19 March 2013

Begging Pardon 2

On any given day, my FaceBook Wall is inundated with images of breathtaking sunsets, voluptuous flowers in bloom and children in a variety of affectionate poses with animals. Lots of hearts and sunshine and water.The images are often accompanied by flagrantly "positive," inspirational text, often a quote from someone who is either dead, a globally recognized icon of wisdom/peace/community service/etc. or a popular entertainment celebrity. "You only fail if you give up." "Believe in your dreams."

A common theme of these posts is an exhortation toward self-improvement. Whoever you are, whatever you are doing, you're not "there" yet. You can do better. You can/should/will be a better person. Some day. Gentle reminders that something is wrong with you as you are now. There's something missing. Too little "generosity", "creativity", and "gratitude" are among the most frequently cited deficits.

"Forgiveness" is another popular meme theme.

The world of FaceBook was abuzz the other night with outrage about CNN's coverage of a verdict handed down in a court case involving some high school boy athletes. It's one of those cases that "everybody" is following -- "everybody" except me. Something about the boys being convicted of raping a drunken female classmate. From what I gather via FaceBook Comment threads, CNN's reports of the story were sympathetic toward the boys. Among the folks who appear in my newsfeed, righteous indignation was the unanimous response to the CNN reports.

One man wrote at length about how he rarely allows himself to take the soapbox on FaceBook but he was unable to keep silent in the face of the CNN report. As the father of two daughters, he was grieved to think that anyone convicted of rape is worthy of forgiveness or empathy. Anyone convicted of rape is an "animal" and worthy only of punishment. Certain acts and behavior, in his opinion, are unforgivable. CNN's reporters and anchors should be ashamed of their public display of compassion and empathy for these young monsters. The writer was unmoved by footage of the boys crying.

Public esteem for "forgiveness" in society is abundantly expressed in slogans emblazoned on T-shirts and greeting cards and FaceBook posts; but it is a shallow esteem. It is not visible in the way we live our lives.  Forgiveness is all fine and good:  except in certain cases.

For some, esteem for "forgiveness" is based on biblical precepts with God's sacrifice of his only son the ultimate example of the way forgiveness should be practiced. But the Bible is also full of examples of how unforgiving God can be:  entire communities consumed in flame; women turned into pillars of salt; the entire Earth obliterated by flood. It would seem there is a limit to forgiveness even in the mind of God. It is not surprising that religious people would follow suit and feel justified in withholding forgiveness in certain instances.

N_____ was one of the first people I met when I moved to Holly Springs. For several months we met irregularly in the afternoon to play piano duets at the Episcopal church where I practice. 

He's in his 70s and facing several health challenges as well as an impending forced retirement from the local college where he has taught for almost 40 years. I also suspect he is a closeted gay man though he would likely never admit it. From the beginning of the friendship, our ongoing musical dialogue was interspersed with his frequent complaints about life issues and situations. I thought of him affectionately as "a worrier." I am not "a worrier" but have easily managed friendly relationships with people who are.

Something happened around Christmas. I still don't understand exactly what. N_____ and I were to provide music for the midnight mass at the church, him on organ and me on piano. He was worried about falling asleep at the keyboard or starting to feel sick and fainting or missing a cue. He fretted when we were together and sent long emails, itemizing potential disasters and analyzing his dread. 

After a few weeks, I suggested that we focus on preparing the music, assuring him we would survive should some calamity befall us during the service. 

He was offended. 

The Apology - Artist:  Mark Ryden
I apologized.

Three months later, he is still upset with me and it is beginning to look as though the offense qualifies as unforgivable.

There is precious little willingness to forgive among us. Like "love" and "peace," "forgiveness" exists like a beautiful dream. We are inspired by thoughts and dreams of love and peace and forgiveness. Many people say they are "working on it." They aspire. They are "trying" to align their lives with these ideals. It's assumed that we are presently incapable of unconditional love, absolute forgiveness, world peace. We "get it" but we can't do it. Not yet. Now now. 

But we are trying.

And we keep trying.

We are encouraged to keep trying.

Imagine a world where we receive more messages encouraging us to do it, than messages encouraging us to try to do it.

What if instead of "You can make it if you try"

people who care about us said, "You made it! Be Here Now..."

What if instead of "I'm really trying to forgive him"

we simply said, "All is forgiven."

In the realm of human relationships, judgment and lack of forgiveness are like craggy, land's end cliffs we reach from time to time. Our unforgiving judgments obliterate any possibility of a way forward.

Our friend expresses an opinion different from our own. We are surprised and perhaps disappointed and our judgment is that our friend's opinion is wrong.

We hear about something like the trial of the high school boys and pounce into social media to put our feelings and opinions on record. In many cases, without a second thought, never having actually met anyone involved in the events, we form a fervent, steadfast, unforgiving opinion.

Someone tells a funny story about us at a party and we are humiliated, deeply wounded. How could she?! She was wrong and rude and insensitive to tell that story and you will never forgive her.

Our judgment and rage and humiliation deliver us to the edge of a cliff in the relationship. Driven by emotion, we create The End.

But the Bible and the FB memes entreat:  learn to forgive.

Can we find forgive? Immediately? Or will it take some time because we are trying to learn to forgive? How long will it take? Does trying actually define a period in which we do not relinquish our judgment but rather hope to some day "get over it"?

In my understanding of Forgiveness, I stop talking -- internal and external dialogue ceases. I stand at the cliff's edge and contemplate the void beyond. I stomped to this brink on unsympathetic legs. Convinced that she/he/they are
  •  wrong
  • unfair
  • rude
  • cruel
  •  monstrous
  • ignorant
  • evil
  • beyond redemption
  • notorious
  • bigoted

There are two choices. Life or death.  Over the cliff onto the rocks below or walking back toward solid ground on shaky legs.

I wonder sometimes if, in the evolution of our species, forgiveness will disappear. It's so rarely seen these days.