I tell my sons “don’t play a part in another person’s bad childhood memory.” There is power in this statement. I remember my own childhood and the feeling of worthlessness that I felt when I experienced the wrath of various bullies. I now know that some of those bullies were children who were hurt and lost themselves, victims of abuse, alcoholism and neglect. Childhood memories are powerful, they help define future adults. Don’t play a part in a person’s bad childhood memory.
I’ve always been a little bit obsessed with forgiveness. There’s something uplifting, something cathartic about asking for, and receiving forgiveness. As a child I was taught that it was not enough to just ask for it, you had to ask for forgiveness with the intent not to repeat that sin, that mistake. You didn’t get a “hall pass,” contrary to what others may believe about penance. Forgiveness requires an understanding and an accountability for your actions and an intent to do better.
I was between the ages of 11 – 13 when I played violin in the orchestra in junior high school (aka middle school in today’s terms). I was primarily a shy girl, fairly smart but not yet comfortable in my own skin, in that awkward stage of teen normal. It was during this time that I participated in being the primary player in someone’s bad childhood memory. She played first chair violin and was incredibly talented and introverted. I can remember hearing her play the solo of a popular country song. I have not been able to listen to that song for years because of my guilt and shame. First Chair and I were friends, we waved to each other and said hi in the halls, we were friendly in school and she was a classmate that I looked up to.
Then it happened. For some reason I was goofing around, sitting next to one of my best friend’s during practice. I have no explanation for my actions, no justification, no understanding of why I decided to do what I did that day. In fact, I simply remember being shocked and horrified at myself. I decided that when First Chair stood, I’d slightly pull her chair out. When she sat back down she connected to her chair improperly, and she fell. Beautiful, talented, shy, introverted, sweet girl fell in front of everyone and I was the one who caused it. I was the main player in her bad childhood memory. I acted before thinking, was goofing around, and was not developmentally connecting my actions to the consequences. It doesn’t matter though. The fact remains, she was embarrassed and I hurt her. I can remember that our music teacher glared at me, and I often wonder if she saw the look of shock on my face because she didn’t say a word, she just turned away and continued with class. Perhaps the mortification in my demeanor was punishment enough. I believe, however, that she wanted to spare First Chair any further negative attention.
To this day I am devastated by my actions.
Before Facebook, before the explosion of social media one could go on classmates.com. I found First Chair’s name and wrote her an email apologizing and asking for her forgiveness. I never heard back from her. I believe I was 30 years old when I wrote that email. I wrote it for two reasons. The first reason was because I wanted to hold myself accountable and to let her know that I understood that what I did embarrassed and hurt her. The second reason was that if she did remember this incident and had any feelings about it, well….I wanted to let her know that the only ugliness that day existed in my stupid and careless action, that she was beautiful and innocent.
Over the years of my life I have thought a lot about forgiveness. As an adult I have made many mistakes but I have gotten very good and being accountable, honest and intent on improving my soul and living my life with love and intention. I believe that these things; accountability, love, acceptance, honesty and intent are all required to properly ask for and to receive forgiveness. However, the hardest part in all of this is not saying “I’m sorry.” The hardest part in all of this is not saying “you are forgiven.” The hardest part in all of this is forgiving oneself.
When you say you’re sorry to someone it lifts them up also. It says “you are not to blame, I accept my own actions.” I think that this is messy beautiful.
This morning I told my mother this story for the first time and she recited a quote from Maya Angelou. She remembered words she heard on an episode of Oprah where Maya Angelou said these words about forgiveness.
“You did in your twenties what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better. And you should not be judged for the person you were but for the person you are trying to be and the woman you are now.”
After I finished my conversation with my mother, I searched the internet for Oprah, this quote, and Maya Angelou and what I heard broke me down into tears. Oprah said: you don’t have to hold yourself hostage. “Who has lived and hasn’t made mistakes? You can be free. And now that I know better I know I don’t have to do that again. It is one of the most powerful lessons any of us can ever know.” (http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/The-Powerful-Lesson-Maya-Angelou-Taught-Oprah-Video)
This is messy and this is beautiful. I can honestly say I have never done something so inconsiderate again and I have become a woman I can be proud of. I have chosen to share this example, from childhood, and yet I know that we all have other examples, other mistakes that we have locked down inside the recesses of our hearts. It is an act of courage to look inside your heart and identify who you need to be accountable to, whether that is yourself, a spouse or a friend. Make amends. Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Accept love and release love into the universe.
Life is indeed messy; it is indeed beautiful. Writing this post has been healing. For the first time in over thirty years I have played that country song and smiled. I forgive myself.