"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Monday, May 30, 2011

Figuring Out Forgiveness

"The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive, but do not forget." -Thomas S. Szasz

Forgiveness is supposed to be the first step in truly healing, letting go, not holding grudges. It is supposed to be the stronger person’s initiative, the way to being the bigger person, and not letting past grievances take over your life and heart.

I struggle with all the ideals and “rules” of forgiveness. I watch people on TV or read their accounts of forgiving someone who has murdered a loved one or hurt them so deeply, that their only salvation was to forgive. I’ll admit that, at times, I see the beauty in those moments, and at other times, I feel confused. I can’t put myself completely in another person’s shoes, but I don’t know how you begin to forgive someone who tortured or murdered a loved one, especially if they have never shown remorse or asked for forgiveness.
Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with that issue, but I know others who have. I grow so angry when I see people suggesting or demanding that they forgive these people who have taken their loved ones from them. I understand that we sometimes don’t know what to say to people who are going through such horrible suffering, but I think “telling” someone to do anything is always the wrong thing to do. Offer your help, offer your ear to listen, your shoulder to cry on, but don’t demand that someone who is suffering do anything—whether it be forgive, eat, sleep, or otherwise. Try to understand that everyone does things in their own time, and has to process grief in their own way.
The hardest part for me is that for so long I have associated forgiveness with an open door. I somehow associated forgiving people who have hurt me with letting them back in my life, allowing a continuing relationship that I feared would hurt me again. While out to dinner with a relative recently who was helping my husband and I navigate through some family issues, she said something that made the room stop for me. It was simple, and maybe obvious to some. She said, “Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to have them in your life or over for dinner. You forgive them, wish them well in your heart, and move on.”
Maybe it’s the stories I have read or the TV shows I have watched that have depicted forgiveness as this ongoing process that to me, caused more pain than progress. There are people in my life that I want and maybe need to forgive, but having a relationship with him or her would not help anyone. Hearing those words—feeling that forgiveness could mean moving on without being more involved—freed me.

My father, is of course, the first person that comes to mind. I really have already forgiven him, though many people wouldn’t see it that way. I understand that he came from a troubled childhood, and that he didn’t grow up intending to be an unfaithful husband, or a distant, abusive father. I understand that his upbringing shaped who he became. For that reason, I have forgiven him. But, he has not changed over the years, nor has he ever come to me and showed remorse or asked forgiveness. There is no reason for me to try and make the relationship deeper or different.

Writing about my issues with him has helped me in ways I could have never imagined. When I am writing, I am back in those moments—many of them when I was a child. As my words hit the page, I am transported back, but I am able to see everything with a new clarity, as an adult. Sometimes this has been even more painful as I understood the full meaning when I haven’t before, but sometimes, I could see his actions as someone in pain as well as someone inflicting it. And while I cannot condone what he has done over the years, I can understand it--at least parts of it, and that had made things easier for me to heal and grow.

One of my deepest emotional scars outside of my family was a dear friend I had from grade school. We stayed friends throughout our school years and into college. We were from completely different “cliques” in school, she was pretty and popular, I was plain and worried more about grades than boys or parties. But somehow, we had this great bond, and I always knew we would be lifelong friends. After college, she met a man who was so good for her, perfect for her. I was so happy for her, and after they became engaged, we talked about her wedding and all the plans ahead. I was to be her maid of honor, and we happily chose colors and flowers together. Her parents threw her for a loop, however, and came out against the marriage, saying that this man wasn’t “handsome enough” for their daughter. This friend, who had never really stood on her own, was devastated. I offered to let her move in with me, and promised her we could plan this wedding and get through this with or without her parents.
We did just that. And in the eleventh hour, as I had suspected, her parents came around. But they demanded one caveat: that I no longer be a part of the wedding. I assume they saw me as the reason this union had survived. It was true that my friend had struggled and only learned to stand on her own in the year before the wedding. She might not have made it had we not banded together.

She complied. I was cut out of the wedding, and did not hear from her again until a few years ago, fifteen years later. She sent me a note via Facebook, acting as if nothing had ever happened in our lives, that we had simply lost touch like other friends from school years do.
I was as angry and hurt as I had been fifteen years ago, that decades of friendship were lost when I had been there for her in her darkest hour. I had honestly waited over the years to hear from her—some apology, a note, an email…something. But it never happened.

I wrote her back and told her perhaps she had forgotten what had split us apart, I reminded her of how hurt I was, and that the pain had always stayed with me. I told her I was shocked to get a note so devoid of any real sentiment. I needed to say those things, I wasn’t ugly or hateful, just to the point. And in the end, I wished her well with everything. I just knew I couldn’t have her as a part of my life after what had happened, the years of silence, the lack of any sort of apology.

But, I have forgiven her. I understand that, given her parent’s behavior and reasoning, she wasn’t equipped to handle an emotional situation like that one. I understand that we were young, and everyone makes mistakes. I just can’t forget what I felt all those years. That betrayal helped feed the self-esteem issues I have always had. When I went through a breakup, no matter the circumstances, I saw it as my failing, my inability to be “enough”. It’s one thing to have those issues with men, but this friendship breaking as it did made me see myself as a whole that way—that people left me because I deserved it.

