This week was bananas.
There was illness, there was sleeplessness, there was a story made up by first graders in which I was brutally murdered.
And there were seemingly countless examples, in both conversation and action, of forgiveness, either given or denied.
Forgiveness is a HUGE deal in sobriety. And I don’t just mean in the particular case of a 9th step amends to someone you’ve wronged. I mean long before that. When God finally reached me at the moment from which I may not have returned it seemed like a simple lifeline: “there is a way you can stop drinking and I can make that possible for you because I’m God.” Soaked in years of booze and pain and fear, I’m pretty sure that was about as much as my brain could handle as far as thoughts go, and it was surely all my soul could handle as far as receptivity to the divine goes, so God meets us where we’re at and that’s fine.
This week it really started to dawn on me how much more had been going on in that very first reaching of God to me (or I suppose I should say of me to God, since he had been reaching the whole time and I was the one saying no). It wasn’t as simple as it seemed, because God wasn’t just offering me a way to stop drinking, he was forgiving me for my weakness. God was willing to accept all the damage, to me and by me, and reshape that into something beautiful. God in his forgiveness allowed a way not for me to start a new life as if the past didn’t matter, but to set the past towards the right life I am supposed to have.
That is what forgiveness does; it takes pain and turns it into that which glorifies God. When someone hurts us and we forgive them we assert our love for that person over our selfish desire to be victimized and thereby grow closer to that person and to God.
So where did all my deep and meaningful realizations come from? (Please DON’T insert here the name of some theologian who came up with this hundreds of years before me.)
Like always, in some part it came from observing my students. I have two students who NEVER get along with ANYONE else in the class. There are two girls that every time I turn around are arguing with another girl, and a lot of times with each other. I can’t stand it. It makes me so frustrated, because both girls are very upset that they don’t have many friends. I’ve reached that horrible apathetic place where all I can think is “of course you don’t have any friends, all you do is fight with your classmates all day long.” This week I really started watching the way these two girls behave and I noticed something: they don’t forgive. In their eyes there are no accidents. If someone bumps into them it is because the other person set out to cause them terrible harm and no apology is sufficient. If a game changes it is because the other girls don’t want her to play with them at all and have formed a secret group to keep them out, no denial of which is believed. If one of the other students picks up something she has dropped in order to return it to her the object is immediately snatched back and accusations of stealing pour forth without hesitation. And neither of these girls ever ever apologizes for something she has done. Anytime either has said “I’m sorry” it is because I have dragged it out of her with all my fire and brimstone. I’m pretty sure that the world would come to an end if either girl ever responded to an apology with “I forgive you.” Watching them has made me aware of just how impossible it is to even function in the most basic way with other people if you can’t forgive. Every action becomes suspect, every motive becomes ill will, every person becomes an enemy if you can’t forgive. My heart kind of breaks when I see these two students who are already so determined to see the worst in other people because I know how much harder it will make their lives.
On the other side of “well, shit kids, I don’t know how to fix your problems” was a dinner I had with some friends. I few years ago I had an ugly falling out with a married couple who I had been close with for a while. It was so stupid, and looking back I’m ashamed at how I behaved. In truth I was looking for an excuse to be angry, at everyone and everything, and I took a small slight and turned it into the end of the world. Not so much my best moment. But a little over a year ago she reached out to me, offering an olive branch, and as frightened as I was, I took it. It’s been a slow and deliberate process of reconciling, which I think is good. It would be dishonest to try and fall back into the old patterns of friendship as if a great deal of hurt hadn’t been dealt out. And I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was a few years ago. I’m not sure who I am now, but I’m sure as shit not that drunk raving bitch who wrought destruction upon all she surveyed. (The “bitch” part has stuck around, I think that’s permanent.) So we are literally getting to know each other all over again. Wait, why am I telling you this? Oh yeah. So on Wednesday a mutual friend of ours, who I work with and doesn’t have any idea about any of this, told me she was bringing the couple dinner because they had a baby about six weeks ago and she hadn’t seen them yet. My co-worker asked me if I wanted to go with her. I agreed, and immediately regretted it. What if all my baggage ruined her evening with her friends? What if we really weren’t reconciled to the dinner point (even though I had been invited over previously and timing hadn’t worked out)? What if I said something stupid? But then I was stuck. How to explain to my co-worker my decision to bail without raising the alarms? Shit, how do I get myself into these situations? Damn it!
So Thursday rolled around, which ended with “Gruesome Murder Mysteries starring Miss Francois” and I was on my bed crying trying to work up the courage to text my co-worker and tell her to go without me. But she called me to tell me she was on her way to pick me up, and the tiny spark of keeping my commitments propelled me through the door. Unsurprising to anyone who isn’t me, the evening was lovely. There wasn’t any tension, or suspicion, or awkwardness. It was simply friends having dinner. We ate, talked about work, family, their kids, politics, the exit of Pope Benedict and the relative merits of cowboy boots versus snow boots. While we were having tea and talking in the living room after dinner I was asked if I wanted to hold the new baby. And suddenly I was a little afraid. He was sleeping peacefully in his mother’s arms, I didn’t want to disturb him. But his father just picked him up and handed him to me. Within moments the baby was asleep again. As we sat there talking with the baby sleeping on my shoulder I couldn’t help but be stuck that something so simple was such an accomplishment. Here were people who I had hurt very badly, and with no grudges held, invited me into their home, took an interest in my life, and trusted me with their child. How amazing the human heart is to be that open. How lucky for me to experience something like that.
Despite the wonderful evening I was troubled the next day (that would be yesterday). Troubled by why I had been so afraid. I was afraid that they would have decided to take it back. That somehow I would get to their front door and be informed that my forgiveness was revoked because my bile had been too poisoness. Not because that is the kind of people they are. Clearly from what I’ve just said, they are the opposite of the kind of people who would do something like that. But, even noting the irrationality of it, my fear had been there. And it’s because I am starting to process the deeper movements of my sobriety. We can only forgive other people and accept their forgiveness in return in proportion to our understanding of God’s forgiveness for us. I’m overwhelmed as I begin to see how total God’s forgiveness for me is. It’s more than I can really understand that God can look at me and say in all truth “I see you as you really are, I see that you burned the life I gave you to cinders, and I will take all of it to make you more beautiful than you can imagine.” My heart and my brain and my soul can’t quite get to that without a little “um, dude, are you sure about that?”
But I will get there. Eventually.
(1 Year, 5 Months, and 12 Days Sober)