Thursday, May 19, 2011

this city breathes the plague

Okay- this has been a long, long time in coming. I've mentioned that I was going to write a blog on forgiveness, and here it is. I'm going to ask you to read this in its entirety. If you don't have the time or the desire to read this, it's no big deal; seriously, I'd rather you read it fully or not read it at all.  I have a lot to say, and I've spent a lot of time "researching" and thinking about this subject. 

Maybe this will hit you in some way, or maybe it will not; maybe I'm repeating something that you find to be common sense, or maybe I'll be able to spin this in a different way that makes perfect sense.

I also realize that I use a lot of quotes, but that is because so many people can express what I am thinking in much better ways than I know how to portray.  I wish that I was more eloquent, but since I'm not... I'll just use quotation marks and hope that you read what is in-between. 

As most of you probably know, I have had some "traumatic" experiences with an ex, and it's taken a lot for me to even begin to move on from the situation. But this blog post is not completely about that one person; rather, it's about several people... In a sense, I suppose it's about all of us. We all hurt people, and we all have been hurt by people: friends, family, acquaintances, people we don't even know... There is no way around it. 

So we come to the idea of forgiveness. This is probably one of the most complicated things that I have ever tried to comprehend.  I think, " oh, forgiveness. Yeah. Mom used to make me forgive my sister when she did something dumb. Oh yeah, we have to ask for forgiveness when we sin against God." Gah- but it's so much more than a word!! It has to be an action in order for it to actually exist. 

Maybe I should talk about forgiving myself, first. There are two main things that I've had to forgive myself for.  I'm not going to talk about them on here, mostly because I don't necessarily trust people.  It's also not very important to know the specifics, in this case.  But anyway, there are two, maybe three, things that I've done that have somewhat haunted me for several years. Perhaps some day I'll open up about them on this blog, but as for now, they're going to stay with me.

Anyway, forgiving myself was to free myself.  Please don't get me wrong-- I am dealing with the consequences of what I've done every single day.  That's a bold statement, and I am okay with making it.  Every day I am consciously and unconsciously dealing with the repercussions of my actions.  I do not beat myself up anymore, but the aftermath is something that I cannot avoid. What's done is done; humanity is flawed. It's about time we came to grips with that.  To forgive yourself is to admit to yourself that you are not in the right.  I don't know about you, but I have extreme difficulty admitting that I am wrong.  

Admitting it to myself is almost as hard as admitting it to other people.  Once I even acknowledge that I am wrong, I am consistently unsettled until I resolve it within myself.  By unsettled, I mean that my dreams are invaded, my stomach is nauseated, I cry, I analyze... blah, blah, blah.  It's a nasty process, really.  Maybe this isn't true for everyone, but I'm simply trying to convey to you that my mind is an intense thing.  Sometimes that's a good thing, but it's often a horribly invasive and terrorizing tool. 

I regret what I've done, completely.  Some people will say that they don't regret anything because of the lessons they've learned.  Okay, I suppose that's partially true for me.  I mean, I've learned a lot about myself and other people through the wrongs that I've committed, but there is no way that if I was given a "do-over," that I would refuse it.  (I'm also trying to learn not to lie to myself...)

