ContemplAgeing

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Could I Forgive My Relative After What She Did?

One of the responses I received after my March 30th blog posting on the story of Darryl Williams was the following:

Nope, I could not do it. Darryl Williams and Shirley Simmons are unbelievable examples of forgiveness, compassion, and unconditional love for their fellow human [beings], in the wake of a senseless, inhumane, cruel and ignorant act of terrorism. The fact that it was a racist act just makes me angrier. To think that I lived amongst people who can think that way and act on it makes my skin crawl. Darryl and Shirley have both reached that level of Nirvana that seems to be unattainable for me. I will strive until my last breath to get to where they are.

I suspect many of us, including myself, who read the story of Darryl and Shirley’s lives feel similarly.  It is hard to believe that anyone can live through such an experience, come out the other side, and, as the writer said, maintain such a sense of forgiveness, compassion, and unconditional love for their fellow human [beings].

In the face of such an event I am not sure I could do it, and we may be left with the writer’s sense of situation: Darryl and Shirley have both reached that level of Nirvana that seems to be unattainable for me.  Some, but probably not most of us would add as the writer did: I will strive until my last breath to get to where they are.  This is a hopeful indication of a realizable possibility that exists for all of us.  How can we become more forgiving?

On a less epic scale how can we overcome what an Irish acquaintance of mine calls “Irish dementia,” that is, forgetting everything but the grudges.  Once again my father is a powerful example as he was an exemplar of living gratefully and overcoming “German dementia” in a family that was often laden with grudges and unforgiveness.  You know the kind of grudges, the kind that can exist between relatives who have not spoken to one another for twenty years of more and who cannot remember what led to the cutoff in the first place.

Not too long ago I had to confront such a situation of unforgiveness in myself.

My father died over twenty-five years ago, and there was much unresolved grief within the extended family after his death, especially in his younger sister, my aunt and Godmother.  The following incident occurred and was reported to me by my sister.

One day my aunt was visiting her older sister who lived on the second floor of our two-family home.  At one point during her visit my aunt went downstairs and walked into my mother’s room on the first floor.  My mother, a bilateral leg amputee, the consequence of various medical problems and complications, was lying in her bed.   

My aunt stood over her and said: “You deserve everything you’ve gotten.  You’re the reason your husband is dead.”  My sister reported that my mother was terrified and unsure what my aunt would do.  Shortly thereafter, my aunt left the room and that was the last contact my mother and she ever had.  Several years late my mother died.

When my sister told me this story fury emerged in me, and I had a variety of graphic images and vengeful responses to her outrageous behavior.  I am sure you could have joined me in imagining various feelings, thoughts and actions that would have been part of your response to such a person.

Let yourself imagine what you would have done as I did.  Reconnect with such situations in your own life and family and consider how you felt, what you thought, and how you reacted.  I will fill you in on the details of my response(s) in another blog posting.  Before I do that, in my next several postings, I will give you something that may help you as much as it helped me to get to where people like Darryl Williams are able to arrive.

Posted in agingForgivenessspiritualityUncategorized on 25 April 2010
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