forgiving the unforgivable

Years ago, about seven months after my husband died, I was driving across town on a glorious spring day, top down on my little car. I was thinking of the circumstances of Mike’s illness and death, of the countless instances of extreme neglect and serious errors which led to cardiac arrest, subsequent kidney failure and, ultimately, a resistant, hospital-acquired pneumonia that took his life a month after his sixtieth birthday. I was filled to overflowing with anger and sorrow and guilt. Could I have prevented his death? Did I fail him?

To say that life seemed unfair and unjust is an understatement and I could not get over it. Mike was dead and I was as stuck as I’d ever been in my life, with rage my constant companion. Hatred of the doctors who neglected my husband reached the level of obsession. I couldn’t find a way out of the agony of living in my own skin. I couldn’t control my thoughts and even sleep was a torture, with constant nightmares replaying the horrific night I watched my husband stop breathing, helpless to save him.

As I drove that afternoon, I could feel the warmth of the sunshine and the wind in my hair, seasonal experiences I adore, but they were meaningless. I wanted revenge and punishment for those who’d harmed Mike, and for one particular doctor, the most terrible long-lasting suffering. That this kind of thinking was foreign to me prior to these events increased my distress. I’d become a stranger to myself.

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Seeking distraction, I turned the radio to the local NPR station. The Moth Radio Hour was broadcasting stories of the experiences of ordinary people. A man was speaking about his daughter, about how he and his wife had adopted her as a result of their work in the civil rights movement. As I listened to the words, the story turned tragic. By the time Hector Black’s voice cracked recounting his tale, I was crying so hard I had to pull over. Safely parked, I devoted my full attention to him. I was riveted by the tragedy of his life and then by the aftermath.

And the aftermath, astonishingly, was forgiveness. As he described learning to love the man he felt had destroyed his life forever, I began to experience tingles and then shivers all over my body. As Hector Black described hugging a murderer in prison and extending forgiveness and love, the top of my head opened wide and a dark mistiness swirled out of me. What was it? Suffering? Rage? Unforgiveness? I have no idea, but something real lifted out of my body in a stream, a cloud, and when it was gone, I felt a lightness I’d not experienced in years.

As Hector Black ended his powerful story of forgiveness and love, I realized that all of the hatred which had consumed me was gone. I felt peace for the first time since the devastating night Mike was abandoned in ICU two years before. It was extraordinary. Some things are simply beyond words and this is one of them. I was living in unrelenting emotional pain so intense it was physical, and seventeen minutes later it was gone.

So nice story, right? Lucky me. But why share it when it was purely a gift? Is it possible to create something like this? I know that my transformation that sunny afternoon truly was a gift of grace. I was so deeply mired in a murderous rage (and I mean that literally) and so nonfunctional as a result of PTSD, I was certain that I was irretrievably damaged. I was daily living a looping replay of what happened to Mike in the hospital and I was powerless to stop it. Decent sleep was impossible and during my waking hours, I developed richly detailed fantasies of how I would kill the doctor who ruined our lives. Detailed. The rest of my life was just a haze of rage and weeping and grief. From that disastrous state, I was rescued by a spiritually transformative experience, an STE. But again, so what? I didn’t do anything to make that miracle happen. It’s not replicable for someone else.

A few years after that remarkable experience, I discovered the magic of silence. No music, internet, or television. Only silence, meditation, writing, and BEing for a minimum of 24 hours. It’s never become easy. I still rebel against it at times, but I do it because it changes me and wonders have come from this practice.

In that first summer of silence, I picked up Colin Tipping’s books Radical Forgiveness and Radical Self Forgiveness and, as a result, decided to spend two quiet days working through the process of self forgiveness. I’d been released from the need to forgive others by my STE, but I was left with myself. Radical self forgiveness became my focus.

I’ve always been 1000x harder on myself than on others but we’re all different in our forgiveness needs. And while I’m no stranger to making amends, having worked the 12 steps for over thirty years, there were still bothersome memories that would rise up like smoke, memories of bad behavior, how I had harmed others. And coming fast on the heels of the memories, the old uglies of self judgment, self criticism, and, at times, that most wretched of the self-punishments, self loathing. The word even sounds grotesque and the sound doesn’t even come close to how it feels.

