I believe in forgiveness. I’ve only realized recently how powerful and liberating this is, and how much this carries over into EVERYTHING. Forgiveness is also one of the few outcomes that we really have control over, no matter what. As much as I can credit my limited life experiences, family gets the most credit.
My 81 yo grandmother raised 2 black boys and 2 black girls in small Connecticut towns. For a time she co-led a black family, the only one, in one of those towns. As my mother recently noted – “for those who believe racism doesn’t exist in New England, talk to me.” But i would never know…talking to Grandma, about any hardships she’s endured based upon the transgressions or trespasses of others. As a teacher, active community participant and church member, traveler and dearly respected friend, I’ve never heard a negative word or felt a lasting negative attitude. And even any comments not 100% positive are followed by a “but….”
And my grandfather, who’s passed on, but undoubtedly endured his share of struggle and strife within family and life – lived for fishing and seafood. From what I know, he lived a rather unforgiving childhood within a biracial family. He quietly helped others in a second career as a financial planner. And also from what I know, he lived for the family that he raised together with Grandma. Grandpa strongly instilled in all of his children to stay close to each other, and it worked.
That explains why they raised 4 very successful, and forgiving aunts and uncles of mine.
My father, who spent 30 years in political exile from his home country – South Africa, also teaches me about forgiveness. When he left voluntarily at age 19, he probably didn’t know that he would never see his father and eldest sister again. Both passed away in the 1980’s, and he was denied the opportunity to return to pay his last respects. He fought against apartheid while here in the states. While jazz compositions were sometimes songs of longing and lament for the home where he was not welcome for decades, they were never angry. This has also taught me of the power of music, arts and culture to facilitate the forgiving process. My father has been back in his country for over a decade, still making music. He sings South Africa’s praises unconditionally, despite the fact that apartheid seized the homestead that his father (my Grandfather) built for our family – and kept him away for so long.
I undoubtedly learned forgiveness from my mother. She never had a negative word to say about my father, after their divorce when I was five – and after he left me for South Africa, when I was 8 years old.
So this probably explains why I’ve been able to forgive – the big stuff and the small stuff: former lovers; current friends; a past president’s idiotic idiosyncrasies; bugs that fly in my house; a company that just won’t fix fraudulent charges on a credit card fast enough; New Orleans and the folks who just don’t really understand us (but think they do)… Sometimes it’s easy, and not even conscious. Sometimes it’s frustrating and the hardest thing ever. That’s often the case when I have to forgive myself for things.
As someone whose community-based work revolves around advocacy and “social change,” there’s always plenty to be upset about. But I’ve seen burnout, anger, madness and distress run rampant in those who commit themselves to helping others. An unforgiving heart is fertile ground in which seeds of resentment grow and flourish. Forgiveness in my work keeps me sane, and understanding, productive, and healthy. Forgiveness in life is my salvation.
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