Tuesday, October 21, 2014

So Sorry for the Apologetic Post ;-) by Jenny Gardiner

I used to play a lot of tennis, back before my crotchety knees and a few other rickety joints decided they weren't on board with the program and thus brought that fun to a screeching halt. I loved to play the game, but I found that I (and many of my cohorts on the courts) had the unfortunate habit of apologizing for every whiff. And trust me, I whiffed plenty. Apologies were so rife that I entertained the idea of designing a brand of women's tennis clothes called "Sorry!" I think my game would have shortened by a good fifteen minutes minus the redundant apologies.
I'm afraid women are particularly adept at excessive apologizing. Perhap it's a culturally-ingrained thing, hard to say. Although I doubt it's such a great character trait—it must speak to self-esteem issues for one to feel the need to do so too much. And while apologies at times are essential, I guess even more important would be forgiveness, a practice with which most of us aren't particularly skillful.
I've had forgiveness on the brain since hearing a philosophy- and ethics-themed program on National Public Radio the other day, in which two philosophers pondered when and where forgiveness is acceptable, or even essential. A man called the show and proclaimed that he'd decided recently that from here on out, he would neither forgive nor forget, because whoever the violator or perpetrator is suffers no consequences for their transgressions when you forgive them. The hosts suggested that forgiveness isn't actually for those who have done wrong, but rather for those who need to release their anger or sadness, to free their soul, and went on to speculate that the caller was merely imprisoning himself in a web of rage and resentment. Who's the loser in that scenario?
I can't help but agree. Forgiveness does free the soul, it does enable you to purge a world of misery, providing you're actually able to undertake the action for real, not simply pay lip service to it. I have been trying (when I remember to, once I stop being so angry!) to work on this skill. It is an action that needs some regular flexing, exercising those tools that aren't so capably used in our society. Say someone cuts you off in traffic. Of course you want to yell at him, perhaps even flip him off. But what if it was erroneous? Maybe he was having a bad day. Or his mother just died, or his wife left him. So many times I've judged someone for their ugly behavior, only to realize in hindsight that they had real reasons for what they did. Not good reasons, necessarily, perhaps nothing particularly justifiable, even. But understandable reasons behind their bad actions. Maybe instead of my ire, they needed my empathy. So with the wisdom of age, I'm trying to accept and respect that the middle-fingered digital salute isn't always the answer. Trust me, I'm a work in progress with this effort, and my genetically-honed temper often gets the best of me, despite my occasionally magnanimous intentions.
I read a great book about an Israeli man and a Palestinian man, both of whose fathers were murdered by the other's countrymen. For years they both festered with anger, desire for revenge, and untenable loathing. But independently they both grew to understand that this simmering toxicity didn't help them to live well, that it held them back, and only fueled irrational bitterness. Eventually they joined forces to work for a higher peace, to help troubled teens turn around, and to help their parents understand how they could all work together to solve their relational problems.
I think of a woman I'd read about once, whose son was murdered by another man. This woman chose to embrace her son's executioner, to take him in as her own. Now out of jail, he shares a life with her and operates under perhaps a genteel penitence through the grace of this woman's ability to forgive. What a remarkable level of serenity must lie beneath her to be able to do this. Maybe she proves that just as humans have the capacity to inflict the most abhorrent violence on others, so, too, do we have the ability to rise above the worst that life has to offer us. Perhaps only a select few ever discover that internal grace that can allow them to reach that level. It's certainly one we can all aspire to.
Lately, I can't help but be reminded of the many cases of young people who have disappeared in my neck of the woods in Central Virginia in the past several years, most —assumedly all —victims of unspeakable violence. And I wonder how we collectively could ever forgive those whose monstrous acts that stole beautiful young lives and left a ripple effect of destruction well beyond their immediate families. I don't know if forgiveness is possible. I don't know how to be so evolved as to be able to forgive such heinous acts.
But I hope and pray for the healing of all in this community and especially for the immediate families of these young victims, so that at some point perhaps we can access that place, if only not to corrode from the anger. I struggle to imagine how those parents could ever release the rage, the eviscerating grief, to let go of it and forgive a fellow human being who could perpetrate such ungodly acts upon their innocent child. It's beyond the scope of comprehension. But for those who have that ability in them, I don't doubt it makes life somewhat more livable.
Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)
Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)
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