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scotland trip jan 15 481

I had occasion recently to talk with someone whose actions had once caused me a good deal of pain. I was asked, in the light of later maturity, if I could ever forgive them.

I found that I could not.

I could not forgive because I had never really blamed. I cannot blame what I can understand. That does not mean that I condone, accept or agree with harmful actions. It simply means that if I can see why it was, for that person and at that moment, the only thing they felt they could do, I cannot truly blame. If I were them, I would be in their shoes at that moment and would I have acted any differently? Probably not.

It is something none of us can know. We will never be in their precise position and can only hope that if we were in a similar situation, we would do otherwise. That does not make any of us better than another, or any more likely to take the best course instead of a reactive one. It just means that we approach each moment with a different arsenal of experience with which to make our own choices… and our own mistakes.

“I forgive you.”

The word sounds like the giving of a gift, doesn’t it? In some respects, that is true. But what exactly are we giving… and to whom?  A full pardon for an offence? An assurance that we will put the memory of that offence behind us? Or a complete forgetting of all that the offence engendered? Whatever those words mean for each of us, the simple fact of choosing to forgive implies that we feel a wrong was done and that some aspect of that injury remains. If not, there would be nothing to forgive.

By offering forgiveness, there is also an implication there has been an admission of guilt… a mutual accord that wrong has been given and received.

Is it even humanly possible to choose true forgiveness and forgetting in a single moment? To wipe the slate clean with three words, leaving no trace of hurt, resentment or guilt? I don’t think it is. We may be able to maintain an attitude of forgiveness and genuinely act from the heart, as if it were true, but all hurts take time to heal and memories need time to fade.

The only way I have found to really forgive a perceived injury is to change my own relationship to it. Sometimes a little human understanding is enough and the old platitudes about ‘walking a mile in their shoes’ and ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’ can be enough to create that change. Many injuries are not what we feel them to be but have their cause rooted somewhere beyond the obvious.

Sometimes the change may come with a flash of understanding sparked from an outside source, like the words of a friend or a chance phrase you have read. Most of the time, though, you have to dig deeper, realising that in hanging onto your resentment, the only person who is suffering may be yourself.

We learn such a lot through our interactions with each other. When someone has harmed us in any way, we will, in an ideal world, learn from that experience and not allow ourselves to be in that position again. In reality, we tend to meet variants of these same situations over and over again, each of them dressed differently so that we are fooled into thinking them something new. It is only in looking closer that we see a common thread…and that thread may be traced back through the labyrinth to its source, which is often some aspect of our own personality.

That is not to say that we are to blame for the actions of others, but it is we ourselves who open the doors of experience and any repeating pattern holds a clue to who we are, how we show ourselves to the world and how others will see us… including those who would hurt us.

Learning to really understand ourselves and what is behind our actions can be one of the most difficult tasks we can undertake…and the most rewarding. Systems such as the one we use in the Silent Eye can help give a structure to that quest and hold up a mirror in which we can begin to see ourselves more clearly, identifying the cracks and vulnerable spots in our characters and emotions and allowing us to address them. There is no blame where there is understanding…and the empathy and compassion that leads to real forgiveness must start with ourselves.

A laughing heart


Sent to me by Obi, a friend and Companion of the Silent Eye:

Let me Sue, tell you a traditional story on happiness from my people the Igbo of South east Nigeria as an example of how happiness can make one unable to do anything effectively.

A young man after the traditional marriage formalities took home his wife, with happiness, just as the young wife was happy too. The next morning as he was leaving for his farm for work, he left the young wife in the house and then brought out food for her to cook, so he could come home to a meal for the first time now in his own house and not his father’s.

When he returned, he heard a distant voice singing a traditional happiness tune, and he was thrilled by and happy at the melodious voice of his wife. She, meanwhile, was transported by emotions of joy and, singing away in total bliss, did not even notice the entry of her young husband as he came. However, the food for their first meal together was still raw and uncooked. Confused, disappointed, even angry, he called on the wife for an explanation, asking what was wrong and why he could not have his meal.

The young wife found herself in a state of total confusion and panic, with no viable explanation. It was a very serious crime, even as a first offender and you could also guess, dear friend, the magnitude of such a faux pas in a traditional setting of old folklore.

In a state of absolute terror, she went down on her knees, clutching the husband’s knees and pleading with eyes full of tears and in surrender. She could barely mutter the words that seemed to come out in solemn soft jerks as if they were not intended to form a sentence,

“My most beloved husband, brave descendant of a proud lineage, father of my children even if yet unborn, brave man who spares the erring woman, let me endure your wrath, for be reminded that the uncompassionate brave man, will end up living alone in his house stead.” She stopped for breath, then continued, her voice still trembling. “Laughter in my mouth would not allow me blow the fire into a flame so as to cook the food. My day since you left has been nothing else but joy and happiness.”

You sure can imagine dear friend, how impossible it is to blow a fire into a flame, if you are laughing, even so from happiness.

The young man, after some seconds, raised his wife to her feet, looked into her tear-soaked eyes which were even made pale by fear, and after a few seconds, a smile slowly came over his face.

He laughed out loud, sighed and then said, calling her by the most lovely names, “Truth I must confess, woman of my heart, Obi Diya, ,I was able to do practically nothing in the farm today due to shared happiness too.”

They both burst out laughing, then went to the cooking place and together prepared a lovely meal, which legend still talks of till today— but known only to  a few due to the contact with the West . They had the meal and, from then ever did things together in the house or in the farm.

I think you can also imagine my friend, how impossible it is for a happy laughing heart and mouth to blow a fire into a flame.”

