Tag Archives: hatred

Unforgiven

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”
― Oscar Wilde

It’s been a chaotic week for me of fear, memories, fire, grief, a couple of new friends and unfinished emotional business resulting in a foul snarl of neglected feelings. Also, in common with millions of others, we are sweltering under a heavy blanket of heat and humidity and I feel about as attractive, energetic and friendly as a slime mold.

My old home place, my old community in Colorado, is burning. I’m not there. I’m glad I’m not there.

I should be there. I hate myself for not being there.

I’ve written before about blessing the ground between us . Now my mind is filled with the ground I once lived on, and all I can see are the horrifying images of flames, smoke, the ashy remains of structures and scorched land. I spend hours every day searching the web for updates from local command and incident centers, the local papers, TV and radio and residents who post pictures and videos. I watch interviews with old friends and weep. I see video clips of my town and it’s like a ghost town, the streets empty and everything looking sere and dry because of drought. Towers of smoke loom and the air is an eerie sullen color. This should be the height of the tourist season there, the streets busy, flowers growing, and shade trees green and cool.

Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

Now there are tens of thousands of scorched acres between me and my memories of that place. I bless the ground between us. Given time and water, it will renew, but I think water is no longer a certainty and my lifetime will have run its course before the land recovers and the forests regrow. In a strange sort of way, the desolation of all that scorched earth echoes the desolation I feel as I watch nations, communities, and people become more divisive and competitive. It seems we’re getting more and more skilled all the time at scorching the ground between us, soaking it in blood and then sowing it with salt.  We do not forgive differences. We carry hatred between peoples from one generation to the next, and many are at work in the world to increase the divisions by fanning the flames with rhetoric and disinformation, and pouring gasoline onto the fire in the form of resentment, ignorance, shame, guilt and fear.

We do not forgive. We are not forgiven.

Never have despair, powerlessness and fear seemed so darkly seductive to me as they do in these times. My experience is only an infinitesimal part of what’s happening now on Planet Earth, and I’m quite sure we have not yet descended as far as we’re going to. At times, it’s only by deliberately stoking my stubbornness and will and refusing to take my gaze away from where my power is that I continue to cling to faith in some kind of a cosmic balance and plan in spite of fear.

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about my family and dealing with some of the aforementioned unfinished business. I’ve written letters, both to the dead and to the living, some that have been sent and others that never will be. As I make new friends, I listen to what we talk about, watch how we get to know one another and feel the flowing give and take of compassion and support that healthy female friendships create.

“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.”

― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Over and over again, in all these places in my life, I stumble upon the theme forgiveness: The power of it; the terrible, helpless pain of feeling unforgiven; the weapon we make of it; the fear that we will not be — cannot be — forgiven for whatever our particular stain or shame is. I have lately asked myself and others: Am I unforgivable? Can that be true? Can love be true without forgiveness? How do I continue to demonstrate love and connection in the face of obdurate unforgiveness? When others told me I was unforgivable, did they mean it, or am I still bleeding over something they have, in fact, forgiven?

It struck me this morning, as I lay in bed at 6:00 a.m. with the rattling roar of the window air conditioner in my ears and the damp sheet over my sweaty body, that I’ve once again lost my way, been seduced by the false comfort of victimhood. I’ve been lost in the tangled maze of all those messy feelings and forgotten, temporarily, that the point is not what anyone else does about forgiveness. The point is, and the power resides in, what I do with it. Furthermore, the biggest question of all is the one I haven’t been asking.

Can I, do I, will I forgive myself?

That’s where my power is.

East Peak Fire, Huerfano County, CO 2013

Can I forgive myself for living in this lovely green, lush, landscape where we do still have water? Can I forgive myself for reading the signs of what was to come in the long, unending drought and fires in my old place and leaving before I was forced out by climate change and fire? Can I forgive myself for the mother, daughter and sister I was and am? Can I forgive myself for loving, trusting, hoping, believing, trying, accommodating, pleasing and failing? Can I forgive myself for all the years of neglect, silencing and abuse I colluded with and perpetrated toward myself? Can I forgive myself for now recognizing and responding to my own feelings and needs first? Can I forgive myself for writing or speaking the simple truth?