More than a few years in therapy helped me recover from that thinking. For awhile, I did carry a lot of anger over these instances in my past. I think it was working through things and understanding that helped ease that more than anything. Forgiveness came later, when I was more whole and more at peace with who I was and saw these events for what they were: more often than not, someone not appreciating me, what I had done, what I have given. In the end, I found that the hardest person for me to forgive was myself.

It does feel good to say, I won’t forget, but I can forgive you… knowing I can remember and learn from it, but don’t need a constant reminder there every day. It’s done, and in that moment, in a sense, I can be free.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Celebrated Death of Osama bin Laden

Late Sunday night, my husband and I had just gone to bed, and as I usually do, I checked my Blackberry one last time for the night. My twitter feed was exploding with the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Quickly, my husband and I were both awake and flipping through news channels on TV.

I became emotional as I watched a crowd form in front of the White House, growing larger and larger by the moment, waving American flags, and then spontaneously breaking into song—The Star Spangled Banner. I was almost immediately taken back to the days right after 9/11, when there was such a feeling of unity and patriotic pride among everyone in the US—the likes of which I had never known. Seeing people come together from all areas, all backgrounds, tourists and residents alike, I felt that sense of pride again.

I also watched as Facebook became the way for people to share and find out about bin Laden’s death. Friends shared articles with the latest details, clips of the president’s speech, and their happiness that bin Laden was gone. Dead. Our Navy Seals immediately became heroes.

Many of my friends also said they struggled and felt uncomfortable celebrating someone’s death, even someone as horrible as bin Laden.

I must say that a tiny part of me felt that, too. It is so foreign to me to think about celebrating anyone’s death, no matter who it is. Death is always a time of sadness, not a reason for celebration.

But this one time, I would make an exception. Mostly, I feel that the families who lost loved ones in the attacks of 9/11 have earned the right to celebrate if they want to. It does not make them bad or immoral to do so. The way they lost their loved ones was so cruel, so senseless, so unimaginably horrible, that whatever brings them peace or closure is appropriate.

And while I might not have been in the streets waving a flag, I do have to say, in my heart, I celebrated. I celebrated that an evil man was put to death, and I especially celebrated that in his last moments, he knew it was the US forces that would take his life. I celebrated the end of an era for al-Qaeda. I know that this will not end their organization, but it certainly will change things for them. I celebrated that our military, who for years now have been fighting neverending battles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas, could feel some sense of victory after mixed messages they must get all the time through the media and through the political agendas that often chart their course.

I am troubled to see some of the politics playing out now—conspiracy theories already abound, and I heard today that there were questions about whether the killing of bin Laden was legal. There have also been concerns over the initial report that bin Laden was armed when he was killed, and now it has been clarified that he was not.

After the Bush administration sent the message out loud and clear that he was wanted DEAD or ALIVE…I don’t think criticism makes any sense. And I promise you this, as much as I hated Bush’s politics and most of his actions in office, no matter who the president was that brought an end to bin Laden’s life, I would have celebrated just as I have now.

I could care less if bin Laden was armed when he died. If we had simply taken him into custody, he would have almost gained more power, somehow behind the scenes still running things, and gaining more of a following every day through the anger of the leader of al-Qaeda held captive.

This is a man who spewed hatred for most of his life- and most of it directed in the United States’ direction. He was not just the mastermind of 9/11, but of countless other deadly operations the world over. The world is a better place without him in it.

This week as columnists, bloggers, and my own friends have asked if we should be celebrating the death of bin Laden, I wondered if his death had happened quicker—closer to the 9/11 tragedy—would we still be questioning whether or not it was ok to celebrate? With the horrible images of that day in our heads, when we were not so far away from the terror and chaos…would the reaction have been any different?

Maybe. Maybe not. Because we are human. We are compassionate people. We don’t want to be on the same level as these killers who celebrated the death of Americans after 9/11. But we needn’t worry; we are light years away from that kind of soul-less existence.

All of us will always remember the morning of September 11th- where we were when we found out that our nation was under attack. I was in Denver, at a country club, hosting a golf event for my company. I will never, ever forget watching those images on the television, the surreal moments that looked like a horror movie on the screen. I will never forget the pain and fear I felt—like we were at the mercy of an evil force—and there was nothing much anyone could do. I will never forget the long drive back to my home in California, sharing a rental car with two co workers, most of the ride silent as we tried to make sense of what was happening. I could not believe that every airport in the nation was shut down. The magnitude of it all was astounding.

At that time in my career, I traveled so much for business, and I could not get the people on those planes out of my mind. I woke up at night with nightmares of being on one of those planes. I watched every news cast I could, seeing their faces, and crying for their families.

Just a few months before, I had been in New York for another business trip, and we actually had hosted an event at the restaurant on the top floors of the north tower, Windows on the World. I remember vividly standing in the restaurant as the staff put the finishing touches on our reception before our guests arrived. I stood in front of one of the huge windows and looked out over the bustling city that looked so peaceful and small from high above in that tower. And now, all that was gone.

When I think of the terror that the people in both towers went through, and the people on the planes—how they suffered… I don’t have any guilt at all celebrating the death of the monster who brought all that about.

His death was too peaceful.

His life was too long.



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