Moving on from that, forgiving other people is probably equally as difficult for me.  When I see someone doing something that I believe to be wrong, it takes a lot for me to see their side of it.  I'm not talking about little instances with people-- I'm talking about the Holocaust type of wrongs.  There is no way that I will ever say that the Nazis were right in any way.  
"And I reflect that people like him are still being born, people who can be indoctrinated with evil. Mankind is ostensibly striving to avert catastrophes; medical progress gives us hope that on eday disease can be conquered, but will we ever be able to prevent the creation of mass murderers?" (The Sunflower)
But, I will acknowledge that evil has a way of sneaking up on some people in ways that are often hard to pinpoint.  I actually recently wrote a paper on the psychological elements of evil.  I won't bore you with the details, but I will say that there are more factors involved than right versus wrong.
"Were we truly all made of the same stuff? If so, why were some murderers and others victims? Was there in fact any personal relationship between us, between the murderers and their victims..." (The Sunflower)
I also recently read a book by Simon Wiesenthal called The Sunflower.  The premise of the book is "on the possibilities and limits of forgiveness." Basically, a dying Nazi soldier summed a Jewish boy into his room to ask him for forgiveness.  This Jewish boy had never seen this soldier before, so granting him forgiveness for what he had done to other Jews was something that he was uncomfortable doing.  
"You have suffered nothing because of him, and it follows that what he has done to other people you are in no position to forgive." (The Sunflower)
He ended up not giving the soldier an answer, so the rest of the book was an account of how the Jewish boy dealt with the idea of forgiveness.  There were instances where he regretted not forgiving the man, but there were also instances where he felt like he would have been doing wrong by giving the man forgiveness.  
"If we survive this camp-- and I don't think we will-- and if the world comes to its senses again, inhabited by people who look on each other as human beings, then there will be plenty of time to discuss the question of forgiveness. There will be votes for and against, there will be people who will never forgive you for not forgiving him.. But anyhow nobody who has not had our experience will be able to understand fully." (The Sunflower)
At the back of the book there are responses to The Sunflower by lots of people, including the Dalai Lama.  In my class on the Holocaust, we had a class discussion over whether or not we would have forgiven the soldier.
"The crux of the matter is, of course, the question of forgiveness. Forgetting is something that time alone takes care of, but forgiveness is an act of volition, and only the sufferer is qualified to make the decision. You, who have just read this sad and tragic episode in my life, can mentally change places with me and ask yourself the crucial question, 'What would I have done?'" (The Sunflower)
One of the guys in my class said this: "To say that man cannot get to a point where they realize what they have done and be repentant is to diminish all of mankind."
I can't agree more.  Although some people may never apologize or repent for what they have done, there are those that will; and whether someone deserves forgiveness or does not, that is not the point. 

I guess for me, forgiveness is rather selfish.  I get exhausted harboring so much angst and resentment toward people; I have found that there is freedom in letting those emotions go.  Yeah, there is a part of me that hopes that people get what they deserve, but more than that, I want to move on with my life.  I will always have reminders of the hurt that I have experienced, but I don't want to drag around the grudges that went with that hurt at one time or another.

"When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free."
- Catherine Ponder

"The problem of our time, of our century, is to achieve a global compassion; otherwise we run the risk that we will destroy ourselves."
- Paul Ekman, Psychologist
Forgiveness takes time.  I have to truly process what forgiving someone means before I will claim it.  I still have negative thoughts (a lot) toward people who have hurt me, but it is gradually getting better.  It takes a lot of energy to hate, I've realized.

This song is not necessarily about forgiveness, but I find it to be a fairly good representation of humanity's limitations. 

"This city breathes the plague of loving things more than their creators
But hold on to what you believe in the light
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight"

Now, I realize that this is almost ten minutes long, but I promise you that this is well worth your time. Please, please listen to the whole thing.  Anthony showed this to me one day when we were talking about forgiveness, and this was incredibly eye-opening to me.

Is there some lesson on how to be friends
I think what it means is that central to living 
A life that is good is a life that's forgiving
We're creatures of contact regardless of whether
We kiss or we wound still we must come together
Though it may spell destruction we still ask for more
Since it beats staying dry but so lonely on shore
So we make ourselves open while knowing full well
It's essentially saying please come pierce my shell
"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."
- Mark Twain
So I've done quite a bit of writing about forgiving people who have wronged me, but if I can be honest with you, I have my limitations, too.  I was writing this and realizing that yeah, sure, I have begun to understand how to forgive people, but I have no idea how I would react if someone hurts someone that I care about.  I have difficulty looking at the atrocities of the Holocaust objectively; I cannot image how I will be if someone dares harm my family or friends.  I suppose that this may appear to be hypocritical, but I have admitted to only skimming the surface of this subject. 

I realize that the Bible asks the followers of Jesus to forgive.  Can I make a point?  Forgiveness is a matter of the heart.  When it comes to something like tithing, for instance, you just do it. Sure, it takes courage sometimes to let go of your money like that, but when it comes down to it, you just do it.  Forgiveness seems so much more complicated to me.  You can't "just do it."  Forgiving someone does not require that the person receiving it knows that they are forgiven.  It's a mental/emotional release, rather than a physical one.  To obey God's command in this way is extremely difficult for me. 

I think I'm telling you guys this because it's been such a heavy issue for me.  I have a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around how people can do so much wrong and cause so much pain for other people.  I mean, come on! We're all human!  Let's do each other a favor and get our acts together.  I know-- it's not that simple.  I terrified myself when I was doing research on the bystanders and perpetrators in the Holocaust and when I was writing that paper on the manifestation of evil, because I am becoming more and more aware of my own evil tendencies.  I wouldn't describe myself as evil, but who knows what we are capable of.  It's a scary thought.  Perhaps by bringing this to my attention I will be more aware of where evil stems from.  By making myself more consciously aware of what forgiveness entails and what I must do to actually forgive certain people, I am hoping that I can at least eliminate some bitterness that I have been harboring for so long. 

Well, I'm sure that I could continue rambling, but maybe this is enough.  If you stuck through everything, thanks.  I'd like to think that this was worth reading. 

If you have the time to comment, I'd love to hear what you think.  Do you think that you would you have forgiven the Nazi? What's your take on forgiveness? 

Blah. I am officially mentally exhausted.  This is a heavy topic.

Thanks again for sticking with me.  Cheers.


larissa said...

Oh my gosh I love this. Who says you're not eloquent? You write beautifully. =]

Some things:
1. I have never thought about forgiving someone for a sin they did not commit to me. I honestly don't know what I would do in that situation. I started writing how I couldn't speak for every Jew, every other person who had been hurt. That doesn't seem fair to hold their perspective and their feelings on my shoulders.

But then, I started thinking about how even though I wasn't affected personally it still angers me. It still resounds today even across the world. Even in my tiny little town when people break the windows of Jewish families or when Holocaust deniers speak at my school. So I could forgive him for myself. Even though I still feel a little bit of cognitive dissonance from that.

2. I love your analogy about forgiveness and tithing. It isn't something we "just do" even though we should. It's so hard to forgive and then follow through with that. I find myself saying the words but then not following through with the actions. It's so much harder than it sounds, and yet it is so simple.

3. There are so many mistakes that I have made that I want a do-over for. Sure, I've learned from them but the consequences are painful. I hate looking back on my life and having these blinking reminders of stupid and terrible things I've done. I guess forgiving oneself is just as difficult as forgiving others.

I'm going to stop rambling now, but I loved this post. The book sounds so interesting and I would have loved to have such riveting discussions in class. (I think I chose the wrong major!) Thanks for being brave and speaking your mind. =]

Lillian said...

Liz this is a very good post. Forgiveness is something I struggle with, and firmly believe that anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves. Or hasn't faced true adversity. I realize that is a harsh statement but when I look at forgiveness and the price God paid so we could have it, then I know it isn't that easy.

One excellent book on forgiveness that has really helped me is by Lewis Smedes called "Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve" He talks about the cyclical nature of forgiveness, OMW that was such a freeing concept. I encourage you to read it.

One thing we need to remember is that we have no right to judge another person's walk along this path of learning to forgive. They may be in that cycle that Smedes talks about, or they may not be ready yet. Forgiveness isn't easy, and it can't be cheap. If it is either way, it isn't real forgiveness.

OK I'll quit blogging on your comment section.

This is a good post. I know it was hard for you, I'm glad you wrote it. I'm proud of you.

amyschmamey said...

Since you brought up the deep subject of forgiving a German Nazi Soldier and also the fact that you have a hard time forgiving those who wrong you and yourself and ... Gosh... you kinda covered the whole spectrum of forgiving. This is going to be a tough one to respond to. My thoughts are all over the place on this one. You'll probably see that in my response.

So... Starting with people in general... Well. I have recently had a situation where a lot of feelings were brought up in me that I am not used to. Hate feelings. I am not quite sure that I am 100% over the situation, but I am getting better with it. I think I have resolved in my heart that I no longer hate... is no longer hating forgiveness? Because I am still hurt by the particulars of the situation, but it isn't eating me alive anymore, ya know? I'm still working this one out. I do believe forgiveness is vital and that unforgiveness is a poison to the soul.

As for the purely evil. The mass murdering psychotic leaders like Hitler and Hussein and Bin Laden... It's so difficult to put myself in that frame of mind. I think I can understand the conflict that the Jew experienced when the soldier asked for forgiveness. I can feel a fraction of the heartache and sadness and horror that was the holocaust, but I will never feel it all and therefor I don't know. That's a tough one. Where I would harbor disgust, the crime wouldn't have been against me, it would have been against the millions killed and the few survivors. ANYWAY, that topic is out of my league. I know about it, but I can't really speak on it with any certainty as it pertains to forgiving... It's easy to say "sure, I'd forgive" but would I really? I don't know.

As for forgiving myself. I have no problem admitting when I am wrong. It is actually freeing to me. I don't like to hold onto the idea of being right if I am not. The hard part for me is getting over how I messed up in the first place. Why did I do this. I know that the fix is to just face it, admit it, and then apologize to anyone that I have wronged, which I have done numerous times. I guess it's pretty tough to forgive myself for the act, but not difficult to admit the wrong.

Hope that made sense. Nice deep post here Leez.

Kaity Wilson said...

Hi :) I don't have much to say but I will say this: Our pastor recently walked through Ephesians and what he said at Ephesians 4:32 rocked me. The verse: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (ESV) He said "Forgiving is not just forgetting; it's absorbing the cost." And I agree with you, it's not easy to just DO. But this is how true forgiveness, ultimate sacrificial forgiveness, looks. Taking the wrong of others and paying the price for it. No bitterness, no anger, no self-righteousness. It's crazy to believe that we're even capable of this through Him, but it's a beautifully painted picture of what to strive for and seek after. Love and miss you Liz!

la petite lydia said...

Wonderful post Liz. This is something I am dealing with as well. I have a hard time forgiving myself for the things I've done. I have word documents & journal entries full to the brim of me hashing out my feelings towards myself and my actions. And I understand what you mean, there are things I regret doing. Even though I learned from them, if I could change it I would. Because I too am struggling with the consequences of my actions.

Forgiving pure evil is something that is truly terrifying to think about. But, what is pure evil? Was Hitler pure evil? Or was he just a man where evil took over his heart? I believe he was just a man. I think to be purely evil, you'd have to be Satan. The anti-Christ. Because Hitler had the ability to call on the name of Christ Jesus and be saved, entering the gates of Heaven.

I think we all have that evil streak in us. I don't agree with the Rogerian approach that we are all innately good. But, I think our society and our own psychological makeup will begin to show what level of depravity and evil we have within us. For example, a sociopath as the ability to change because their society is what made them choose that path, whereas a psychopath was born with no ability for remorse.

I would love to say that, yes, I would forgive the Nazi solider. But I really don't know what I would have done. I can say over and over what I think I might have done, but if I were really in that situation I think I'd be just a dumbfounded as the Jewish boy.

This is a very good post Liz. It really has me thinking about this again.

David A. Bragg said...

Wonderful stuff, Ms. Liz The most selfish act we can commit is to deny forgiveness. When everything goes bonkers in our lives and we can't figure out why even God seems to be against us, we will usually find unforgiveness at the root of it all. Beautiful blog!

Janette said...

Garsh...So much good stuff.. Love what you wrote... Much to think about... Forgiveness is hard...It's TOTALLY an action, I agree...And yet sometimes I carry feelings of resentment and bitterness to the very end.. I say I have forgiven...but why do I still feel bitter about stuff? I can't forget... Yet the Lord says He will blot out our transgressions and remember our sin no more... So that makes me wonder about whether I am really forgiving people or not.. AHH! Now I can see why this was draining for you.. My thoughts are all over the place...But I really loved your post..You are honest..and that's a beautiful thing...
Janette, the Jongleur

Anonymous said...

Amazing. Perfection in writing.