Monday, March 25, 2013

Forgiveness Project

Crocuses in snow

There is nothing more hopeful than blooms in the snow. Spring is technically here, but in the Rockies snow respects no calendar. With the drought, I welcome the blessing of this snow. I hope the land remembers this snowstorm come June and July, when the sun is scorching the rancher's fields. We'll all be able to use a little mercy then.

I lost a friend last week. She let me know in no uncertain terms that I had gone straight to the top of her shit list because of my lifelong tendency for faithlessness and fickleness, not to mention a whole host of other undesirable characteristics, like anger and hostility. Guilty as charged.

She forgot to mention a troublesome attachment to resentment. Uncharacteristically, this time I refrained from defending myself, because she's right. She gave me a gift, one that many others before her have given me, but that I have consistently refused--a fresh opportunity to let go of my resentment, rather than giving in to it. At first it's sweet to enumerate my opponent's faults, while denying or justifying my own. But in my experience, this is a lot like gorging myself on half a pillow sack of Halloween candy. Afterward, not only do I have a belly ache, I'm loaded with regret, primarily for falling prey to my own weakness.

Bonnie Raitt is one of my favorite performers, and her version of "Sweet Forgiveness" is right at the top of my list of favorite songs. Daniel Moore wrote the song, after ABC Dunhill didn't renew his contract. The song grew out of "trying to forgive them for putting me out of work," he wrote. "I almost did it."

That he almost did it is farther than most of us get. I fool myself when I say I've gone far enough. To paraphrase Moore, I'm "waiting for the cure." As a yogini, I devote myself to opening my heart more and more, so that a miracle cure presents itself. I confess to being better at teaching this to my students than practicing it myself.

The longer I resent someone, the less likely I am to wait for the cure, to allow the true sweetness of forgiveness to seep in. I want it now. I like the believe that my whole life has been leading up to the moment when I ditch the resentment and open up to forgiveness, of myself and those who so easily offend me.

Years ago, one of those people who easily offended me was a woman in my neighborhood. I had scolded her sons for riding their bikes on the sidewalk, heedless that I was eight months pregnant, and that I was using the same sidewalk to walk my son and a neighbor boy to school. Their mother angrily told me that I should find another way to walk to the school, because her sons needed to ride their bikes to on the sidewalk. I later learned that her husband, and the boys' father, had recently died. I could understand her protectiveness, but didn't my kids have rights, too? From then on, she drove her sons to school. For the next year and a half, she and I exchanged dirty looks. I was waiting in line at the school to pick up some paperwork, when she approached me.

"I owe you an apology," she said. I burst into tears at the simplicity and humility of her apology, and we hugged each other while the other bewildered parents looked on. It was the cure Daniel Moore wrote about. As long as I lived in that neighborhood, she and I didn't exactly become friends, but we stopped glaring at each other and exchanged pleasantries instead.

There is a lot of good advice out there about forgiveness. and not surprisingly, much of it centers on releasing resentment. In case you thought I was going to be condescending and "forgive" my friend for dumping me, I'm going to focus first on releasing resentment. Eventually I'd like to get to the place where my need to forgive. whether it's her or someone else, exceeds my need for her to accept my forgiveness. Or for my need for her forgiveness.

My first approach is to view this situation as, in the words of economist Paul Romer, that a "good crisis is a terrible thing to waste." Let the learning begin.

I pray for the miracle of softening my heart of stone.

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