Tag Archives: letting go

The Cost of Forgiveness

As any good capitalist will note, there is a price for everything. It is most often the emotional or relational price that we forget about,  that are the ones that cost the most. You pay the price in giving up the emotion or by giving away the relationship.

Saying goodbye feels like giving up.  Goodbye feels so final, like it is not even possible to see you again.  It feels like all the memories held in the object departing will be lost for good.  It feels like all possible outcomes I ever imagined and dreamed of were teases, and I should not allow myself to visit them because the knowledge that they cannot be is too painful.

We hear that sometimes relationships get to a point where goodbye is necessary because there is too much hatred and pain and it is better to just let it all go.  However, reconciliation is not about getting rid of the source of conflict (read avoiding the pain and heartache), but about restoring the lost dignity, humanity and even restoring the relationship.

Paying the price of a goodbye is costly in merely coming to that decision.  It is even more costly once decided upon, because sometimes goodbye doesn’t last.  After days, weeks, months, years of agonizing over the decision to say goodbye – analyzing what the leaving really means – to drag your heart through the process of saying goodbye only for the object of your goodbye to show up again makes the payment ineffective.  Why spend all the heartache on a goodbye if it doesn’t purchase a complete severance?

When the goodbye doesn’t last, or may not be possible, we will save ourselves great burdens of hatred and anger by allowing the other to not be the symbol of our salvation.  Lindsey and Steve fell in love so young, and dropped hard out of love.  But there was too much history and too much shared interest to allow a complete break.  For years, they projected all their hurts and heartaches onto the other.  Goodbye was a tall order, neither one was okay with the other finding new relationships.  But so was hanging around; speaking to one another was awkward, and hanging out with mutual friends made everyone feel uncomfortable.  This baggage was heavy, but the nature of their professional interaction made it impossible to put this baggage down.  They had to say goodbye, but not to each other.

The price of forgiveness is the crushed hopes and dreams and desire for revenge or harm to the other.  The price is the ability to say goodbye to the rights you feel the other has taken from you.  Saying goodbye to the need desire to inflict great harm on the one who hurt you means killing the hope that they would be the one to offer wholeness and a satisfying relationship.  This increases the cost of goodbye, and who wants to pay that price? Innate to human nature is a desire for satisfaction and a feeling of wholeness found in being in relationship with one another. When this desire is crushed by a broken relationship our gut reaction is to wish great harm upon the other.  The only way to forgive though, is to say goodbye to the desire to hurt the other back.

“Sometimes solutions aren’t so simple. Sometimes goodbye is the only way. Sometimes beginnings aren’t so simple. Sometimes goodbye is the only way.” Linkin’ Park, “Shadow of the Day”

Yes, sometimes goodbye is the only way.  Sometimes, however, goodbye is required of something other than the person/relationship/place.  Sometimes you must say goodbye to your dreams, to your pride and entitlement and revenge.  Sometimes you must say goodbye to yourself.

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Ghosts are intriguing. The livings’ concern for the dead ranges from the childish, playful notion of white sheets with eyes that glide through walls to the hair-prickling fear of the paranormal. Do they exist? Can the living see them? Can the living talk to them? Why do they exist? Are they trapped until revenge for crimes committed against them in life is achieved? Are they on earth to warn the living? Warn us of what? Should we listen? Should we worry about vengeance taken against us? Ghosts are so fascinating that every culture has some lore, tradition, or taboo associated with them.

Ghosts are lasting. Unlike giant ants, rabid birds, and green Martians, ghosts still hold our cultural imagination. However more troubling is the double entendre here. The identity of a ghost is lasting: the un-dying. They do not go away.

Hauntings harm both the living and the dead because both parties remain trapped. It is real easy to tell someone that they need to just let go of the past. ‘Let go of the relationship, he left you and you need to move on.’ ‘Let go of the abuse you went through, it is over and you need to move on.’ ‘Let go of the ideas you had about how your life should look, the reality is now and you need to move with it.’ But why does no one suggest that the ghost be the one to move on? After all, it is the ghost who is holding on to something when clearly he should just die. Yet they are stuck in an ephemeral state, and keep the humans they haunt trapped in a cycle of replaying what could have or should have been over and over and over.

Ghosts are sneaky in the way they reside in smells, songs, and settings. Although you walked out on me, ending the plans for our future like a flame being snuffed out, the smoke of that fire constantly comes back to cloud my vision and sting my eyes. Because every time I smell that soft sticky sweet smell of your perfume I can feel you holding my hand and listening to the secret of my goals.

How I wish you would just die. But like the autumn leaves, you cling to the now dead branch and flash colors so loud that you cannot be ignored. At least the impending winter is a guarantee death to the fall leaves. The cold will soon settle heavy upon the fragile bodies of a no longer living, but not quite dead leaf, and force it to the ground where it will find the peace of decay. You? You just linger on, holding me captive by your random visits. It would be a lot easier to “just move on” if the hopes and dreams and passions and pains would die, if the ghost of what once was would die.

