The Wound and the WoundedThe angels sing the praises of their Lord, imploring forgiveness for the dwellers of the earth. Is it not that God is forgiving and merciful? . . . He knows the secrets of the hearts. It is He who accepts repentance from His creatures and forgives their trespasses, for He knows what you do.
--The Qur'an 42
Dick was one of the most enthusiastic participants in the Virtues Project seminar on parenting. On the third day, he asked to speak to me privately. His face was pale and pinched. “I can’t be … a … a hypocrite. I just can’t get it out of my mind. One night, years ago, when my baby daughter was screaming and wouldn’t stop, I took her by the shoulders and I shook her. I shook her so hard. And she was just a baby.” Tears coursed down his face.
A few minutes later, we returned to the group. To begin the session, I asked, “How many of you are feeling some grief about abuses or mistakes with your won children?” All hands went up, including mine. Each of us then wrote on a slip of paper, for our eyes only, to be burned that night, the act we most deeply regretted toward our children. We sat together in the circle, silent witnesses to one another’s tears. “When you are ready to let it go, place it in this basket. It will be burned tonight.” I stood and prayed aloud “Creator, forgive us, bless these mistakes, make them our teachers. Help us to forgive ourselves, to move forward, ready to change.” Then each of us wrote a commitment we would offer in compensation for our mistakes. I wrote, “I will trust my children to live by their own process.” To my amazement, with no words said about it, a new level of intimacy and trust soon opened up between me and both my sons.
-Linda Kavelin Popov, Sacred Moments – Daily Meditations on the Virtues ©1996
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>I have learned in recent years that my faults, the defects that keep me from creating the work I want to do, are not flaws or failures. They are wounds. The merest shift in the word shifts attitude. As failures, flaws, defects, I want to crush them underfoot, smash their noses in, impale their heads upon a pike and mount it on the tower wall. But this is my very soul I am impaling there, the essence of my heart. Block, the inability to proceed, signals not a defect but a wound exposed; and curiously in our wounds lie our divinity … healing comes from tenderness. Embrace the wounds, wash them, bandage them with loving care…
This week marked another important milestone in my life: that of beginning, in earnest, the process of healing old wounds in a relationship with one of my children. She has traveled far, not just for this purpose only, but she is nearby today, and my long wait is over. She made it clear that meeting with me and talking things out is an important part of this trip for her. I also had my first opportunity to meet the young man who is to be her partner in life. I am grateful for this opportunity, but I had no expectations regarding the outcome of our meeting. I am thankful that I am placed in her path, even though it means I am far from home. I would not have missed this chance for all the worldly wealth that might be offered me. I have many regrets about my part in how this [adult] child was raised. I cannot change the past, and it does not profit me to brood over that. I failed her in some ways, then. I have so much to offer as a father and a friend, today. Forgiveness heals the wounds and the wounded.
Healing this wound in my life, and in the lives of my children, is part of the continuing process that I started a few years ago, a process which continues well beyond this day, because working on this and other relationships is a large part of the tasks I seem to have set for myself in this life. What I offered her in our meeting could have been rejected, but that would have been her choice. I would not feel differently about her if she had so chosen. I have chosen to love her as one of my children, and it is not in me to take that away from her. But more importantly, I realize that we do not know each other at all, because it has been far too many years since we were together as a family, and we have each changed in so many ways.
I have made a great many changes in my own life to compensate for those mistakes of the past. I could not live with those wounds any longer. I needed healing. We all need some kind of healing. If we wore our insides on the outside, we would be scar tissue from head to toe. The first step of healing those wounds was to forgive myself, and to make amends to my actions through more appropriate choices. I had to teach myself to be unconditional in loving and caring for myself, to believe that I was worth the effort, and to work my way through the “secrets of the heart.” I needed to turn away from those things in my life that were doing damage to others and myself, and open my heart to Divine forgiveness. I had to approach my interactions with others, and my relationships with those who were close to me, in much different ways, with different attitudes. I had to learn to tend to my own wounds, and to be mindful of the wounds I gave to others. I began returning kindness to those who were, perhaps I should say, toxic and difficult. I had to learn to detach myself from conflict, and to be forgiving of others, in the hope that, when needed, I would be forgiven. Forgiveness has a way of destroying anger, and I was, and will continue to be, in need of being “restored to a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6).