I was 59 years old when I commenced that work. I was ready to end the rehashing of the past, once and for all. I hadn’t a clue how to make that happen, but I longed to be free. My state of being at that point was increasingly aware, filled with love, and coming to know my own divinity. My newly polished little soul was crying out for these splinters of unforgiveness to be gone. And so the book, Radical Self Forgiveness. I spent two days of silence reading it, working it, following every step and recommendation, and finishing with a fire and a release. COMPLETE release. COMPLETE self forgiveness. It was stunning.

Radical forgiveness of self or others is a step by step process of recognizing the Truth about who we are. (And I’ll give you a hint: despite the way this life looks and feels, the separation inherent in living with this human suit, there is no other.) New thought people will have an easier time with Tipping’s books, but anyone can follow the process with an open heart ~ or enough desperation ~ and relief will be the end result.

Why do any of it, this hard work of letting ourselves and others off the hook? For freedom. For joy. For peace and love and true happiness. Because lack of forgiveness leads to judgment, which leads to separation, and that is not how we’re meant to live. It doesn’t feel good, not at the core. Our souls know better.

Every spiritual path stresses the importance of the natural qualities of the soul, the Bible’s “gifts of the spirit,” being one version. Forgiveness is the red carpet to knowing who we really are. Beloved. Cherished. Connected. Never Alone. That’s the true marvel of life, that one, that we are never alone when that’s so often how it feels.

So there are two stories here, one of forgiveness unasked for, a gift of grace, and then there’s a different kind of forgiveness, the result of a major effort and a lot of work, but readily available to all. Both experiences led me to freedom and with that, the deepest, most delicious gratitude. I shared the first for the hope and for Hector, and the second because it can take you there, to peace, to transformation.

I know there are people who sail through life untroubled by their own behavior or that of others, and if that’s you, goddess bless. Carry on. But even if you don’t struggle with forgiveness, maybe you know someone who does. And maybe you can pass it on, that there’s hope. Hector Black’s story is worth listening to just for the beauty of it, the proof that despair can be transmuted to love. But if your eyes ever pop open at 3 AM, the result of a memory which causes you heartache, remember this: forgiveness saves lives and bestows upon the forgiver the gift of a life worth living. It is life-changing and available to all of us, a treasure we can give ourselves.

Here’s Hector on The Moth talking about how it is possible to forgive even the unforgivable and what happens when we do. Love really is the answer. It is. Always.

(And a little magic with this post. On Sunday, I asked my guides what to write about this week and I heard “forgiveness.” Monday a friend sent me a message which said, in part, “Forgiveness is here for you now. Can you partake of it?” I can. I hope you can too.)

I see you, beautiful light

Over the two days my friend Brenda was dying, three times she looked at me with eyes which were not hers. There was something huge in them. It was a vision of the greater Brenda: it was rich and velvety, with a fathomless depth that was riveting. That immense presence, the real Brenda momentarily revealed, was fully aware and alive even as her body was letting go. In her eyes, I could see the truth of what had been living out the Brenda story for the 64 years she experienced this world. I could feel — for an instant — the astonishing love of which she was made.

The first time I saw eyes like that was a week before my husband died. Coming out of a coma in ICU, Mike looked up and over my shoulder as I leaned over his bed in the middle of the night. Sounding very disappointed, he said, “oh honey, the door just closed. And Pat was here. Where did he go?” Mike’s brother Pat had died by suicide at Christmas thirteen years before. Where did Pat go? He went back to his real life, back through that door which briefly connected the two worlds, closing it behind him. “The door just closed.”

It was only a few days later, while still in the hospital, that Mike looked at me over breakfast and matter of factly said, “I’m going to die.” I suspect his brother had given him that news the night of his visit. “Hey bro. You’re coming with us. Not right now, but soon.” Mike never talked about dying, not ever. When he looked at me after this shocking pronouncement, he had those eyes. I saw the being beyond the Mike suit, the vastness of who he really was inside the husband costume he wore in life. Those eyes told me it was true and it broke my heart. Five days later, he was gone.

Christmas of 2012, a few days before my father’s death, I was leaving his room at the nursing home. Cursed with vascular dementia, daddy didn’t recognize me anymore. Yet as I bent over to say goodbye, he clearly said, “just a minute.” Then he turned his head, looked up to the corner of the room, held up his hand and said, “Stop talking! I am saying goodbye to Lynette. Come back in 30 minutes.” When he turned back to me, there it was in his eyes. The luminous presence of love and all-that-is-ness which I’d witnessed in Mike just three months before. I have no doubt he was communing with spirit in that instant. He’d scarcely been lucid for weeks and suddenly he was there, sounding like he always did. For a moment, his soul came to the fore and I really saw him. My sweet, loving father was revealed for the divine being he really was.

