“I’ve been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness”
Don Henley – “Heart Of The Matter “
Borrowing a bit from one of my favorite Don Henley songs, and taking it out of context (as inspirational quotes frequently are), because this month’s #1000Speak post is focused on forgiveness, and I’ve delayed and stalled long enough. I sort of had something in mind, I’ve written a bit about the subject previously and wanted to expand upon that piece with more post-holiday season focus on self-forgiveness – and it it really shouldn’t be that hard. But, well… sometimes I just think I may have adult ADD. Most times I realize that one of my less endearing qualities is that I am a poor planner and put things off until the last minute. The sad truth is that I never developed better habits because I usually pull off this last-minute seat-of-my-pants thing. And at this particular stage of my life, I’m okay with that. And that, of course, leads me right into my topic.
Okay, so I’ve managed smoother segues, too, but we got here after all.
When one has been wrong by someone else, forgiveness on the part of the wronged party is relatively easy to discuss (harder to apply). Forgiveness is actually about ‘me’, not about ‘you’. Forgetting is not possible, and is not necessary for forgiveness. Forgiving someone is letting go of the pain that they caused, and moving forward from there. It doesn’t mean trust has been restored. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a marriage can be saved, or a friendship recovered. But sometimes it does. Confusion over this point, I think, makes it harder for us to forgive – we don’t understand how to forgive because we think it means that everything can return to what it was. And we think that, somehow, we should be able to make that happen. And we think that we want things to be as they were. But what was is gone – and maybe wasn’t all that perfect to begin with. And part of what we have to do when letting go of the pain is decide what the new normal is. And no one on the outside can tell us what that choice should be – only we know what we need, and what makes sense for us. And we need to trust ourselves enough to make that call.
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
But what happens when we are the ones that we feel have failed? We humans often expect an awful lot from ourselves. Women, I think, are socially conditioned to expect more. Those of us post-feminist boomers perhaps even more. There was a theory, not a very sound one, that we could have it all, a career, a family, time with friends – and even if you wisely realized that you probably couldn’t have it all at the same time, you probably believed that you could be a truly dedicated parent and that your kids would be perfect, you could handle bake sales, scout troops, PTA meetings with grace. Kids with differing schedules, in different schools, with different interests, never crossed your mind until it was too late. I’m guessing here based on friends’ experiences. Me – I kept right on working because I have nary a trace of domesticity, and assumed that, ultimately, my daughters would be much better off because I kept on working. But in any of those scenarios, we do fail to be perfect primarily because our expectations were based on fairy tales – not on the hard reality of life with children, life with a career, or life in general.
We all prioritize the things in our lives. Sadly, we often make the mistake of prioritizing ourselves last. Our children come first, and everything else – marriage and health, included – fall somewhere after that. In tough economic times we may even need to place work ahead of children – without money, our problems grow. And taking work out of the equation does not help. It actually can magnify the problem of unrealistic expectations because then we think that we can do even more with all of that “free” time, while folks like me can at least blame work for not doing stuff. But then there’s the ‘if I really cared then I’d find a way to do it’ voice in our heads.
In fact, there seems to be some misfiring neurons in our brains (an overactive sense of self) that causes nearly all of us to feel inadequate a surprisingly large amount of the time. To deal with that we have to be able to not just prioritize, but also recognize that it isn’t ‘making excuses’ when life gets in the way of our well-laid plans. And that sometimes it’s okay to just take break and walk away from the noncritical things. Does it, cosmically speaking, matter?
I ask myself that a lot. I also raised my daughters with the sage advice to ‘not sweat the small stuff’ (but no, it isn’t really all small stuff, either). And after riding out quite a few corporate staff reductions, I also learned that there is no value in obsessing over things that are outside my control. But within my sphere of control, I do still sometimes catch myself beating myself up over relatively small things. My opening paragraph is a live demonstration. The reality is that I have a relatively demanding full-time job, a teenager still in school, a spouse that is currently spending much-needed time with his nonagenarian parents, a dog, minor health issues, and a writing hobby that includes this blog. I failed to find the psychic energy, when I had the time, to get this post finished in time to make the link-up. I admit that I stressed myself about it earlier in the week, until I reminded myself that the only person I was letting down was me (& perhaps my most devoted readers). Once I got my perspective back, and perspective is a big part of forgiving ourselves for not being perfect, I realized that the best thing to do was just wait until the weekend to finish it up. And then, on Saturday, it snowed…
“We can never obtain peace with the outer world until we make peace with ourselves”
— Dalai Lama