Edition #85: Forgiveness, Can You Imagine?
Plus, when friendship ends up love survives, the United States of basic bitches, and Butterfly the geep
A Note From the Editor
There once was a woman, like many women before her, who made a grave mistake: she married the wrong man. She knew it from early on, long before their wedding night, long before that dreaded honeymoon trip when he knocked her out for wearing the wrong dress. She wishes she could say that was the first time he laid a hand on her, that she didn’t know what she was getting herself into until that very moment. But of course, that wouldn’t be the truth.
As a young girl, I was a bully. It shames me to think about it now—the things I said, the jokes I made, the pain I likely caused many of my quieter, more malleable classmates. In the fifth grade I made a girl twice my size do my math homework. I would drop my blank worksheet with her right before lunch and retrieve it before math class. She was a sweet girl, soft-spoken, and she always packed the same thing in her plain blue lunch box; a sandwich, a pack of peanut butter crackers, and a juice box.
One day I forgot to retrieve my worksheet from her before class. It didn’t hit me until class had already started as our teacher went from table to table collecting our homework. When he got to me I fumbled around in my backpack, pretending to have misplaced my worksheet when someone from across the room blurted out, “Why is Meghan’s worksheet on our table?” We were caught in the act, her and I, and we each got a gold sheet as punishment (a first warning in our school’s disciplinary system). I remember how the girl cried quietly at her desk. She had never been in trouble before. I was not sad, only furious—at the teacher, at the person who ratted me out. I can’t remember whether I apologized to the girl for getting her in trouble, though I probably did not.
Is a prison still a prison if you choose to stay? She ponders this question through the years as things progressively get worse. With marriage comes isolation. Black eyes, split lips, bruises sparsely concealed. Worse than the violence are the words. His mouth becomes a loaded gun, prodding her day and night with dark promises. She tries to make herself numb, for that is the only way she will survive. She says very little, eats very little, tries to shrink. Wills herself to disappear.
While it is uncomfortable to think of those we have wronged, it is much easier to think of those who have wronged us. Be it an agonizing heartbreak or a cruel abandonment, the grievances we deem most offensive take root in our bodies, wrapping their bitter tendrils around our bones and our hearts. We coil at the thought of that person we fell for, who once spat ugly words at us that made us feel small. We scoff in anger at the memory of that teacher in middle school who gave us an inferiority complex or when we recall the big game our parent never showed up to.
Ask any person to name three people who have wronged them most harshly in their lives and I can almost guarantee the list will come with ease. There might be a bit of pride laced in there, too, for being wronged by someone is a test of our strength. For a time, the person who wronged us might have exhibited some power over us, but not anymore. We got through it, we are changed, we are stronger than ever. Beneath that strength lies a thickly spread layer of resentment, for we would not have had to heal had we not been damaged. And if a hardness does exist beneath the strength, is it really strength at all? Or is it just a shiny veneer—decorative, distracting, thinly veiling the rot that lies beneath?
There is some sort of a balance in the world, she finds, because eventually she is freed. It takes years. She has been broken and she has found small ways to break him, too, but eventually she walks alone. The world opens up. Though she is an old woman now, long past her prime, she radiates, for the mere act of laying her head on the pillow each night in the stillness of solitude is a miracle. She does not pick at her scabs, as prominent as they are, for she knows they would not close again if she did. Still, the terrors come to her at night. She wakes sweaty and afraid, finds comfort in the sparseness of her one-room apartment. The way the moonlight peaks through her curtainless window, reminding her that she is safe.
The trickiest part of healing is when, without noticing, you have formed a core facet of your persona around your pain. I experienced this strange, unsettling sensation somewhat recently while navigating a complicated web of exoneration. I had carried a heavy resentment on my back since childhood, bold and ugly from all sides. It was one of those pains I figured would heal with time, but years passed and that never happened. I had been wronged so deeply that I supposed I could never let it go. Nor should I have to, my ego argued. I shared this trauma only with those closest to me and always in a cold, surgical way. The facts were presented with such authoritative detachment that there was very little for my listener to do but express empathy and never bring it up again. The door was cracked open, then tightly slammed.
This conversation took a different form when, for the first time in my life, I shared the story with someone I had just met. Things between us moved lightning quick and were deeply romantic, and perhaps it was this foolish degree of intimacy that coaxed the truth out of me. After sharing, I waited expectantly for the response I thought would come: I’m so sorry, how terrible. Instead, I got a bit of empathy paired with something new: you need to forgive them.
