Forgiveness

 

I have spent a fair bit of time in the last week thinking about what forgiveness means to me and how much better my life has been since I decided a few years back to start forgiving folks for my own good. I wasn’t particularly concerned with how it made them feel, and in most cases, they aren’t even aware that they were forgiven for their trespasses against me.

I wrote a few months back about a horrific accident that occurred here in the country that I call home and my own survivor’s perspective of the aftermath of these sort of events. I was focused mostly on the hope that all the support the boys and their families had following the accident, would continue through the years to come.

This past week it was announced that the driver of the semi that struck the bus has been charged with 16 counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death. The general consensus seems to be that he blew through a stop sign. He will have his day in court, or many, and based on the comments I have read (don’t ever read the comments section!) he will likely be far safer in jail or prison than he will ever be out on the streets again, unless he changes his appearance drastically. That saddened me. Really saddened me and brought up feelings I have long held onto related to my own “accident”.

Prison will not be the worst punishment he endures- not even close.

While I was never charged with anything following mine, my passenger in the car with me died that afternoon. She was very young- only 20. So, I am in the unique position of actually somewhat understanding what is going through that man’s head right now- and none of it is good. The only reason I didn’t receive criminal charges was because it was a known trouble spot of an intersection, and following my crash, the transportation safety board removed that particular vehicle crossing and made a new entrance. Here, it takes so many accidents/deaths by number, before they will make changes like that.

I was sued twice following – once by the step-father of my passenger, and once by the train conductor- each request was for a million dollars. I had been warned it would likely happen, as in the case of family members who lose a loved one, it is pretty standard practice. In my relative naivety, until the insurance company contacted me, I thought I was personally responsible for paying those millions, as I received my copy of the first letter prior to the insurance company receiving theirs.

I was still recuperating physically and hadn’t even begun the work on my psychological wounds when I received the letter from the step-father. I was in a pretty dark place and only dealing with those things that were absolutely necessary, like finding someone to drive to grocery store with my bank card to buy food for my kids, and doing my best to wake up alive every morning.

Every night/morning for over a year, I would jerk awake sometime between 1 and 3 hearing the horns and the screams and tasting the blood and smelling the gasoline, and feeling the weight of April’s body slamming into mine as that train hit us. Every single sense I had, wide awake and stabbing at me like unforgiving needles.

Not one inch of my body or mind was spared on those nights.

I would lay there and look up at the ceiling after the terrors and wonder if this was why I had been spared death, and not her. I wondered about suffering and retribution and about heaven and hell and how we all pay the piper in our own ways and in our own time.

I would try to understand the why’s.

Why her? Because she was pure and full of light and love and her journey here was over. She had done everything she was sent here to do. She had taught and learned the lessons and fulfilled her contracts with others.

Why not me? Because I deserved to suffer and be in pain. I had run and dodged and slipped my way through every dangerous event and place I had allowed myself to be a part of. Now I had taken a life. I had murdered a young girl with my stupidity and inattention to my surroundings. Only the good died young, as my mother used to say, so I was pretty damn sure I was left here with the purpose to feel this pain for the rest of my days. 

I worked with a psychologist who specialized in PTSD, and slowly started to heal. She utilized EMDR therapy on me, which was exhausting emotionally, but was extremely successful with my psychological trauma. It was the first and only time in my life that I went in search of help of that kind, having been brought up in a home where we kept our private problems in-house, and not to be shared with outsiders. During my time with Robin, other things came out that I had long forgotten, so it turned into much, much more than it had originally been meant to be. I saw her until my extended health benefits dried up. She had provided me with the tools I needed to take my first steps onto the path of actually living again.

Not surviving, not healing, not enduring- actually wanting to move forward and live again, for my sons and even for myself.

I will always hold a special place in my heart for her help in showing me the way through it all to the other side. At the end of our last session, she gave me a big hug and told me I needed to truly forgive myself or I would never recover fully.

