Forgiveness

The morning air is fragrant with mountain laurel. The plum tree is covered in blossom and bees. The chickens are frantically laying and then settling on their infertile eggs, expectantly. In much earlier times, we would be preparing for the end of our late-winter fasts, as the ground would finally be workable again, and the first edible leaves would be emerging.

My sap is rising too. I am feeling hopeful about the true start of the new year—when I feel truly reborn. I suppose, then, it makes sense that I should be thinking about forgiveness. Spring is our release from the suffering of winter—forgiveness is our salvation from self-imposed suffering.

I found myself talking to my father this morning. I have always struggled to let go of my difficult feelings about him—and there have been many. But it wasn’t until he was murdered almost six years ago that my failure to forgive turned inside out, and I became aware of my need to forgive myself. I can’t explain the alchemy underlying that strange transference, that backwards inheritance of my own failings. Yes, some of my need for forgiveness had to do with not being there for him when he died, or somehow not preventing it. But most of it had to do with the way I had conducted myself in our relationship: laying all the burden of guilt on his shoulders when I could always have thrown off the mantel of the victim and embraced him for the lovely man he truly was.

So, daddy and I chatted today about one particular instance from when I was a child, an instance for which I now realize he unjustly punished himself. He didn’t need my forgiveness today, but his own—this I understood. I, too, need to forgive myself for carrying the memory of that hurtful event for far longer than I should have. I need to lay down any blame I am carrying for how his life unfolded.

At some point in my yoga routine, Sean Corne asks: “Can you forgive yourself for the things you have done?”

The answer is: I have not managed it yet. Though I recognize that this is the root of so many difficulties—this is what makes me a bad person in my own eyes, unworthy of love, a narrative which in turn informs my interactions with others, none of which can ever seem to erase that essential fact, regardless of how loving those interactions may be.

And this is the point. If I cannot forgive myself for the things I have done, I will continue to believe myself unworthy of love and kindness. Forgiveness starts with the self: a kind of psycho-spiritual renewal brought about by simply letting go of the narratives we have about who we are and what we’ve done. Only then can we let go of the narratives we have about others.

There is a Buddhist story that involves two monks. The monks come to a river crossing and find a well-dressed woman there who needs to cross, but who does not want to spoil her silk dress. The first monk grumbles and crosses without her, angrily gesticulating as he does; the second monk carries her on his back across the river. On the other side, the second monk leaves the lady by the bank, and the monks continue on their path. After walking a great distance, with the first monk growing more and more angry with every passing moment, he asks his companion why he carried that self-absorbed rich lady across the river. The second monk replies that it really was no burden: he had put her down by the river long ago, though his grumpy companion still seemed to be carrying her.

Spring, ripe with its resurrections, is the time to set our own rich ladies by the river and continue, unencumbered, on our path.

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