What We Forgive
Boarding the flight to Denver, the first leg of our trip to Georgia, a young man in front of me worked tirelessly to get his young son on the phone to say hello and remind him he'd be there soon to see him, and that he couldn't wait, and he was sorry it'd been so long. The combination of the later hours of the day, a toddler not quite understanding how to hold the phone, talk, and play with the buttons without ending the call, and what I could only deduce to be an ex-wife or girlfriend losing patience, made this seemingly simple act take four tries before success. I listened, only a step behind the man in line, and I heard him on the last attempt, asking the woman on the other end just to please try one more time, and I heard her audible sigh through the phone, and the very loud screech and giggle of the small boy as he muttered out a combination of the words dad, here, dog, daddy, night, and love (sounding a bit more like "luff", but undeniable). I listened, as if it were more a public lesson than an act of personal intrusion, and I thought about how complicated life can be, how much story was inevitably behind the two parents, the little boy, the flight, the distance between them both physically and emotionally, the possibility of mistakes made and poor behavior, or good decisions, or bad decisions that reshaped the future they might once have intended, and then, in the swarm of all of those potential realities, I thought about forgiveness. I thought about how easy it could have been or will be for any one of them, especially for the boy as he grows up and understands the options around grudges and regret, not to try the call again, to let go what has been to try once more for what is and what could be. I thought about what it means to forgive each other and ourselves a hundred tiny times a day.
And now the forgiveness I've been rolling over in my mind since that moment is less about others, and more about the self. I've been thinking about the grace we offer those we love, or those we used to love, those we hate, or those we wish we hated, or those we say we don't hate because we fear the strength of the word, and then after all of that, about the grace we offer ourselves. Really, I'm thinking about the lack of grace we offer ourselves when we feel we aren't thinking or behaving as we should.
I've been thinking about the self-imposed rules we have at times for what our lives should look like - in the moment, in the year, in a lifetime. I've been thinking about the expectations we have about what it means to participate in the world around us, and what that looks like when life presents what we are not ready to accept. I've been thinking about what we lose, or believe we are losing, when we are certain we won't survive the void.
So much of any life is loss, and there's nothing new to that truth that my words will untangle, but as I've watched my own family shrink and expand over this last decade, and the families of those close to me do the same, I've been thinking about what it means to grieve. I've been thinking about how different grief looks for each of us, and how important it is that we allow ourself the grief we need, and then to allow others the same. I've been thinking about how much guilt and worry is wrapped around the expectations we have for our hearts as they hurt and heal, our minds as they wrestle and regret, our hands as the wring and roll - into knots, into fists, into cups for our faces when we're too tired to keep looking it all in the eye.
And in the midst of all this thinking, I'm grieving too, a waking, walking grief that hurts for my vivacious mother whose body is wrecked by a disease with few boundaries, and then selfishly for my own weak and weary heart that often believes it won't survive this - any of this - the big and the small, the distance, the doubt, the guilt, and maybe even the burnt toast. I've been thinking that sometimes when the burnt toast feels as impossible and unfair as 3,000 miles separation, it's time to reevaluate.
This week, while I've been "home" I've realized once again how messy that word can be, and how much that complicated life I mentioned earlier hinges on our understanding of what it means, where it is, and what we allow it to expect from us. The most enlightened part of my head and my heart will tell you that home is not a place, but a feeling, that it is the people, and not the location, that it lives inside of you, like it or not, and while this less evolved version of me right now is knee deep in tissues as I pack and prepare to return to another version of "home" tomorrow, I can tell you that home is both where my mom is and where my books are, and those two things are not together. And the toughest part, is that those two things might never be together again, because what makes her heart tick and her eyes light up is not the same for me, and so that means there might be 3,000 or 300 miles between us for the rest of our lives, and that will have to be okay. I have been thinking about how daunting it is to forgive one's self for something that only we impose on ourselves, how easy it is to assume we should feel or react in a certain way, and all self imposed pressure bottled up with "I should".
I've been thinking about what it would feel like if I forgave myself some of all that, as I would anyone else, and what it would be like to keep forgiving myself a hundred tiny times a day until some of it sticks. What we forgive, I've been thinking, is less about what bothers us and more about what we're ready to let go of, and so I think I'm ready to let go of it a bit, even if it takes practice.
As we began our descent into Atlanta last week, the sky was black, dotted frequently with bright lights, clear and round, and then less frequently with little glimmers, small fractured bursts, and I thought of the black papers that came with the Lite-Brite machine, and how after we'd finished the pattern, we'd flip over the pages, smooth out as many of the holes as we could, and begin again. There, light mapping the outline of a tree or a sun or a flower through colorful, plastic pegs, we'd catch our eyes wandering over to the glittering light sneaking through the rough edges of the old holes, and the picture would be broken, but beautiful. That's the kind of life worth forgiving, no matter the mess.