5 years after my accident, I received a letter from a psychologist that was treating the mother of my passenger. He asked me if I would allow him to send me numbered questions from his patient, who was struggling to move forward with her own life following the loss of her daughter. He was working with her on forgiveness. On forgiving herself for past events during the time she was raising her daughter, and on forgiving me, in order to let go of the hate she held in her heart.

I sat on a chair in my kitchen for over an hour, holding that letter in my hand.

I traced my fingertip over and over the stamp edging, round and round, while my mind wandered to how I was going to deal with this request. In the days following, I asked my son, and my mother for their advice on what they thought I should do.

They both told me to not respond at all; their concern was for me and the progress I had made, and they worried that I would slide back if I had to relive any of it again.

What neither of them knew, was that I had never stopped living it. Not for one moment of the time since it had occurred. It was so entrenched in every part of me, it was now cellular.

Like the blood flowing through my heart, or the oxygen moving through my lungs.

I wore it like a branding on my soul and always would.

I ended up answering her questions and sent them back to the psychologist. I was more concerned with her healing than I was with my own. Some of them were very difficult to answer.

I lied on the ones that I thought would only hurt her more. Questions about her relationship with her stepfather. Questions about why she left home. Questions about if she had ever shared information with me about her mother’s decision to side with her stepfather, rather than with her. I lied about her forgiving her mother for that. I lied and said she told me only a day earlier that she loved and missed her mother very much.

I answered truthfully on the questions that related to the accident itself.

She was dead instantly- she didn’t linger or suffer- she didn’t cry out in pain.

In the moments leading up to the impact, she was laughing and singing and excited and full of life and love.

I licked the envelope when I was done answering her questions, and walked the letter to the nearest mailbox.

I remember sitting on a rock after and looking at the clouds in the sky, through teary eyes, watching them slowly move and morph in shape as they drifted lazily above me. The sun was in the exact position it was in on that day in June, casting the same warmth, blinding me with the same dazzling rays, but this time I was alone.

While I was sitting there, a white butterfly caught my eye, and I watched as it fluttered and danced and flew closer and closer to me. From blade of grass to tree branch, to post, eventually landing on the top of my hand.

Its wings were transparent in the sunlight and I slowed my breathing and sat perfectly still, watching it settle in on my hand, twitching its wings softly on my skin. Seeing the flesh of my hand through its wings- watching in wonder as it sat there on my warm hand.

It stayed with me for as long as I needed it to and then flew away up towards the clouds in the blue sky.

I watched it until it disappeared from my sight and then got up and headed home to my children.

 

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Sticks & Stones

From the comfort of my chair this past week, I have bemusedly watched the extraordinary ruckus evolving over one woman’s use of the c-word as a descriptor towards another woman. And while in my younger years, that was the worst word that anyone could use to describe a woman, I am pondering why it just doesn’t strike me as the worst,  or even newsworthy anymore.

Add in the fact that the recipient of that particular arrow of truth deserved that and even worse, made me shake my head in disbelief that in a week full of horrifying news about 1500 missing children, reversals of women’s rights and vile racist twitter rants (shame on you, Roseanne), the fact that one woman called another woman a feckless cunt is what rang the outrage bell for so many.

There were times in my past that even having the word bitch thrown my way would have staggered me if flung carelessly from a male mouth in my direction. But I grew up and I grew older and I staggered and sometimes crawled through the struggles and losses that were written into my book of life, and I came to realize that words spilling from someone else’s lips, especially someone whose opinion I neither asked for nor could care less about, meant nothing.

Yes, words hurt, and history has shown that the female gender is incredibly adept, sly and manipulative about the ways in which we can tear each other apart and spit each other out. What we lack in physical strength, we have always compensated for in our emotional arrows and insults that we fire at own kind. We have always been oh so careful in our roles as nurturers to not tear the males down within our orbits – making excuses for them, protecting them- falling on our own fucking swords over and over  again and then proudly showing them the blood of our self-martyring as symbols of our love and sacrifice for them.

