Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shove me in the shallow water

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

14 comments:

K said...

Wow. Although, it is my mother and not grandmother, my story is in many ways the same.

I mourn a mother, not mine, but a mother, because not having one makes me obviously different.

My brother has made pleas (or guerilla assault) for me to reconcile with her. She has made demands to see my children. But really there has been no attempt at reconciliation on her part, just more recrimination because truthfully she's not interested in righting our relationship, she only wants my kids.

I forgive her by which I mean accept that she is who she is, a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder, but forgiveness does not require reconciliation.

Like you I have gone through a process of learning to trust, like, and be me.

I'm so thankful that you shared your story because no one really understands it unless you've lived it, and it gets a little lonely.

Christine said...

I know how it feels to be the one always saying "I'm sorry." I was always the one to shoulder the blame in name of harmony, just so the fighting would stop. Then i would feel sick, like I betrayed my own self so others could feel good about themselves. So in some ways I always feel like I am accepting forgiveness, but then resent that I was in the position in the first place. Yes, it is confusing to me too.

Julie--Don't jump to reconcile just because others want you to, though it doesn't sound like you are. I think that not being influenced by those who want your reconciliation so bad is very tough. You are a very strong person.

Lawyer Mama said...

OK, I'm definitely in on this one. Of course, it will be yet another post about my mother!

I think I understand how you feel. I've been in that place. Where I was expected to apologize. Where I was *always* the one at fault. And one day I just decided I wasn't going to accept all the blame any more. Estrangement followed.

What a great topic, Julie!

slouching mom said...

I feel so much sorrow that this is the way it has been for you, Julie. I think all children should feel that they are the center of someone's universe.

And yes, I have my own family troubles, as do we all, maybe. They will not find their way on my blog for a long, long time. Too many prying eyes in my family are reading my words.

Mary-LUE said...

First, Julie, thank you for the compliment. You're making me blush.

Second... there is so much I relate to here. The whole idea of reconciliation versus forgiveness. I struggled with that one for a long time and well, I think I am still struggling with it on some level. There was a time when someone helped me see that reconciliation requires all the parties involved whereas forgiveness just requires one. Bub and Pie recently wrote in her post on forgiveness that it isn't truly complete until it is accepted (paraphrase, forgive me if I have misstated what she said). That idea has given me a lot of pause for thought, but I think she meant that big "F" forgiveness requires acceptance and not that you can't have done your part in forgiveness if the other party doesn't recognize their need and accepted it.

I have people in my life whom either can never possibly receive my forgiveness because they have died or who I have very little anticipation that they will ever see what they've done that has hurt me. If they can't see it, they can't accept forgiveness. So, some forgiveness for me is almost a perpetual thing. I do my best to intellectually and emotionally forgive, but new contact or an unbidden memory sometimes causes me to reexamine the situation. Often a new, deeper forgiveness happens. Sometimes, I am not in a good place and so I nurture this reopened wound. Pick at the scar, make it bleed. Of course, I only hurt myself when this happens.

I wonder how much I really have to hold against others. That is an idea I need to meditate upon. There are definitely some big things, life-altering things that have happened. But I think I have a tendency to make too much out of some so-called offenses against me. It isn't that they aren't actual wrongs but that on a cosmic scale they are not that important and maybe I shouldn't spend so much time and energy on them.

I've been focusing here on me and my forgiveness or lack of toward others. I should have known when I asked you that question that it was going to come back to haunt me... I will save my thoughts on it for Wednesday. It will definitely qualify as a post that makes me go hmmmm...

Mary-LUE said...

P.S. This: 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.

This strikes very close to home in many, many ways. It hurts. I think my thoughts on community have been greatly affected for this reason. I believe the strong connection to my church community is in many ways due to this. This. This is a whole other series of posts, I think.

kaliroz said...

No time to comment -- but I how I do relate.

Count me for the roundtable.

Kyla said...

Oh Julie. I could have written large portions of that myself. I was disowned, by my parents shortly after the wedding. It wasn't because I chose to get married, it was other little things. My mother yelled at my husband when he came to their house to get a few of my things. Really yelled. I was called on my honeymoon and told how terrible I was. I was given the choice of apologizing and remaining in the family or being cut out. I chose to apologize that feelings were hurt, but I refused to take the blame squarely on my shoulders, because it was not mine alone. And so I cried and hugged my dad and he didn't hug me back and I left.

After September 11th, my mom called. She found out I was pregnant with BubTar and decided to get over it. It crops up now and again in subtle ways...and I think if it wasn't for her wanting to see her grandchildren, it would have gone on much longer.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

The politics of family life can be both endearing and exhausting. I spent nearly 3 hours yesterday mediating an outright war between my younger sister and my mother. I truly believe...left unresolved...their relationship would have never recovered!

Saying I am sorry gets exhausting....especially when it is not well received!

Julie Pippert said...

Thanks for all of the wonderful responses. I've enjoyed the support and personal stories. I want to reply better, individually, and may have time for that later, but I'm out of time now. But I did want to say thanks. Good reading from you guys. As usual. :)

jen said...

interesting. your story is powerful, but i am struggling with the question (as I suspect you might expect)

i am looking forward to seeing what develops from this, the ways we can take this down the path.

this time, i think the lesson is in the watching (for me)

thailandchani said...

One time I read a book by Ronald Reagan's daughter. One of the things she said that stuck with me is "Forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean we do well together."

That's certainly the truth in my family. I can view them with some compassion and that feels like the right thing to do. That doesn't mean I can have healthy relationships with any of them.

I don't know anything about forgiveness coming in my direction. My choice to be different in values and every other way isn't something they will ever reconcile.

And I know I can't control it.


Peace,

~Chani

Sober Briquette said...

Thank you for sharing this. You've written (another) incredible post.

My brain is swirling and I can't formulate a comment, but I wanted to let you know how moved I am.

Catherine said...

Thank you for sharing this. I absolutly confirm that forgiveness OFTEN does not mean reconcilliation. Forgiveness happens primarily in the life of the hurt party, rarely between the two parties. Enright has a great book on forgiveness that I read in my MA...