I have written often about the choice to be a thriver rather than either a victim or a survivor. I have also written often that part of choosing to be a thriver is about forgiving, both ourselves and those who have hurt us, for whatever we have lived through. We are all humans, none of us is perfect, and when we can have compassion, even for those who have done hard and terrible things to us, we are the ones released from that pain. Our own anger often prevents us from healing, from moving forward, from thriving.
I believe all of this, deeply. And yet, it does not prevent me from having those nights when I can’t sleep because of something that happened years ago, some cruelty I lived through, something that perhaps I should have handled differently. And I’ll tell you honestly that when that does happen, my thoughts do not usually tend towards compassion or forgiveness, for myself or for the other. Usually I envision things I “should” have done differently that would either have been a better fit for who I choose to be, or would have felt more like “justice” towards whomever hurt me.
Last night was no exception. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking of the person who had uninvited me to a party she was having at her house based on misinformation that she, none the less, chose not to ask me about directly. At the time, like the man in “An American President”, I felt that I should not have to defend myself or seek to clarify something to someone who was simply choosing to believe the one side she had heard without checking it out with me. So my response at the time was just to be polite and accept the dis-invitation without expressing any feelings about it whatsoever. But last night I woke up thinking about this, which meant that at 2am this morning I woke up angry: angry at this woman for never asking my side, never checking things out, angry that she chose not to give me the benefit of the doubt, angry that she chose the friendship of the one badmouthing me over her friendship with me who chose to keep a private altercation private, angry that charming charismatic males are so often accepted at their word just because people want to be around them, and socially-awkward women are easily discarded in the face of those men, angry that she felt it was okay to just uninvite me. I was also angry at myself for not naming it for what it was, “So, you are uninviting me? And can you tell me more about why that is the choice you are making?” I was angry at myself for not defending myself. I was angry at myself for not speaking my truth at the time. To be honest, I’m angry still. I miss that friendship. And yet, it ended that afternoon despite the fact that at the time I simply said, “I understand” and continued to smile and be polite and engaged.
Last night I was not able to get back to sleep. So I’m writing this from a place of half-conscious thoughts. But still, as the daylight slowly dawned this morning I found myself thinking about who I want to be in the face of these past hurts and slights. I’ve been reading about compassionate communication, as well as how to talk to people about racism/race issues. I’ve been thinking about the growing divide in our country along political and ideological lines. We’ve been studying together (many of us in the congregation) the importance of not limiting our connections to those we agree with, those we connect well with. The divides and struggles will continue if we cannot hear one another, cannot learn to be with others who are different. And all of that has to begin with re-learning compassion, with hearing below the words that are said for the feelings of the other, the commonalities in experience and values, the deeper stories that connect us all.
So today, I’m trying to apply that as I seek both to forgive the other and to forgive myself. I cannot check this out with the person who dis-invited me: we have no connection at this point and I would not know how to find one since we live in different parts of the world. But I can still listen, listen to the past, listen beneath her words of the time, listen for where she was and what she was feeling and needing at the time. I hear her desire to have this other friendship, to maintain those connections, at whatever cost. I hear her trust that I am strong enough to handle the dis-invitation, and, frankly, that I will not reject her simply because she has rejected me. I hear her desire to believe her other friend and to not have anything that would confront that trust placed in him. I hear her anger at me for a story (not much of which I know since I don’t actually know what she was told) that she has heard that places me in the role of “bad guy”. I hear her need for things to be clear, for there to be a clear “bad guy” and clear “good guy” in the situation. I choose, then, to have compassion for those needs and concerns that she had, and to forgive her for living out those feelings in a way that hurt me and my family. I choose it, which doesn’t mean that I feel forgiveness or even that deep compassion at the moment, but that I’m working towards that.
Similarly, I am listening beneath my own choices in the moment. I did not want to be confrontive or angry at the moment because I did not know how that would play out or if I would be able to heal any breech that caused in the moment. I did not want to share my own experiences and have them doubted or disbelieved. I did not know how to speak my truth in the moment and I was afraid of speaking in a way that would have deeper consequences. I was going through huge changes at the time and I could not bear one more. I also did not want to harm her friendship with this other person and have to carry that on my conscience. For all these reasons I responded with an acceptance, which did show a strength in myself to withstand cruelty and to even have compassion for it. And maybe that was a gift that I gave back at that moment. I choose, therefore, to have compassion for my own decisions at that moment. I also choose to explore with myself, in the future, whether there is something more I need to do with this situation to heal it for myself. And I choose to forgive the choice that I made then, learning from it that I need to find compassionate and kind ways to ask more questions, to seek more information, and to step forward into my own truth more often in situations such as this. Again, I may not be feeling this way right now, but these are the choices I make and that I will work hard to step into.
Finally, I am not unaware that there are reasons this scenario was the one that woke me this morning in the wee hours. I am experiencing something similar with another person right now who is choosing to disconnect rather than to seek out information or healing. I do not want this, too, to become a situation I wake up from in the middle of the night in three or five or ten years, unhealed, unaddressed. So I hear in my morning musings a call to look at this situation square in the face as well.
We “act as if” and then we become what we take on. Therefore I choose who I will be in this moment. And who I choose to be is a person listening, a person trying to hear more deeply and more fully, a person seeking for connection rather than broken hearts and broken relationships.
You, too, get to choose who you will be. Choose well, dear friends.