How do you kill a ghost? The person has already been killed once. You already died once before. I had to learn to live without you, so why are you back? I’ve never felt so wicked as the day I approached you and asked you to die again. “I thought you’d be happy to see me again,” you said. Well I thought I would be too, but your presence comes with a tether to old memories and dreams that I don’t want.

At first they told me to try yoga and herbal tea before bed. This was a nice distraction, but no solution. When you started showing up consistently, they told me to try prayer. This was as effective as a cardigan in a snowstorm. Now they say I need to ignore your sightings, and put the thoughts of you out of my mind. I have to wonder if it really is up to the living to get on with things. Why is no one telling you to let go of me?

Is this my old chain? / My mind is away,

How long have you been gone?

And the cold winter’s aged / The soft of your face.

And I can’t move on. Linger on / Linger on / Linger on

No I can’t move on.

-“Autumn Trees”, Milo Greene

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“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”  Anne Lamott

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It’s true, I am back in Colorado. And to be honest, I’m not really sure what to say.  What was Rwanda to me? Peace, reflection, struggle, confusion, beauty, frustration, connection, learning.

My questions are still unanswered, and my research far from complete.  “But I am okay with that now.”  Everything about my experience taught me so much about patience and acceptance.  We cannot control the majority of what happens in our lives.  In a world and culture that operates on a schedule with systems intended to make life easy, it seems like we have control.  But we don’t.  And honestly, it is a lot more fun to just take life as it happens anyway.  Which is why I can say that I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do and that it doesn’t matter; I know I will accomplish it one day.

In the meantime, I learned so much about the emotional complexity of the human spirit.  I have never been so confused and heartbroken, but so at peace.  I ran into a wall of frustrating cultural norms, but in the end I totally understand the norms and cannot blame the way things operate.

As a journalist, nothing is more frustrating than a person who tells me what they think I want to hear.  My project relied entirely on hearing and understanding the heart of a person: his hopes, fears, and reasons for restoring a failed relationship.  And if that relationship is not restored, I need to know that too.  But most of what I heard was rehearsed stories of “I forgave him and now we visit each other for drinks or seeing each other’s families.”  Seriously.  I have 19 stories that say these exact words.  This is frustrating.  But I cannot change it.  I cannot teach a man of 54 years old to express himself honestly, when he has spent the last 20 years restraining his emotions and responding to the demands of the authority.

Instead, I learned to see him as the man he is.  With a past that explains his current actions.  He is not less of a man.  He is not wrong, or right.  He is human, like me.  So sadly, dear reader, this has made it difficult for me to find exciting ways of talking about the people I met.  I don’t want to make them out to be extravagantly different people living exotic lives.  Its just life to them.  Eating, sleeping, loving and hating their families, and working hard to do these things.  Just because their lives appear to be different from yours does not make it necessary to put them on a pedestal.

So for now, I am processing what I have seen and felt.  And I hope, one day, that I will be able to eloquently write about it all.

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Making Plans…

…use to be my stronghold. Planning was my thing, and therefore, life outside the plan stressed and confused me beyond what I could handle.

But then I went through enough before graduating to figure out that I was, in fact, not in control.  The experiences of my last three years were enough to convince me that I can’t plan and then successfully orchestrate my schedule, or even relationships. I became a relaxed version of myself.

And then I moved to Africa.

That beautiful porch I’ve told you about, and pictured here lends itself to a level of laziness relaxation that I may never again achieve. Truly though, it is the general work ethic and culture of time that truly taught me to abandon all plans.

Here, there is little foresight (often none).  For instance, when I wake up I decide that today is a perfect day to finally take the papers down to the local minister’s office and register my NGO. Well I get there and find out that I need to actually make an appointment with said minister.  So I go back to the office and make an appointment. The rest of the day is spent on the internet. When I finally have a formal appointment, I go with the documents, only to find out in our discussions that I actually need to have 2 other, different documents and a letter with 3 signatures. Well I go back to spend the next week getting the right documents. And then spend the next month tracking down the 3 people whose signatures I need. So now, five weeks later, I go back and get the correct registration.  However, while engaging in this wild goose chase of collecting the correct letters, I have neglected the ideas I had for teachings and meetings for the last five weeks. This left my two employees to themselves for the last 5 weeks to entertain themselves.

Yes, it is very difficult to plan when no one else plans.

But it is also very difficult to plan from afar. I travel to meet people where they are at. I don’t want to go somewhere and do what I’ve always done, eat what I’ve always eaten, and wear what I always wear.  This means committing my heart to the now.  So I focus my attention, my thoughts, my emotional energy to what is immediately in front of me. And this works great when I live in Africa and am expected to be constantly thinking about and attending to the little bothers that came up all day long.

I am leaving very soon, for another new country. I love being in new places, with people I get to know. But this whole forgetting how to plan thing is proving to be a problem.

Where exactly am I going? __________

With what money? ______________

When will I be back? ____________ (Which leads me to ask where is back?)

When am I going? I know this!  In two weeks, when United has a confirmed booking for my flight.

Bring it on.

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