I hold women to higher standards than men, and while I am aware that is wrong and feeds into the martyr syndrome I just described, it has been my own personal experience that women are just better at the loving emotional support that most of us need during the changing seasons of our lives. (minus our middle school ages).

I expect women to support and mentor and teach and raise each other up. To correct and school each other when we damn well need it, but to also be there with arms wide open and with intentional, focused love and forgiveness when we stumble and fall. Tearing each other down at the first sight of blood in a feeding frenzy just alienates us further, and increases the perception that we are indeed those derogatory words so often used to hurt and minimize us all.

I would give anything to gather up the 3 women who were discussed ad nauseam this past week. To invite them into my home and offer them tea or a shot of bourbon and then question what the hell got us all to this place where one was tearing other women down in racists tweets, another was posting a clueless picture of herself holding her child with pithy wording about how nice it is to have your child in your arms, during a week when almost 1500 misplaced children were reported . Ask the last one how frustrated and angry she had to have been to aim and fire that taboo word out on public television at the complicit one whose life is so entitled that she is blissfully ignorant and unaware of the walls that most of us have had to kick down in order to find our own places and spaces within this patriarchal society.

I would sit with them and try to understand what their individual experiences have been  thus far that brought them to those penultimate moments in their lives this past week. Listen with non-judgmental empathy, and hopefully work toward a commonality of some sort that we could all embrace together. Dig through the layers, peel the onions, and cry the necessary tears. Laugh together, and listen and learn from each other how we get to these moments where we forget that most important learning passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter since time began.

In telling our own stories and sharing our pain with each other, we can only grow stronger. It will  only be in the safety of our sacred goddess circle – in the telling and re-telling of these truths and in the sharing of our crone wisdom to our own daughters and other women’s daughters, that we will be able to open the doors to healing and understanding.

At the times that I have been most broken in my own life, it has been my tribe of women who have stepped off fearlessly and then down into the morass with me and held my hand.

It is women who have made the choice to suffer beside me in my pain. To unflinchingly absorb that which was simply too enormous for me to endure alone.

Joanne, who came hundreds of miles immediately to tend to my sons’ hearts and well-being following my accident, when no one was sure I would survive another day. Who has answered her phone too many times to count, only to listen to me cry long distance without saying a word. Who has listened with her whole heart to my jagged pain, and who has healed me in so many ways without ever saying a word. Who once asked me the question that jump-started my journey of discovery, ” When are you going to love yourself as hard as you love everyone else?” If I ever met my soul mate, it is Joanne. That is a truth I know on such a deep soul level, that nothing and no one could ever convince me otherwise.

She was absolutely sent to me by a divine entity and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that I would take a bullet for my “Dodo”.

Cindy, who taught me that softness can frequently get you far further than strength can, and who showed me by example that forgiveness is often the best way to heal your own broken heart. Who sat with me following the loss of my first child, in my own dark night of the soul, holding my limp, cold hand in hers. Who refused to let me slip away into madness, and who held onto me so tightly and lovingly for the rest of her short life, that I was able to endure her loss by reaching down deep to the lessons she taught me and sharing them with the child she left behind.

Marilyn & Evelyn, the sisters. My mother and my aunt. Who stood beside me as that impossibly small casket was taken out of the car and carried toward us all. First their hands intertwined. Then their arms around each other, a merging of strength for each other and for me. Both of them reaching for me after it was all over. Pulling me between them, and holding me up with them. Infusing me symbiotically with the knowledge of their combined years of suffering and of the fact that it is in the enduring and the surviving that we grow from girls into women. Pulling me along to walk with them, until my legs were strong enough that I could walk again on my own.

It is now the time for me to share these lessons with the younger women I know, and to pass on the wisdom of those that have walked and suffered and endured long before me. To share the love and strength that has been shared with me and to work to keep the circle intact long after I am gone.

All of us have been called bitches in our lives and some have even been called *cunts, but no matter what you call us, there is absolutely no way we will be silenced, or kept down, or defeated.

 

* even spell-check doesn’t approve of this one!