything ends OK, great. If everything does not end well, then I think we have to see that everyone is here to learn, including each of us - how to set priorities, how to be a better Mom, etc etc. It's those moments where we have a dark thought or speak a harsh word that we have the chance to see it and change. Nothing to regret.
Julie, I so appreciate your view of this close calls. That is exactly right isn't it? Thank you for sharing the story of your own close call with your son. There are so many of them through all our parenting years. Through all our lives, for that matter. Thanks for your comment.Delete
This was a very powerful post.
Now I'm not a parent (yet!), so this might be easy for me to say, but I believe you have raised 5 kids, right?
This is absolutely amazing. And also you are human. We humans are programmed to make mistakes, and think illogically a lot of the time! :-)
You can forgive yourself, because despite such an incident, you are far more than such an event and have done so much more for your kids.
And it's useful to remember that memories about such things are just that. They happened once. However, after this, they are images and feelings inside our minds. Hence, they are only as real as we choose to make them.
HIten, Yes, 5 kids. But that human part.... My therapist used to say, "Welcome to the human race." I always hated that...until I learned to love it. Thanks so much for your comment.Delete
As a mother I too look back at different times during my child's life and realize that my actions. on occasion, were based on what I needed, and not always what was best for my child at the time. Women feel so much pressure juggling our role as a mother with our professional role and it can cause anguish when our child's needs coincide with demands at work.
I remember as a teacher, it was difficult if my children were sick, but especially at conference time, when I had a number of parents scheduled to meet with me, and it would be very inconvenient to change everyone's schedule. Our kids do grow up and we do move on, but it is easy to let ourselves fall into regretting those less than perfect moments.
Forgiveness does allow us to move on with our lives, though and make peace with the past. Thanks for the great post.
Cathy, Thank you for the kind and reassuring words. Having sympathetic and understanding comments on this post has helped me so much.Delete