This was, apparently, my week to run into friends I have not seen in a while. I often have friendships with smart, busy, independent women. Our friendships are not based in endless phone chat or e-mails or clubs. More often there is a strong connection which never loses strength between visits. We just sort of take up where we left off.
I met Booker at Church, having sat next to her one Sunday when she was trying to keep two toddlers controlled. She was not prevailing . When one of those babes slipped away I just casually picked him up,
placed him in my lap, whispered in his ear and there he stayed for the remainder of the service. As it turns out this was one of those social Sundays with coffee and muffins in the hall after the Mass. I came along with Booker and her grand kids to the hall where both of us automatically got the children happily settled with juice and cookies. Thus was a fine friendship begun.
This week we ran into each other in the Children's section of a bookstore. During our last visit Booker was struggling with an issue of anger and forgiveness. Two years ago when all her children (7) and grandchildren (19) had gathered at the lake house there was a terrible boating accident. Her two year old grandson went overboard , sustaining a serious head and face injury from the propellers.
There were so many family members at the gathering they were boating in relays. On this particular trip it was all "boys". The women had objected to the baby going but were over ruled by the men. The baby was properly inserted into a toddlers life vest before leaving the dock.While out on the lake he did what babies do, produced a loaded diaper which offended all the noses on board. So his Dad removed the baby's life vest and his swim trunks to just take the diaper off. His plan was to rinse it in the lake before placing it into the on board trash can. Unfortunately he was so eager to deal with the offending diaper he forgot the baby. One of the other children started screaming before any of the men on board realized what had happened. They saved the baby's life but not the part of his face or gray matter cleaved by the prop.
Booker's issue is she cannot forgive her son in law.
She cannot view this as an accident.
She believes this to be a case of criminal negligence.
Booker was gathering her purchases and saying good bye when she abruptly sat down and said in a fury,
" I hate him! I cannot stand for him to be in my house or speak to me or touch any of the grands"
"No progress huh?"
" It's worse! In the beginning I could not find forgiveness. I would go to confession and feel terrible at my lack of compassion for a father who I thought surely must be more damaged by this accident than his child. But over time I became aware he has never sought forgiveness because he has never accepted responsibility for this tragedy! Instead he postures around saying what happened to the baby was 'God's will' and if this is the cross God has chosen for him then he will bear it without complaint. He actually takes credit for being a 'good man' by the way he shoulders his 'cross'. I want to squash him like a roach! How dare he excuse his own stupidity and negligence by blaming God! How dare he bask in the glow of attention for his hardship?"
I do not have any grand children so I am sure I cannot truly imagine how Booker feels. Her situation is perhaps made worse by the fact this daughter and family are local so she sees them, all of them, often. I can fully understand how the flood of emotion gets reignited regularly. I have experienced sustained anger so hot it nearly burned me up from inside out. I had to learn to let it go.
" Booker, there is a Zen proverb which says, ' Let Go Or Be Dragged'.
I think you are being dragged."
" Damn it Fishy! Do you think I am suppose to forgive him?!?!?"
" I think you can let go of the anger without forgiving your son in law."
" I cannot"
Two days later I ran into my friend Barbara at my favorite Landscape Nursery. I have never met a woman so able to express grief and joy simultaneously. Her son Paul was born with a heart defect. Predictions were he would succumb by age 2. He lived to 23, largely due to his Mother's incredible dedication. She made sure his time on Earth would be as long as possible and chock full of as many good experiences as possible. She was also determined to have more than grief and suffering as the benchmarks of Paul's life. She wanted there to be joy. She wanted there to be purpose. Both were achieved.
A few hours before dawn Barbara called Caroline. The phone was answered by John, Caroline's husband. Barbara did not ask to speak to Caroline. Instead she simply said , ' It's time, y'all come now". They did not come. Barbara called several more times but the calls went directly to voice mail. Later in the day they learned the son in law had determined it would not be a 'good idea' for Caroline to " once again be subjected to her parents focusing all their attention on Paul while ignoring her". I might have killed him with my bare hands.
Just like Booker, Barbara cannot find forgiveness for this idiot son in law.
Truthfully she does not understand why Caroline can stand the sight of him.
I get that.
after Paul's death the son in law accepted a job in Virginia.
Sometimes Caroline comes home with her daughters for a visit.
This month the grand daughters are coming to stay for a week while Caroline and her husband go to the islands. Barbara was at the nursery buying colorful pots for the girls, ages 3 and 5, to plant up while they are here. I was excited for my friend and said so.
She answered, " We no longer go to Virginia to see them. When we did go we stayed in a hotel. Caroline would bring the girls to see us there or we would meet in a park. It was painfully awkward. We were never invited to their home, never invited to have a meal with Johns family, who live in the next town over. John continues to believe we are horrible parents who should have let Paul die. His father is a country preacher and also believes we spent 20 years not accepting God's will for Paul. John's logic is had Paul died young 'in accordance with God's plan' Caroline would have had a more normal childhood. "
" Does Caroline agree with John's thinking?"
" No. Caroline loved Paul and has always accepted the reality of his needs requiring more of our time. There were a few accusations and tantrums in her early teens but for the most part Caroline was always right there with us saving Paul."
" I am glad the girls are coming to visit."
" Me too. But Fishy, I just cannot tell you how horrible it is to have that man sit in judgement of us and control if and when we can see our daughter or grand daughters. I loathe that man beyond all measurement.
Hardly a day goes by when I don't wish Caroline would pack up the babies and leave that man. I know it's a sin but I just cannot help it."
" Uh, I think you have to let this go"
" I haven't a clue"
On the drive home I thought about our conversation. How indeed?
I know it would be difficult, if not impossible for me to forgive the trespasses these two women have suffered. Other than the initial insults these men continue to cause grief. One by posturing about like he is standing up with his cross the other by continuing to pass judgement on a reality he has never experienced.
I understand that a thing cannot go away until it is forgiven.
But are there things too heinous to forgive?
Plenty of theologians and philosophers have written about the "obligation" to forgive. Or defined the inability to forgive as "weakness". Sometimes in the journey to banish anger forgiveness follows. But is it really possible to heal thyself of anger without forgiveness? And how many times must we forgive repeat offenders? Would that even be a good thing? Doesn't that just promote the acceptance of the unacceptable?
Once a priest told me he appreciated my efforts toward making progress but that it was clear I had not reached a truly forgiving heart and mind toward a life altering trespass. There was more work to be done. That remaining "work" took me years. Years! On occasion I still have a white hot rage flare up but now the anger subsides quickly. I have always viewed the anger response as normal. Rational. Understandable. There is, I believe, such a thing as justifiable anger. I also believe there are transgressions which cannot and should not be forgiven. In my case I want to not just forgive but have compassion for the trespasser. I have mostly failed in reaching this objective.
In truth, I can not begin to understand what you do with all that wrath when the trespasser is married to your child or parenting your grandchild or showing up regularly at your dinner table.
On a recent outing I bought the "let go or be dragged" magnet. It is on the top drawer of a filing cabinet
facing my desk. I see it when I look up from this screen. It gives me pause. I think it good advice. Let go.