Forgiveness is a slippery concept, like tolerance. I don’t think of forgiving as forgetting. I’d be foolish to forget what I’ve learned as I interact with others. I’ll cripple myself if I don’t forgive. For me, forgiveness is an integral part of loving. Forgetting is not. Nor do I equate forgiveness with trust. Trust can be lost and rebuilt, but it takes time. Trust depends on forgiveness, but forgiveness doesn’t necessarily include trust.

I’m not at all sure we can create a better world together without forgiveness. I’m quite sure we won’t forgive one another if we’re unable to forgive ourselves. As resources shrink, we’re going to be forced onto a more level playing field in terms of our standard of living. Some of us have a lot more to lose than others. The have-nots are filled with rage. The haves are filled with fear.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

There will be a lot to learn in the years ahead. I might as well start now to work with forgiveness, to befriend it, to embrace it, and to talk about it. Forgiving and letting go are both easier for me to do externally than internally, but internal work is the one place where we all have equal power. That’s where it must begin. We’re going to need our power, and we’re going to need to manage it well in order to survive. When our houses, businesses, cars and stuff disappear in fire, storm and flood, when our arable land becomes too hot to grow food, when no water comes from the tap and when money no longer allows us to pretend it’s not all happening, then we will rediscover what true power is, and then perhaps we can begin to bless the ground between us, forgive what has come before, and find new ways to collaborate and cooperate with the living system we call Earth.

In the meantime, I think I’ll stop begging others for forgiveness and concentrate on the places where I have power. Others may think of me as unforgivable, but I needn’t agree, and no one can prevent me from forgiving another.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

― Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections

My road to self-forgiveness may be long. It’s hard to take back the power of forgiveness, because now I have to be responsible for granting or withholding it. In some ways, it’s easier to beg others for it. If it’s not forthcoming from others, well, it’s not my fault. The path of self-forgiveness, though, is all up to me. It will be interesting to discover what sort of shame, guilt and self-loathing lurk in my internal terrain. It will be interesting to challenge the power of what others will think and navigate by my own stars and compass. It will be interesting to put out fires on my side and observe whether others are invested in keeping them smoldering or assist in quenching them so the ground between us can heal.

Here’s a poem by Wendell Berry that maps the journey of self-forgiveness. It’s a good map. I’m taking it with me.

Do Not Be Ashamed

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.

It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.

Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.

They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.

And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.

They will no longer need to pursue you.

You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.

They will not forgive you.

There is no power against them.

It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.

When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

Photo by Yuan Yue on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Election 2016: Safety vs. Fear

Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

My partner sent me this quote this morning, and inspired this week’s blog.

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety.”

— from p. 79 in The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

As I draft this, it’s Election Day. It’s a work day for me, but I have a long break between a morning and evening shift, so I voted, ate lunch and worked on a big clean-up project my partner and I are undertaking in an outbuilding on our place. The clean-up involves dust, dirt, trash, food debris, rodent and bat droppings, broken glass, sticky empty bottles and cans and cigarette butts. It’s filthy work, but this afternoon, forty-five minutes before I go back to my pay-the-bills job, I feel happier and more peaceful than I have all summer.

I feel safe.

My earliest memories are of feeling unsafe. The people around me were unhappy and unwell. The air was heavy with tension and unexpressed feelings. I was afraid all the time, and I knew that was bad, because it irritated the adults, so I tried to hide it. The world was unpredictable, inconsistent and baffling. Ever since those days I’ve comforted myself in times of stress and fear with a fantasy of being held in loving, protecting arms and feeling safe.

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

I’ve been ashamed of that need. If I verbalize such a need, people will hasten to assure me that life isn’t safe, as though I haven’t figured that out, as though that wasn’t the point in the first place! An internal, jeering voice calls me a baby; a weak, pathetic thing, dependent and needy.

