Mary-Lue serves many, many purposes, great and small, on this earth. Right now, for me, I think she serves the purpose of asking the right questions.
(Is this blog post number 4 or 5 courtesy of her? LOL)
During the Hump Day Hmm roundtable, she asked me how I felt about receiving forgiveness, and when I wasn't sure how she meant her question entirely, she explained she was curious about how I allowed myself to receive forgiveness, from others and from myself.
(On a side note, I am sure we all noticed that I skipped the Hump Day Hmm last week. It's not gone. Just on a hiatus to give us a chance to breathe. It's back this week! The question is at the end of this post.)
Before I can tell you why I do not know how to be forgiven, by others or myself, I have to explain where it all began.
Where I am in my life is in exile.
My extended family---mother's and father's alike---is disassociated from me. I suppose you could call me disowned. Or maybe it is that they are disowned. Possibly it is simply that we are estranged. Family made strangers.
One grandmother liked to punish me publically. It was almost like an Agatha Christie novel, times our family gathered. This grandmother solved the mystery of the villain (me) and proclaimed the how and why to the circled relatives in the parlor. She has stated she will resume a relationship with me if I apologize. I've never known for what. The unbearableness of my being, I suppose. The only people surprised I haven't taken her up on this are my family.
My crimes to her are numerous. For example, my thank you cards were not thankful enough. And if I made a real, honest mistake, or actually did a bad thing, a hurtful thing, even unintentionally...my apologies were weapons against me. I was never worth forgiving in her eyes. The other side to this is that from her point of view, she meant well, she always did what she thought would make me a better person. And probably, in a roundabout way, in a "despite" way, or in a "nevertheless, because of" way, she has.
I was my other grandmother's golden child. Nothing can disappoint like learning your favorite is not on a pedestal but instead has feet of clay. The other side to this is that once upon a time, someone thought I was the greatest thing ever...for no other reason than I was me. You can't buy that. She taught me the very things that ultimately made me unforgivable in her eyes: to value myself, to pursue happiness.
I mourn having a family sometimes, but I don't necessarily mourn them specifically...it's more like I mourn who I wish they were, who they could be, the good times we had, the good things about them. I mourn not having People like other people have.
My life is not empty, nor is it sad or lonely. I have excellent friends, the wonderful people I choose to love. I have my mother, my father, his wife, and my siblings as well as lots of nieces and nephews. I have my husband's family, large and extended.
Still, it's both relieving and distressing how easily families can fall apart.
My stepmother---who lost her entire family in a short time period, very suddenly and tragically---has encouraged me to forgive and forget, by which she means reconcile.
I find that this is what forgiveness usually means to people: exonerate and reconcile.
That's not what it means to me.
But it does mean that to most, including my stepmother, who has pleaded with me to resume relationships with my relatives. Other relatives warn me that someday these people will be gone and I will have Regrets. My younger sister tells me they have mellowed out and aren't that bad.
It seems very important to everyone that I reconcile---with peace, forgiveness and mercy---and in so doing, all will be well. Like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie ending.
I am not so convinced.
If an eye offends you, do you not pluck it out?
I do not feel personal, internal pressure to reconcile. I feel only other people's desire, and I don't really understand why. Why is it so important to them that I reconcile? Why is that the only signal of forgiveness?
I feel a complex veil of emotions for them: love, disappointment, pity, angery, understanding, judgment. I understand they traveled a road that made them who they are. I know enough of my great-grandparents to know the story goes back a long, long way. I know they are not just products of their upbringing, but are also products of their time. I know they all experienced difficulties, and tragedies. In my time, in my life, I can't imagine how they dealt with it, and to tell the truth, I don't think they did. That's something from now, not then.
It's tragic sometimes how life conspires to create circumstances that allow our inner monsters to take hold, and very little obvious opportunity to find the tools we need to defeat them.
Because my heart can ache for them, have I forgiven them?
Despite our estrangement, issues new and old surface. I have to explore forgiveness over and over again when one of those hotspots flares. Exploring forgiveness when it comes to my family---knowing that I am typically held solely at fault---is a difficult measure.
I have spent most of my life very self-centeredly thinking that the world does revolve around me, in a blame-issuing, judgment-finding, I'm always at fault sort of way. Like my family taught me.
I have been designed to take the blame, designed to put myself second, designed to twist to ensure that others around me aren't upset with me. I walk around, assuming I am to blame and that people are angry with me. It's the pattern I grew in.
I say, "I'm sorry," all the time.
I do not do this gracefully, although I do it by habit. I fight it frequently, often through resentment of people and the demands I perceive them making of me. I get angry when some do let me take the blame, unfairly, happy and eager to slough the monkey off their own backs. I am emotionally tired often, struggling between where I came from and who I want to be.
In short, Mary, I'm not very good at really accepting forgiveness, because I am not good at forgiving myself.
But I am hopeful.
I have learned to gracefully accept compliments. One day I turned from denying the compliment to simply saying thank you. Next, I began to believe in the sincerity of the compliment. I began to feel happy from a compliment, let it sink in, grow and expand. Finally, I no longer seek compliments but happily take them when found, believing in them and deeply appreciating a person who extends one. It is something wonderful to give something good.
So to each of you who are interested in another Hump Day Hmmmm..for Wednesday:
What has the experience of being forgiven been like for you?
And if you are interested in a book that has a story of estrangement, read my review of Jill A. Davis' new novel, Ask Again Later.
P.S. I do have some bloggy business in a post below so scroll down a bit further if you missed it.
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert