At an event recently, I found myself avoiding the eyes of someone. I remembered how he had hurt me, and thought that maybe if I avoided him, I could convey that it wasn’t cool what happened. I could choose not to engage with him. Later I was scrolling through my photos and noticed someone who looked similar. I remembered how every time I saw him, I would draw back a little, before realizing that he was not the same person who had hurt me. Had I made a mistake?
Had I been able to forgive, perhaps I could have looked him in the eye with kindness. I often think of the Dalai Lama as a person to emulate. I’m sure he would only look at a person with lovingkindness, even someone who had tried to harm him in the past. And by failing to forgive this person, I may have unintentionally hurt another person who only looked similar.
I wrote about another painful experience in a poem, “Discarded” (shared in the video posted above). I don’t like to dwell on negative experiences, but maybe it can help others to share some of our difficult stories. When I introduced the poem, I said it was for anyone who felt rejected by an organization.
A woman approached me after the reading, and asked for a copy of my poem. As I handed it to her, she told me she was working with a group trying to save an old parish that the authorities wanted to dismantle. Her group had received a formal letter and had felt rejected in the same way that my poem conveyed. I was glad that my writing helped her to feel less alone.
Within days, I was at an event where I saw the person who was the subject of the painful experience in the poem. I had a hard time being in the same room. How can I forgive?
I know that people who act unkindly are acting out of their own history, and have their own reasons. Putting myself in their shoes can seem impossible, but it helps to put things in perspective, and perhaps to start to forgive.
I once saw a woman who had a very long criminal record of small thefts. That’s how she survived, stealing and reselling and getting money for her drug of choice that helped her cope with her unhappy existence.
Her lawyer said that she had survived residential school. She had been abused there. Residential schools are a dark part of our country’s history, and I have seen many survivors, and children and grandchildren of survivors. Many really struggle, and I can see how the tragic losses in their history affected them.
The judge gave the woman a surprisingly light sentence, but not without a tongue-lashing. He pointed to her pages of recorded crimes, and said that she was garbage. Trash. Had I been her lawyer, I could have said something, but I felt powerless to stop the cruel labelling. I’m sure it didn’t help the woman to change her ways.
I can more easily understand the woman with a long record of small thefts than the judge who is verbally abusive, but maybe that is what I need to work on. There is a kind of injustice when a person in power is abusive, and it makes me angry. How can I forgive?
When we put that person in their high chair, where they have the power to decide the fate of people over and over, the feeling of power must be a little intoxicating. I’ve felt some of that when I sat on an administrative tribunal. I remember once chastising someone in a way that I later regretted.
When another person intersects rudely with my own path, maybe there is a reason for my presence there. Maybe I hurt them in a past life! Maybe I just looked like the person who hurt them. Forgiveness has the power to end that cycle. I want to do it better.
Still, I can choose whether to be in a relationship or with a group that is not healthy for me. Do I go back where I felt uncomfortable or rejected? Probably not. But have I forgiven, if that feeling is still strong? I’m not sure. Maybe that’s something for prayer to complete, if I put forth the intention to forgive, and ask for help in taking it the rest of the way.
- Irene Plett
Topics: Forgiveness, compassion, rejection, the Dalai Lama, residential schools, injustice, judges, prayer