What to say about a moment that radiates through you in such a way, that takes the breath out of your lungs? I can’t remember exactly how I felt at that moment but I’m sure it was a mix of indignation and repulsion, for the person who had wronged me so severely had never even apologized. How could I forgive someone who wasn’t sorry? This was the base of my justification, my years of harbored hurt. The only way I was willing to consider forgiveness was if I could first destroy with the truth. I needed to clearly, coldly spell out all the ways in which I was wronged, to make the person suffer by reliving what they had done to me as I so often had to relive the events in my nightmares. Only then could I forgive, I said.
My listener was quick to point out that that wasn’t forgiveness, not really. If I wanted to truly forgive, to heal, it had to come from a place of love. They suggested I try putting myself in my wrongdoers shoes, that I dig somewhere deep inside and find empathy. It felt so impossible, so foolish. I imagined myself as one of those sickly patients sitting in a barber’s chair in Medieval times, so desperate to be ridden of my illness that I would allow some fool to cut my arm open for bloodletting. Even if the sick were to drain out of me, what other diseases might be let in?
She doesn’t consider the laws of karma as she lets herself into his front door, which was once her front door. The house harbors many painful memories; she knows every creak of the floorboards and every chip in the wood paneling, but she doesn’t think about any of this today. He looks shrunken, shriveled and spotted with age and drink. His eyes light up when he sees her, though they see each other more regularly days. She visits once a week, when the nurse is off. She brings coffee cake or almond cookies—his favorites. Remnants from another lifetime.
Despite my deep hesitance, I decided to take a genuine stab at forgiveness. I was met with resistance. My ego, tarnished and bruised, was forced to take a backseat in the complicated, quiet process of coming to terms with what had happened to me, then finding empathy, and finally, moving on. Somehow, I managed to do what I never thought was possible. I forgave. From this still place I found I didn’t need the apology I had longed for, nor did I need retribution. And after making my way, however slowly, to genuine forgiveness, I found peace so whole, so encompassing that I still don’t quite trust it. I suppose only time will tell whether it will last, but I will hold it close for as long as I can.
I was speaking to a friend recently about the act of forgiveness, encouraging her, gently, to explore it in situation she is facing. She wondered aloud how one could forgive while living with the residue of pain they were caused, while still honoring the truth in their experiences. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but it seems more clear to me now— that forgiveness takes time and requires discomfort. For pushing yourself to wade through the fog of old pain, to let yourself be humbled and changed, is a radical act. But when you’re ready, the medicine is always precisely where you need it.
She eases him out of his chair, helps him lie flat on his stomach, slides his shirt up so it pools around his bony shoulders. Such a vulnerable position, face down on a cot, one that leaves little room for dignity. With gloved fingers, she peels off the medical tape, removes the dressing from the wound, tries not to notice the rancid smell, the stained yellow pus oozing around the damaged skin. Gently, she dips the clean dressing in fluid and packs it in the wound, filling the hole in his broken body. He winces beneath her, sucks in a sharp, pained breath between his teeth. Afterwards, they will sit in front of the television—him in his chair, her on the couch—and watch the daytime news. They will eat slices of crumbly coffee cake. Before leaving, she will clear the dishes.
Forgiveness, can you imagine?
Cheers, my dears, and as always thank you for reading. If you want to explore the topic of forgiveness further, I would suggest this simple, lovely piece. And if you’d like to share a story about forgiveness, I would be honored to hear it.
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
What If People Don’t Want ‘A Career?’ One of my favorite new journalistic beats to follow is the revised relationship between people and labor in a post-pandemic (or late-stage pandemic) world. I can’t get enough of these articles and of the arguments on both sides—it’s about time we started asking genuine questions about whether or not the 9-5 life makes sense for everyone, and whether everyone should strive for such a life. This essay paints the topic in a clear, refreshing light, and you’ll need popcorn should you decide to venture into the comments section.
The United States of Basic Bitches. It’s worth noting that I originally found this piece linked in an essay I read about the problematic nature of calling women "basic bitches,” a lazy, oversimplified way to punish people for the things they enjoy and to make yourself feel superior by asserting your more “elevated” tastes. Still, I got a good laugh out of it, and I’d say the New York version of a basic is still accurate all these years later.
When A Friendship Ends But The Love Survives. This one hit like the most recent season of Insecure (if you haven’t watched it yet, you should do so before the fifth and final season comes out). A reflection on friendships; the ones we grow out of and how we navigate what is left between two people in the wake of growing up and apart.
Perhaps You Should… Read This Poem in Solitude
The saga of learning to love poetry continues. You should read this poem, about aging parents and our changed relationship with them, alone, because it will probably make you cry.
**Bonus Content** (A Little Goat Sheep Baby)
Meet Butterfly the geep. I want to squeeze him.
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”
-The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”