The Art of Forgiveness

Profound, sincere, forgiveness – the kind referenced in the good book – has happened to me a couple of times in my life. Forgiveness is a strangely powerful thing and comes in three forms. You can be forgiven by others, forgive someone, and forgive yourself. I have had all three of these experiences in the last few years and I am taking some time to write, reflect, and share.

Growing up, my grandfather, “Papa”, was my favorite person in the world, in many ways, he still is. I am loud, voracious, laugh loud, and can shoot the you know what with anyone I come across. These are all qualities I get from Papa. For as long as I can remember, I have been told stories, shown pictures, and talked with my family about how close he and I have always been because, you see, I was a fresh start for him. He was an alcoholic while his kids grew up and mistreated his wife and family. He stopped drinking right before I was born due to being hospitalized for several months and due to threats from my mother about a lack of presence in my life.

For thirteen years, he was my everything, my dad, my Papa, my best friend. I can remember having conversations with him in his beat up pick up truck. When I was thirteen a lot happened in my family, and Papa started drinking again. I remember overhearing my mom on the phone with her sister that first night when they found him in a bar. I was standing in the kitchen getting myself a bowl of ice cream (moose tracks). I remember her saying, “What the hell am I supposed to tell Ciji?!” in a very frustrated and panicky voice.  I remember the feeling of my heart breaking for the first time. As a teenager, I did not have the mental or emotional tool kit to deal with what was happening around me and what I was feeling.

While I was away at college and graduate school, he had stopped drinking for a time. During this time, I came to a realization that the young man I was currently with and planned to spend my life with was (to oversimplify) not the right one for me. This realization rocked my world and I was hysterical. I called the big guns for backup – my grandma.  Grandma was at bingo. Papa was home but probably had not heard me cry or be upset since I was a little girl.

I wanted nothing to do with him in this highly vulnerable state of heartache. After all, the last time I was that heartbroken, he was involved. He, however, refused to accept this. He stayed on the phone with me. I remember him saying, “Who is this?!” and responding, “Papa, it’s me, I want to talk to grandma.” I sounded all thick and gross and sobbing. I remember him saying, “Christ kid! What happened?!?!” in that old man gruff way he sounds. He stayed on the phone with me for 40 minutes while I cried so hard I turned shades of purple. He talked to me about his ham operating license, about when I was a little girl and was afraid to get in the bathtub, he talked to me about everything and nothing. When I stopped crying, he told me he loved me and that he would tell my grandma I called.

This was my first profound moment of what it meant to forgive someone. For whatever reason, after this conversation, I could no longer feel the hurt associated with so many years of being so close to someone who abused alcohol. I can vividly remember so many of those terrible situations, but I don’t feel the hurt that I used to. I just see things the way they are now and how they have been for the last several years and I feel grateful. This situation taught me the power of forgiveness and most importantly, that I am capable of forgiving others.

It wasn’t until this week that I understood the importance of what it means to forgive myself. Earlier this evening, I was on the phone with my sister, Tara. She has been going through a really hard time. We were talking about her forgiving some people that have hurt her, understanding that she has caused some hurt, and the need to forgive herself. Last night, I had this same conversation with my partner. After a really difficult conversation, I told him that I needed to forgive myself for being too intimidated by a situation to truly be who I am and who I was raised to be, and I needed to forgive him for putting me in difficult situations where I felt this way. I think in the last two days, my partner, my sister, and I have all hit some milestones in our lives. Papa has taught me what it means to forgive someone who hurts you, my partner has taught me what it means to forgive myself, and many people have taught me what it means to be blessed with forgiveness.

Who has forgiven you? Who have you forgiven? Have you told them? Do you need to forgive yourself? If you do, know this, you deserve it.

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