Two virtues that aid the process of forgiveness are compassion and humility. With these, I need not abase myself by constantly trying and often failing to live up to excessively high standards and the expectations of others. Compassion frees me from society’s dictates that are supposedly there to keep me safe. The “shoulds” actually have the effect of keeping me paralyzed. Compassion towards myself is not narcissistic love, but more of a self-acceptance. I am, and others are, always worthy of forgiveness – by any standard. Once I have applied these concepts to myself, it is a natural progression to practice them on other people. I set my own standard of forgiveness. It is an interpretation based on several values and virtues of my belief system, including understanding, compassion and humility. Humility opens me to the process of learning and growth. If I reply with, “I know, I know” each time someone reminds me of a fault or shortcoming, I would be incapable of learning anything. Alexander Reid Martin, a famous analyst, said, “When I stand on the ground, there is not far to fall.” I allow the failings in others and myself, and empower them with forgiveness applied with compassion, humility and understanding of the human condition.
Because I am human and therefore fallible, having “feet made of clay,” I will continue to need the forgiveness of others throughout my life. And I will be given opportunities, every day, to be forgiving of others as well as myself. “Seventy times seven” (Matthew 18) means that 490 transgressions against me by the same individual are not enough to cause me not to forgive them. Ábdu'l-Bahá went so far as to advise me to be forgiving of another, when they continue to fall into error, a hundred thousand times. Such an individual “may yet turn his face to you, hopeful that you will forgive his sins.” Should we fail in this, that person might become hopeless, grieved or despondent – not a stain I would like my record to bear, especially if their end is tragic on my account. I must be willing to keep on forgiving, to become neither weary nor discouraged, but to be generous in my forgiving and be satisfied that, while I may sow the seeds in another’s heart, someone after me may reap the harvest. Forgiveness is a bridge to the future.
Forgiveness comes to us from the first formations of mankind into an organized and enlightened society. Many of the great teachers and philosophers throughout the ages have espoused the principle of forgiveness as an imperative duty. Zoroaster said, “Be good, be kind, be human, and charitable; love your fellows; console the afflicted; pardon those who have done you wrong.” Confucius repeated, “Love thy neighbor as thyself: forgive injuries, forgive your enemy, be reconciled to him, give him assistance, invoke God in his behalf!” I am not placed upon my path for myself alone! Reformation and repentance are the means by which I may obtain mercy and forgiveness. That does not mean that I must take responsibility for acts I did not commit just to keep someone happy, nor that I must reform myself excessively simply to meet another’s expectations. It means to find my own path, to make amends in a manner that does not cause further harm to others or myself, to make those changes necessary in order that I not commit the offense again. Being truly forgiven places upon me a debt of responsibility: I am made aware of an offense; I have sought and received forgiveness; I am obligated to learn from this mistake and strive to be diligent in avoiding a repeat performance; and finally, it is incumbent upon me to seek harmony with those whom I have offended and to be wary of falling into a similar situation from here forward.
In the process of forgiveness, there needs to be an equipoise of justice and mercy, but not a standard that I would impose upon someone else. Instead, it is that ideal to which I am morally obligated as a child of a loving Creator amongst others like me. The knights of King Arthur’s Court were given a sword with two edges, symbolic of justice and mercy, of retribution and forgiveness. If this “ideal” were such that God were only interested in justice, it would mean mankind’s utter destruction; if God were only interested in mercy, it would give humankind license for the most offensive hedonism. By the measure of that Divine example, should I only seek justice, I would be constantly seeking the punishment of every offender, fearing everything and everyone for what might or might not happen; if I would have only mercy, I would be used and abused, giving others tacit permission to commit any act upon my person or my property without an accounting for the same. I am neither a bully nor a doormat. I am a creation of a just and merciful God, and I am sojourning with friends, family and strangers who are “spiritual beings having human experiences.” Together, divine justice and divine mercy provide humankind with an example of both retribution and forgiveness, imploring us to act with justice by insisting upon boundaries and respecting the rights of others, and to act with mercy by fully forgiving without judgment of the forgiven.
The meeting with my lovely and talented daughter and her handsome prince went well, and I am honored that we will continue to heal our relationship – not so much as father and daughter but more like two souls thrown together for a purpose, willing to help in each other’s healing by first forgiving the wounds – as spiritual partners. For in the Grand Cosmic Scheme of Things, that is what we truly are.
The gift of forgiveness will heal wounds and lighten the spirit, no matter whether given or received.