Unlikely angels #1000speak

white rose

Four days after my son was attacked and left in a coma in a hospital over a hundred miles away, we had a major water leak. It was our second trip home to bathe, change and comfort the rest of the family, and the leak was the last thing we needed. I had all but screamed down the phone to get help, desperate to get away, back on the road south. By the time there was a knock on the door, I was wound as tight as a spring.

The plumber was huge, a veritable giant of a man… a Rastafarian, who seemed to fill the entire doorway. He came in and set to work lifting floorboards. It would not be a quick job. I sat at the computer, trying to update everyone who was seeking news…and there were many. Messages, prayers and kindness were pouring in from all over the world…and kindness is guaranteed to open the floodgates when you are overwrought. I burst into tears.

Looking up from his work, the plumber said that he did not wish to intrude, but… My then-partner gave him a terse run-down of events. My son was dying. The plumber sat back on his heels and thought for a moment. I cannot remember all of what he said, but I wrote later that day, “… he gave such words of loving comfort… and he is the only one who has said that I don’t need to pray for Nick, as he is closer to God now than I am and can follow His plan for himself, but that I should pray for the 17 year old who wielded the screwdriver, who has a lifetime and more to regret this. I won’t ask why he, of all the plumbers out there, was sent, but will just thank Those who sent him.”

Many had been asking about the perpetrator, some already seething with a desire for vengeance…or at least justice. The plumber was the first to speak of forgiveness.

Friends had been waiting for my anger… concerned that it did not come. I would get angry later, at bureaucracy, at incompetence, at laws inadequate for need… but I had no space for the anger of blame, no desire for revenge; I could only imagine how his mother must feel. My sons were suffering… what good would anger do? It would not make anything better… the surgeons and doctors had done all they could. Nick’s fate was now in the hands of a higher authority and that of his own will to live. The plumber’s was the first voice of true compassion I had heard. The first who had looked beyond the acute damage to the wider picture of hurt.

His words were a clear and sparkling stream cutting through the morass of emotions and allowing me to see clearer. I did not need to conform to anyone’s expectations of anger… did not need to scream for revenge. The Law would deal with the perpetrator, not I, nor those who, in their own grief and anger offered to find a way. The voice of compassion cleared the air and allowed me to breathe.

I call it compassion, and forgiveness, but there is another name for what is behind them. A name for what my Rastafarian plumber brought into the house that day with a purity I have seldom encountered elsewhere and a joy that shone from his parting smile.

A couple of weeks later, he would come back, knocking on the door for news. Then a few months later, leaving me his phone number and texting occasionally to see how things were. A total stranger whose necessary presence I had initially resented… a Samaritan… an unlikely angel… had brought Love into my home.

Red socks and empathy

pink laundry

There it is… the almost inevitable intruder… the stray red sock…lurking within the folds of the erstwhile pristine sheets. The hot wash has leached the dye from the offending article and snowy white linen is now a distinct, if uneven, shade of rose. The whites, ostensibly laundered to clean them… whites that have been subjected to the process of detergent, hot water and multiple rinses in order to restore their brilliance… greet you with a shamefaced blush as you open the door. To add insult to injury the scarlet lurker looks as bright as ever. It has tainted everything else in the machine, yet remains, itself, apparently unchanged. You reach for the stain remover with gritted teeth…

There is always a missing red sock at some point… and it always shows up, it seems, in the white wash. Or perhaps it is the steady attrition of mixed washes that dull the whites and colour them grey. We end up reaching for the chemicals we hope will redress the damage, or simply discard the ruined items that are no longer fit for purpose. It doesn’t stop there though… unless we make a point of rooting out all future red socks and learn to separate the lights and the darks before we stuff them in the machine the problem will continue and repeat itself.

The scenario is a common one; familiar to many of us, especially in the early learning curve of domestic responsibility. It is just as common within our own minds though, as the forgotten scarlet of old wounds colours our emotions over the years.

There are events in almost any life that leave a dark stain in a hidden corner of the mind. Sometimes they remain a very conscious part of our self-definition, sometimes they are secreted far beneath the surface layers and spread their discolouration insidiously. They may be events of which we have been the victim or the perpetrator. Either way, the damage can be as difficult to remove as the spreading stain of a red sock. There is no magical product that can restore the brightness of the psyche to the purity of childlike innocence nor can we simply discard a past that is, for good or ill, part of the formative process of our today.

Such inner stains leave can run the full gamut from shame to hurt, guilt to anger, and while no individual emotion is without its possibilities to become the impetus for change or for good, the stain is present. We can take out the hurts and examine them, but unless we do something about the underlying problem the likelihood is that in such situations the best we can hope for is a steady greying of our inner brightness as the past is allowed to taint both present and future.

I was reminded of this yesterday when discussing such old wounds; looking at how healing can take place. There are many studies that show how forgiveness has a positive impact on life and health. To forgive does not mean there was justification for the event, or that there was never a need for responsibility. It does not condone or minimise the act itself. It means letting go of the hold the event has on your life.

Yet it is not, I think, enough to simply be able to say we forgive, whether ourselves or others. There is a need to find a certain level of understanding of the real cause, both of the event and our own reactions to it. In the case of those old… perhaps ancient… hurts that stay with us, hidden in the laundry hamper of the mind like a lone red sock, we are at a disadvantage as the understanding we garner today may satisfy adult logic, but fail to address the emotions of the child or youngster who sustained the hurt. We need to find a way back to that moment of feeling and empathise, not sympathise, with that younger self, as we would with a child and answer its need to understand; not pretending the hurt never happened or that, in the greater scheme of things it was perhaps not all that important. Empathy and compassion go hand in hand and are at the root of forgiveness and apply equally to ourselves and to others… and empathy is perhaps our best weapon against the stray red sock in the soul.