During this time of the darkness of winter and the sparkling Christmas lights, forgiveness comes to mind. Why? Because forgiveness heals the one who asks and the one being asked. It is the only way we can be as one.
I listened to Handel’s Messiah at Grace Cathedral last night and as always it brought forth my tears. The story of Christ’s sacrifice and his heart and greatness is beautiful. Handel’s music doesn’t hurt either! Exquisite, as it fills your body with its warmth and eloquence. In this grand gothic cathedral hundreds of us sat in rapt attention, following the lines we’ve heard so many times before… We were all there in community with one other. And then, before you know it, we walked out of the church and into the wild rainstorm that buffeted the city … we marched out and away from each other.
I never have like walking away from people, and am reminded of my mother’s eccentric habit of requiring us to write a note in our family’s blank book each time we left the house, so that at least one of us would know where we were. These were my last high school years, and I was certainly more interested in being away from home with my friends and away from my divided family, but I always wrote the note. “Gone to the movies … back home by 7…” This dance we did with the book was something that sort of kept us connected to each other. It made our family seem solid and normal and loving.
But under the surface lurked a weird secret darkness that suggested we didn’t really love one another very much, we didn’t feel bonded … we were just pretending. And so I was conditioned by a world of subterfuge and camouflage. So many things we didn’t talk about, except when I stubbornly tried to peel away another layer of the onion, as I asked yet another pointed question. My mother didn’t take too kindly to me then, of course, because she didn’t understand that telling the truth made you less afraid and more who you are.
I have tucked things away in my life as my mother did – it’s what I grew up with. And then later I dug down into the layers of the past to unearth and reflect on the strange, unsettling stories of dysfunction, deceit, and fear. Writing my memoir forced me to see that I wasn’t as free from fabrication as I had thought. Happily my Buddhist practice now reminds me that honesty and clarity and lovingkindness are necessary pieces of the path to freedom from suffering.
I want to ask forgiveness of a few people: my confused and beautiful mother for whom I harbored such disdain and disgust when I was young, my husband whom I could never dedicate myself to because I couldn’t trust love, my oldest daughter whom I abandoned briefly at a very young age, myself, whom I disrespected in so many ways over the years (I was too fat, too homely, I was too clumsy, too greedy, too sad), a dear friend who finds my presence unsettling and disturbing, all the homeless people of my city whom I ignored for too many years, the person whose car I recently bumped into and didn’t tell, my granddaughter whose college tuition I wouldn’t pay because she was going to a Christian school, all the young men I tried to seduce in my neediness as I moved through young adulthood, and so on…
I believe that asking forgiveness will help set me free from the dark stories I have told myself about being unreliable, sneaky, not moral or good. We all make mistakes. We must forgive ourselves for the suffering we have brought on ourselves and on others, or we simply can’t offer our gifts to the world — such a necessary choice during these fraught times. Thinking back on the story of Christ, I believe he would look at the multiplicity of my errors with charity and would would lift the burden of blame. We are not our own fault. We just make mistakes, we are temporarily unconscious — but, we witness this and then we pick ourselves up and forge ahead. Because we must.
With love and forgiveness for my fellow beings and for myself during this bittersweet holiday season…