I have had the idea of writing about forgiveness for several weeks. This morning, I started to google quotes to lead off this post that would reflect its content, but had to cut the search short to teach my bi-weekly writing workshop to female inmates at a Boston prison.
At the end of each class, I ask the women if they are willing to hand in what they have written. They always do. Today, only 2 hours after I began my internet search for quotes, I discovered this written in the margins of a young woman's exercise: "Please God help me to forgive myself."
I have no idea what this woman has done to make her turn to her God to absolve her of her guilt. Perhaps her transgression was not far off from one of the things I've felt guilty of in my life--shoplifting a candy bar in junior high school, not playing enough with my daughter, spinning a lie so complex that you can't even remember where it started. Clearly, the very obvious difference is that she is incarcerated, and according to another margin note, "in pain."
When I was in 6th grade, I mercilessly bullied one of my classmates, a socially awkward girl who tried desperately hard to befriend me. My best friend and I hurled insults at her on the playground. We called her "Dog Face." As an adult I look back on this and am mortified by my behavior. It is not in my nature to behave like this. I envisioned an episode of Oprah, before bullying became a national topic, bullies and those they bullied, coming together to facilitate an apology for what the bully had done. This fantasy opportunity pre-dated facebook by about 20 years, and then, one random day, I received a friend request from her on Facebook.
I panicked. I called a former classmate to ask his advice. Was she going to seek revenge in some way? Tell me I had ruined her life? On the other hand, the opportunity to apologize had just been handed to me, and I hit "accept." She quickly sent me a short message that began like this:
"It has been a very long time. Hope life has treated you well"
I took my time to construct a response that would convey the shame I carried for so many years over what I had done to her. I told her that I didn't recognize myself in that person who could've treated anyone that way. This was her response:
"Don't sweat it. Life is too short to worry about the past. Too many other things to keep you up at night. I don't hold grudges, especially for 30 years. But I truly appreciate you taking the time to apologize.
I always tell my girls to be nice to everyone, you never know what will be in the future and you don't want to burn any bridges."
I responded by telling her how much grace she showed in her response. I was forgiven, but, I don't think I will ever forgive myself.
"Forgiveness is the economy of the heart... forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits."