For the last couple of days, I’ve been struggling with asking someone for forgiveness. It’s not really that complicated, is it? I would just say something like, “I’m asking your forgiveness for…” whatever I had done. Doesn’t really seem that complicated at all. And yet, it is for me right now.
Here’s the story.
Several decades ago, I was in a relationship with someone. I ended it badly. I don’t have many regrets, but this is one of them. We’ve remained friends for all these years, but distant. We’ve only seen each other a couple of times. No angry words. Nothing untoward. And, nothing better than pleasant, either.
After more than a decade of becoming much more self-aware, the struggle with this is about dealing with it directly. I’m sad about how it ended. I’m afraid of asking for forgiveness. I don’t want to touch that sadness. There’s a huge difference between guilt – having made a mistake, and shame – I am a mistake. Rarely, I mean very rarely, do I ever feel shame. In this case, I do. I know I made a mistake – guilt. But there’s a part of me wondering if I am a mistake – at least on the issue of relationships. Few of my relationships have ended well, including my very short marriage. In this moment, I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with me when it comes to relationships. I’m struggling.
I think of myself as fairly in touch with my emotions and idiosyncrasies. Typically, I don’t have a problem expressing myself. Why, then, am I struggling with this? Is there something inherently wrong with me regarding relationships? Am I just so closed off I self-sabotage any and all relationships I’ve had? I don’t seem to have difficulty living by myself. I’ve done it for the largest portion of my life. And, is that because I’m incapable of sustaining a relationship? Is that a mistake in my DNA? I might not be able to answer these questions. Or, maybe I am able to answer the questions, but there’s a protector side of me keeping me safe – away from the pain of what a sustained relationship might bring. Of course, there’s also the joy a relationship might bring. It’s the battle between those two which seems to be at the core of this life challenge. Regardless of the answers, I very much want to ask for the forgiveness from this person. And, when I do, I want to be heard. I don’t want an ‘Oh, it’s water under the bridge’ kind of response. I want her to hear my plea, and, if willing, offer the forgiveness. So, the hold back is about playing this scene in my head. Not doing it for real. Staying safe, without the risk. Because, the risk is asking for forgiveness and not getting it. The risk is also about asking for the forgiveness and receiving it. The question then seems to be ‘Am I willing to step into the fire, toe to toe and ask for forgiveness?’ In the end, it’s likely to be irrelevant if she forgives me, but am I able to let go of the past and forgive myself.
Buddhist Zen master, Thich Nhat Hahn says compassion is the key to forgiveness. Another truth for me. “In the film The Power of Forgiveness, he is seen reciting his mediation for the “many angry sons and daughters”. In a soft, measured voice he instructs, in meditative breathing, a room full of people who want to move on: “breathing in I see myself as a 5-year-old child; breathing out I hold that 5-year-old child with tenderness. Breathing in I see my father as a 5-year-old boy; breathing out I smile to my father as a 5-year-old boy”. The point is that only when you are able to visualize your father as a fragile and vulnerable 5-year-old, can you begin to understand and feel compassion for the person he has become.” (http://theforgivenessproject.com/thich-nhat-hanh-compassion-the-key-to-forgiveness/) Compassion, especially towards myself was and is a challenge. I have to believe in my own fragile and vulnerable 5-year-old and hold that vision in order to move forward.
Forgiveness, then, is not about the act of asking for it, it’s about loving myself enough to have compassion for the 21-year-old and for all of my ages when relationships are/were difficult. I’m not some superman. I’m not invulnerable. Quite the contrary. I’m very vulnerable. Deaths hurt. Lost relationships hurt. To move forward requires standing with the hurts and the pain and not only acknowledging them, but embracing them. Cursing them for the pain, and blessing them for the wisdom they bring. As a photojournalist, I know there cannot be white without black.
I will ask for the forgiveness. Any answer I might get from someone else, can only be added to the answer I give to myself.
How Am I Changing? I’m still looking for answers. It’s in the questions the answers may be found. I just have to be willing to ask the questions.