His message appears in my Facebook inbox. I read it. In it, he apologies. I read it again. In it, he states that he misses his best friend. I read it again and again. Then, I let it sit there with no reply for about two days.
I struggle. That last sentence may be one of the realest, most honest sentences that I have written. In its simplicity is mixed so many shortcomings, so many attempts to be better. Success, failure, and hope not so neatly reside within the word, struggle. Hence, I struggle with forgiveness.
A few years ago, the leading positive psychologist in the nation, Dr. Martin Seligman, came to my school for a professional development training. I loved his positive attitude (no pun intended), especially the strongly suggested ways that we can look at our outcomes, our responses to situations, and our lives. Dr. Seligman argues that as a society we focus too much of our attention on what we are not good at and not enough time cultivating our strengths. Long story short, he invited the faculty to complete a questionnaire via his ‘Authentic Happiness’ website to measure, and ultimately rank, our strengths. Interestingly, my lowest ranked strength, the questionnaire did not use the word weakness, was forgiveness.
I struggle with forgiveness because I give so much of myself in relationships. In my closest relationships, I give my all at all times. I allow myself to be vulnerable, which accounts for the strong bonds, but conversely allows for the strong hurt. Imagine for a second the different variations of a hug. There is the I-kinda-like-you-enough-to-touch-you-but-not-really one-armed, sideway hug. Then there is the full-body-our-chest-and-by-virtue-our-hearts-will-undoubtedly-touch two-armed, full embrace. My relationships closely mirror the latter; I am exposed, accepting, and open. Thus, when someone hurts me, it hurts tremendously. My affection and care are open, not shielded.
Imagine if I were being attacked, and stood in the starting position of the two previously mentioned hugs. In the first stance, the one-armed hug, I would get hit squarely in the arm/shoulder, which would be painful. In the second stance, the two-armed embrace, I would get hit squarely in the chest, which would also be painful and more dangerous because the chest houses all the vital organs. Remember, I characterize my hugging style as the latter. As a result, I hurt badly when I am/feel played, slighted, or wronged.
As much controversy as Tyler Perry incites, I think of him whenever I think of forgiveness. In one of his movies, one of his characters utters a counterintuitive truism, “Forgiveness is not about the other person, it is about you.” Remember that much of Tyler Perry’s fame comes from his constant touring of the bible belt influenced Chitling circuit; thus, most of his earlier work was heavily laden with biblical references and thoughts in order to inspire.
Here is the crux of my struggle; I struggle with forgiveness because I struggle with forgiving myself.
I recently read, “Healing requires taking responsibility for your actions.” No where in that quote is the other person mentioned. No where in that quote exists a he, she, they, him, or her. No where in that quote does it condone being consistently angered and frustrated by the pain that the non-existent other person caused.
I struggle with forgiveness because I struggle with forgiving myself.
There are still moments when I quick to point to others and blame them for my situation, my feelings, my hurt. The key word in that last sentence is “my.” The situation, feelings, and hurt belong to me. As a result, I have to be accountable for my actions, thoughts, and feelings. I only allow past situations to hurt me because “healing requires taking responsibility.” Thus, when I am responsible for my actions, I can move on from the situation.
At the same, I do not condone removing responsibility from the other person for their actions, their role in the hurt. I am, on the other hand, suggesting that you are only in control of you. You cannot make that person do anything; you cannot make them apologize, you cannot make them feel sorry for their actions; you cannot make them hurt as badly as you hurt. Therefore, you can not let others’ actions linger in your life. At some point, you have to forgive, not for them, but for you. Forgive yourself and allow yourself to be happy, in order to live the life that you deserve.
Similarly, forgiving is not forgetting. Learn your lesson, and move on. And be prepared with your newly acquired knowledge because life is a lazy teacher who uses the same test over and over again. True, she may change a question here and there but the same skill is being tested, regardless of the subtle change.
A couple days later, I reread his message again for umpteenth time. I crafted a response that reiterates to him that I too miss communicating with my best friend. I also convey that I have moved on from that once unbearable place of hurt.
More importantly, I forgive him. I forgive, not for him, but for me.