Sunday, November 16, 2008

Letter to Marcie - Wisdom in Forgiveness

Dear Beloved,

I have been rummaging through gifts, reflecting on all of those you gave me. Some of them are more abstract, and this one no less so, perhaps moreso, than any other. You taught me to forgive again.

I do not know where I had learned to never trust anyone, or to take every offense as some permanent black stain that could never be removed, but when we met, it was how I was. With your example, and your encouragement, I can honestly say this is no more

Perhaps it was the vast echo chamber of my sprawling family, where first mention of a given offense by someone may not be heard in all corners for years. Even then, notoriety was easily created as exaggeration replaced information. But some in my family were more forgiving than begrudging.

Perhaps it was in my upbringing at Catholic school, where a permanent record meant yearly carryover of every demerit. Or perhaps in foster care, where every element of behavior, once written down, became a guide for every person who touched your life, or passed you along to the next.

Perhaps it was in receiving too many wounds too quickly to heal them all. A backlog of bitterness, a pattern of pain conditioning me beyond my ability to analyze it and release it all.

But all the Christian upbringing in the world did not help me forgive, but in fact taught me more to note offense.

I don't know why it was how I was. I do know you could not understand it, but the first thing you chose to do was forgive me for it.

"You are being so ridiculous," you said. "You know, you really need to let things go. People make mistakes."

I know I did, and you pointed that out rather directly. Of course, I was pondering the loss of $500 at a friends' hand over a computer that did not work. I had known him for a year or so, and had decided he was no friend. Worse, his private disclosures were now reason to hold in that anger.

"I know he had meth problems," I said. "A few years ago. Maybe he ripped me off for that. At least he could pretend to want to help me out and cover his tracks."

You looked at me and sat down, you kissed my cheek. "He'll come help," you said. "But you can't be upset all weekend. You're ruining my time with you."

So I learned to let go in the form of moving on, neither forgetting nor forgiving. But you soon picked that out when I next saw him, nearly two years on.

He was working at an airport bookstore and smiled when he saw me. He smiled and waved us over. You tugged me to the counter and greeted him.

He told us he had moved and gotten a new job, and he apologized for the computer after we had some small talk. "I needed the money to move, I am sorry, dude," he said.

I started in on him. "That was weak and it was wrong," I said. "You could have asked to borrow or maybe for some side work, right? What, were you on drugs again?"

You squeezed my arm and he looked down. He told us about losing his wife in divorce, finding her cheating and having found his own account empty and hers closed with their shared on the next day. "I was ashamed, man, I was."

I shrugged and bought you Entertainment Weekly before you boarded your plane. I was ashamed, too. You, however, showed me something important.

"That's all very sad," you said. "But he ripped you off and I am sorry he did that to you. You deserve to be treated better, sweety, and I don't think you should talk to him again."

"I thought you said I had to learn to let things go?" I said.

"Well, you should, but I also think you have a big heart and people like him take advantage of everyone they can," you said. "I never liked him or his wife, but I know I did not want you to brood and you were."

I took out his business card and tossed it into the trash. You hugged me and a few minutes later we let go so you could fly north for a visit with your friend.

I smiled and I said, "You think I have a big heart?" I asked.

You smiled and tsk'd at my attention-seeking, "Yes, I do. It's something I love about you. I just want you to strike a balance between that and being judgmental."

And I have. I spent that weekend without you reviewing an old list, yellow on its first pages and white on its newest, crossing people and the offenses they had committed against me off of it. I burned it in the barbecue while our neighbor Cami looked on.

"Wishes?" she asked. "Are you burning your wishes for the genies?"

I smiled and looked up at her. "No, I am forgiving some people I should have done that for a long time ago."

I did not tell you what I had done, and I did not tell you how many times I had not added a name to that list when you soothed my hurt and anger before I burned it.

I will tell you that I am slower to take personal offense, fast to let it go, and completely willing to accept the known risks of people's foibles, and to either include them or exclude them from my life based on that critical calculus you gave me.

"It's important to forgive people for yourself," you said. "Sometimes, you should try to forget what they did to hurt you, too. But you shouldn't always forget, because some people don't make mistakes, they're just never going to be good to you."

When you told me that, I saw that rare and absolutely heartbreaking look cross your face in a blink of an eye, and I wondered what it was you were remembering.

But I am glad I do not know, because it may have revived the list, or maybe would have been something I did that made you gulp like that. By then, I had not learned the one most important lesson of your whole outlook.

I had not learned to forgive myself.