Yet safety is the most important thing to me in relationship, and healthy relationship is the most important thing to me in life. I want it more than I want money, more than I want a dream house, more than I want anything I could buy. At this point in my life, I’d much rather be alone than be in relationships that don’t feel safe.

I suppose safety is a term we each define differently, but I know what I mean by it. I mean knowing that my thoughts, needs and feelings count. I don’t want to be the most important person in the picture, but I want to be as important as everyone else.

One of the things I need to feel safe is an orderly and predictable environment. That’s why raking up trash, sweeping, packing the car with bottles and cans and watching the man in the bottle shop count them is so satisfying. Creating order out of chaos stops my bleeding. Empty space, a clean dirt floor with the drag marks of the rake in it, allowing the dusty scent of old wood and fallen leaves to replace the smell of stale cigarettes and beer, are all calming. The energy of broken glass and animal-torn trash, the debris of self-destruction, is released. I can breathe again. There’s peace. I’m safe.

I’ve seen a lot of headlines about the national stress around this election. Political opinion and affiliation aside, I think most of us can agree we’ll be relieved to have it over. At this point it’s hard for me to even care who will win—I just want the hate and intolerance to end. It hurts me to see us tear ourselves apart, as friends and families, as communities, as a nation, as a globe.  It creates no safety for anyone. We’re all vulnerable to hate.

This afternoon, breaking down cardboard and recycling bottle caps, I knew that part of my feeling of relief is that this election is over today. Whatever happens now will happen, and we’ll all have to go forward. Likely what’s ahead won’t feel any safer than what’s behind, but at least it’s movement away from this.

I wish I could take the last year of presidential campaigning and empty out the dregs of malodorous advertising and sound bites, sort out the ridiculous from the frightening and bag each speech, event and word. I wish I could sweep our memories clean of it, pick up the shattered broken glass of integrity; rake up all the greasy, moldy, broken egg shell stinking scandals and e-mails and recordings.

I wish America felt safe to me.

I wish Democracy felt safe to me.

II The Morning After

As I sit down to finish this blog, American voters have chosen a new president, and I wept as I ate breakfast with my partner.

As the day has passed and I’ve gone for a swim, taken myself to lunch and gotten a haircut, I realize what lies beneath my anger, despair and incredulous disbelief.

It’s right back to the beginning of this blog. I’m afraid. I don’t feel safe. Overnight I seem to have become disenfranchised because I’m female, I’m not a Christian and I’m deeply concerned with human rights and freedoms and our planet.

I also realize I’m not alone. This election has been based in fear. In our fear, we’re truly united. Everyone fears something. We’re all looking for safe, strong arms to shelter in. Pick any campaign issue, and you’ll find fear. There’s fear of climate change, fear of economic collapse, fear of immigrants and shifting population demographics, fear of war, religious fear, fear of illness and disease. We all live in fear that someone or something will take our power away, and that fear makes us weak and vicious.

Fear breeds hatred. Racism, misogyny, censorship and terrorism are fear-based behaviors, Great and Powerful Oz distractions that hide cowardice. The world is changing, and we’re terrified. We look for someone or something to blame. We look for someone or something to save us. In our fear, we cling desperately to our ideologies and annihilate any who disagree with us or question our beliefs. In our fear, we seek a hero/heroine, a representative of what we feel is just and right, someone who will help us retain our power, someone who will assure us there are no monsters under the bed.

Here’s what I believe: Power over is always and inevitably doomed to fail, sooner or later. The only sustainable way forward is power with one another.

None of us are safe until all of us are. Safety at the expense of another’s terror and repression is an illusion.

I pray for peace and unity for us in the coming days, months and years, but if that is not to be I will fight.  Every Hitler and Pol Pot, every Sauron and Voldemort, create by their very existence heroic resistance that cannot be silenced.  I will not turn against my friends, neighbors, families and communities in fear and do the bully’s work for him.  I’ll work to undermine the bully himself, and I won’t stand alone.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Has anyone read the book I quoted at the beginning of this blog? Please comment about it if you have. I’m adding it to my reading list.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted