October 20, 2006

On Forgiveness

I think everyone knows my forgiveness poem, but I want to reprint it here, being relevant to my night's discussion:

To Forgive Is...

To begin
and there is so much to forgive:
for one, your parents, one and two,
out of whose dim haphazard coupling
you sprang forth roaring, indignantly alive.
For this, whatever else followed,
innocent and guilty, forgive them.
If it is day, forgive the sun
its white radiance blinding the eye;
forgive also the moon for dragging the tides,
for her secrets, her half heart of darkness;
whatever the season, forgive it its various
assaults -- floods, gales, storms
of ice -- and forgive its changing;
for its vanishing act, stealing what you love
and what you hate, indifferent,
forgive time; and likewise forgive its fickle
consort, memory, which fades
the photographs of all you can’t remember;
forgive forgetting, which is chaste
and kinder than you know;
forgive your age and the age you were
when happiness was afire in your blood
and joy sang hymns in the trees;
forgive, too, those trees, which have died;
and forgive death for taking them,
inexorable as God; then forgive God
His terrible grandeur, His unspeakable
Name; forgive, too, the poor devil
for a celestial fall no worse than your own.
When you have forgiven whatever is of earth,
of sky, of water, whatever is named,
whatever remains nameless,
forgive, finally, your own sorry self,
clothed in temporary flesh,
the breath and blood of you
already dying.
Dying, forgiven, now you begin.

I'd like to write a little here about how I've incorporated the notion of forgiveness and other values into my life in both healthy and not so healthy ways.

Forgiveness: Christians believe two fundamental things in this regard, the second following from the first, though both honored most often in the breach (which despite popular misunderstanding of the phrase means that they are most often NOT honored). One, that Jesus's death on the cross brought salvation/forgiveness to the world (or to "Christians", or to all who believe in Him...depending on what church or what Bible or what pastor you listen to) and two, each individual must love and forgive her enemies as she herself is loved and forgiven by God. I do not know for certain what Jews believe in terms of forgiveness, though my father, a Jew, tells me that only the sinned against have the right to forgive the sinner, no one else, the implication being that not even God is permitted this right. Only the victims of the Holocaust could forgive Hitler and the Nazis, and so forgiveness in that regard is largely impossible.

With respect to this "virtue" in the old-fashioned sense of the word, I bought into the second belief, that one must forgive ones enemies and those who have sinned against one (not that I have a choice, as in Judaism, but an injunction, as in Christianity) without allowing myself the luxury of the first: that of having been completely loved and forgiven beforehand. No, I forgive others easily, so easily that I almost don't allow myself to feel any anger at all before I automatically grant them respite. But the notion that I might myself be forgiven, by God? By others? By myself? NEVER! Heaven forfend. Impossible even to think of it, because I am unforgiveable, the only unremoveable blotch on humanity that stains forever. I don't know why this is, why I am unforgiveable. I know no one else is. Am I special? Am I so special as to deserve different treatment? Ah, the verbal tricks used to get me to grant that I am "just like one of you." Make me feel I am being accused of arrogance, horror of horrors, and I'll be sure to back down and grant that I am forgiveable as anyone. But I am not. If it is arrogance to say that I AM different in that regard, that I am Cain (not in the sense of being under God's protection but as the First Murderer) to everyone else's manslaughter (BTW I killed a squirrel under the wheels of my car yesterday...almost fainted right then and there...I KILLED IT!) well, then, I guess I am arrogant, but it is only because you forced the issue. I am NOT special, if truth be told. I am simply condemned to be Satan, or Satan's spawn, which will become Satan eventually.

Oh dear, I am getting drawn down the wrong path. Got to steer away from this and go back to what I was talking about...Let's leave forgiveness then, too messy a subject, and obviously too dangerous.

Kindness and truth are important values to me. Cy is always asking the question: which is more important: kindness or truth? And my response is always, Need they be mutually exclusive? But sometimes, of course, they are. And sometimes, it is essential that one lie through one's teeth. Case in point is that same Holocaust and the Gentile family that is hiding the Jews in their cellar when the Nazis come a calling...What do they do, tell the truth, Yes, and by the way, we're hiding a couple a dozen Jews in our cellar? Of course not! That is one lie that is blessed in heaven and loved on earth by all who revere truth and kindness. It is more difficult to think of times when Kindness is not called for, but I suppose the 9/11 hijackers needed something other than kindness well before they were ready to pull out their box cutters, since it is clear that kindness would not have stopped them in their "holy" mission. Too many people are allied with justice over mercy, with absolute equality of treatment over kindness; "You get your half; I get mine", rather than, "I have a little already, why don't you take the rest?" Which I find despicable. The rigid 15% tip because it is the Rule, instead of the occasional 30% tip "because waitresses work hard and need the income and I can spare..."

One last word about body and spirit: Christianity has long had a troubled relationship with the body and therefore values chastity whereas Judaism, which places a healthy premium on life and loving and families, is much less troubled by bodily hang-ups. Freud had to be a Jew or the Jews would have had to invent him simply to explain the Christians to them! But I am a product of Christian body-consciousness (and in their troubled relationship with the flesh, they are no less fixated on it) and suffer from all their strictures imposed upon the free use thereof. But schizophrenia has imposed its own limitations as well, so that physical contact feels intrusive and violating of my private space and body, an intimate trespass that threatens me with extinction. No wonder I avoid sex...No wonder I avoid, or want to, the chastest hugs. Even walking is painful to me, in the sense that I feel people thinking about me, watchng me, commenting on me and my arms not swinging naturally. And yet, I don't worry about my spirit or soul overly. I don't feel concerned about what happens when I die or whether "I", some essence of me, will continue or not. I don't think I will.. I think I will be food for worms and bacteria, and that "I" will be no more, that my essence will be nullified at death and it will feel like I am going to sleep forever, a scary prospect right now, but hopefully when the time comes, something I will welcome.

If I speak of soul right now, of essence, I mean only that energy I project from the living me that emanates outward and influences people, places and things. Not anything eternal and lasting forever. My "soul" to me is like a bubble of high energy particles that billows off me and is blown throughout the world to affect things elsewhere, in that fashioin causing effects that make me responsible for all the sorts of events that people tell me I cannot be responsible for. But that is how my soul operates, not in any religious sense.

I realize this hasn't been the most articulate of entries and that I have digressed several times. Sorry about that. And sorry for not writing for three days but I had to take a break to finish putting together my poetry manuscript. Now that I have one, I have to find places to send it, and get copies made and actually send it, which is the hardest part of all!

Posted by pamwagg at October 20, 2006 08:10 PM


Thank you, Paula/ET! I miss your comments too.

Posted by: Cynthia at October 23, 2006 09:34 PM

It may be mundane in the extreme, but I believe that what you ask deserves to be answered. The plural of moose is moose. That is not unique. Many words are the same in the singular and plural. Deer is also the same in each category. Only the context reveals how many there are. Just for you, from ET
I am so sorry I haven't commented on your latest entries. Let me just say that you know that if I could, I would. I can't.
Some day perhaps I will be able to explain. I know that you already know the reason, and that you readily "forgive".

Your dear friend and soulmate, T3

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at October 22, 2006 11:22 PM

Pam, your Forgiveness poem is my favorite of all of your poems that I have read. It's simply lovely.

In the matter of forgiveness, I tend to think that, oftentimes, it is best to operate from the standpoint that one in fact has nothing to forgive. It isn't that we never suffer at the hands of others--we all know that we can indeed suffer terribly--as much as that it isn't necessary to take it PERSONALLY. The people who hurt us are merely bumbling through their lives, burdened with their own pain and density, and we step somehow into their orbits, and WHAM! It's almost like being run over by a moose or something wild: one doesn't feel the need to forgive the creature, really. I know that everyone reading this is now wildly objecting that more responsibility is to be demanded of human beings than of--what IS the plural of moose??--but I think I disagree. People are often as dull and unawakened as cud-chewers, if not more so, and while their faults are unfortunate and cause misery on every hand they don't necessarily beg forgiveness so much as sympathy. I think this outlook is important, and try, sometimes unsucessfully, to stay attuned it.

Thank you again for the glorious poem!

Posted by: Cynthia at October 21, 2006 08:58 PM

Post a comment

Please enter this code to enable your comment -
Remember Me?