I once talked to a 17-year-old mother who had held her hand over her child’s mouth and nose until the two year old ceased to breathe. She then took a shower, dried her hair, applied makeup, and, after once again checking her daughter, ambled slowly to the neighbor’s house where she called 911. “My daughter stopped breathing. Can I get an ambulance?”

Aside from the chilling lack of emotion in this confession, what I remember most about that interview was her eyes. They were flat, impenetrable. The phrase “no one home” is apt. We might say she looked inhuman, but I suspect in that place and time she was aware of only her humanness with not an inkling of her soul’s presence within. Obviously there was a deep disturbance within her human being. It wasn’t the first time she had hurt her child, but this time she’d gone too far.

When my mother vanished just before Christmas in 1969, the FBI, OSBI, and our state newspapers publicized her disappearance using a photo taken a few months before. My sisters and I detested that picture. In it, her eyes looked dead and tortured. There was nothing of our loving, kind, vivacious mother in them. The photo perfectly captured her state of being as it was when she disappeared, though. Deeply depressed and bereft of hope, in that state of human suffering her eyes were those of a stranger. Unrecognizable.

As awakening people we are encouraged to live our lives somewhere in the wide open space between fully human and fully spirit. A good balance in that mix is the goal, though these days I prefer to inhabit the spirit side as much as I can. It feels so delicious, I can’t help it. Who wouldn’t want to live that way? But mostly, we want to experience both. I shout sailor words at a motorist who runs a red light, then my heart swells with love and I rescue an injured animal or extend my hand and my heart to someone who’s hurting. The human experience is exactly this: the endless rhythm of flowing from one state of being to the next, experiencing all of it, our beautiful souls and our beautiful, flawed human selves.

We were pure spirit before we came so we’ve got that down. Our humanness, though, that’s another story. And it’s that experience which drew us back here. Given the vicissitudes of this life, its agonies and traumas, the very idea we’d choose to come here seems ludicrous, but our souls make no distinction among experiences. In spirit terms, it’s all good, the joys as well as the sorrows.

My friend, the talented medium, Sandy Soulsister, gave me a reading when she was just beginning her studies. The connection with my mother was crystal clear and deeply healing. Among many other notable messages — stories for another day — Sandy remarked several times on my mother’s eyes. “They are sparkling, her eyes. They’re so alive. She’s really drawing my attention to them again and again.” And a few minutes later, “she’s bringing me back to her eyes again, there’s something really important there. Do you understand this?”

It was what mediums call a super hit, a bell ringer. At that point Sandy could not have known the trauma of that last image of my mother the three of us carried for over forty years. Like all skilled mediums, Sandy maintained a clear channel, relaying the message without knowing how meaningful and healing it truly was. In spirit, my mother was free of her human state. The eyes she showed us were sparklingly alive, showing the truth of her.

Absent our human facades, our souls shine brightly. My mother, freed of the Audrey story, was once again who she was, a splendid being of love and light. I glimpsed that same awe-inspiring presence in Brenda, in Mike, and in my father. Because there is one energy inhabiting the universe, I know that the 17 year old who murdered her daughter also shines brightly at the soul level. With her humanness turned up full blast, I couldn’t see her in that interview but the fabric of her construction is love, just like every other one of us. Once we slip out of our human suits, who we are can’t be denied. That troubled young woman’s soul is in there, waiting to sparkle, waiting to be revealed in all of its majesty.

We are all that magnificence. Our humanness wants retribution for the dreadful things that happen here. Our souls know that all is well. The guides of my spiritual teacher, Suzanne Giesemann, tell us that no one comes here with the intention of hurting another, and yet it happens. Our challenge is to remember that there is light within each of us, no matter how unlikely that may seem.

Look at the eyes. Shoot, look in a mirror at your own eyes right now. Keep looking. Hold that gaze, hold it … there. Do you see? Inside each of us — inside of me, inside of you — just barely hidden (and at times deeply hidden), there is the magnificence of All That Is. You are that. All of us, every living creature in existence and beyond is that. Me too. And I see you, beautiful light.

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