Best Not to Start With the Gestapo

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately, not for a noble reason such as the New Year and trying to better myself, but because, like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, I’m stuck in this compulsive habit of keeping a little psychic notebook of “offenses against Leslie Srajek,” and it gets longer and longer each day.  And I’m not talking about the girl at Panda Express who charges you for “free refills,” or even the bank clerk who–oops!–deposits your paycheck into the wrong account.  Also, this is not to say that I have not made my share of mistakes, because I SO have.

But some people have treated me not so well lately.  If we were in daycare together, they would need to be in time out for the whole day.  Maybe the whole week, with no chocolate Cherrios for snack.  However, like the old blues song says (and what the laws of discretion and good taste dictate), the details of all that “‘t’aint nobody’s business but my own.”  What does matter to all of us, however, is forgiveness.  

Forgiveness mostly sucks, because being angry is SO much easier and less vulnerable.  And if you are a drama queen like me, you enjoy clinging on to your own morsel of pain until the whole world sees how wounded and derserving of love and sympathy and healing and worship you are and …Okay, stop that.  In the end, it’s like Anne Lamott says: not forgiving someone is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.  Also, Annie Lamott has a chapter in Traveling Mercies about forgiveness in which she quotes C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity as saying, “If we really want to learn to how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.”  

Repulsive, right? You don't want this to be you.

  

So she’s talking about starting with the easier things first, and in her chapter on forgiveness she talks about starting off with an “Enemy Lite,” someone who bothers her quite a bit, but doesn’t ruin her life, like George Bush.  

I have a similar woman in my office who has treated me not so well for, say…5 years, give or take.  Technically, my job “status” is higher than hers, but paradoxically more ambiguous, because she is a civil servant and will either retire at 50 or be carted out on her deathbed (i.e she will never, ever, ever get fired, and receive health benefits until she is 127).  My point is that in terms of who has more real “power,” it’s her.  The “superficial” power belongs to me, but means less than nothing.  

At the end of last year, things came to a head, and I couldn’t avoid talking with her.  Luckily, she has a truly wonderful and gifted supervisor who chatted with me first about the issues, and this helped me to see things I never would have seen otherwise.  For example, I realized that there was a big similarity between us, despite the radical differences in our positions: she felt insecure because she wasn’t a dean or a professor, and I felt insecure that I wasn’t an engineer, and was always one step below everyone else.  Despite being given a lot of responsibility, I would never have the technical experience others around me had.   

I looked like I had everything to her, but that’s not how I felt at all, but perhaps she saw me that way.  So I started our conversation by saying that I often felt confused and insecure, compared to all the other deans and professors who had way more experience than me, and that I really needed her help to be successful.  In her area, she was the expert, and I needed her knowledge to do a good job for our students.  One of the best aspects of my office is that we all care about students’ welfare.  When I said this to her, it was like our entire 5 year relationship changed in that moment.  She offered me any help that I would ever need, and we looked at each other, for at least a few moments, with respect and appreciation.  And it’s lasted.  I forgave her the pettiness she spread about me throughout the office, and she forgave me the superiority game she thought I was playing with her.  

This was a small, unpleasant experience, but it turned out well.  It’s nothing compared to the other feelings of betrayal and hurt that have happened to me lately, and that, ultimately, have made my life incredibly painful.  But it’s given me the invaluable glimpse into the momentary awareness that we’re all just broken people, with our own pain, our own fears, and our own very deep need to be loved.  As my mom has said to me repeatedly in the last few weeks, “You never go wrong taking the high road.”

And really, my unpleasant experiences don’t make me different from anyone else.  Maybe they make me more like everyone else.  The question is: What are you supposed to do when you need forgiveness, deserve forgiveness, and want it all so desperately that the pain that surrounds you feels like treading step after step on ice that cracks behind you with each movement?  

I have no idea.  But luckily, Anne Lamott does.  She writes, “One Sunday when I was struggling with this, the Scripture reading came from the sixth chapter of Luke: ‘Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.’  Now, try as I might, I cannot find the loophole in that.  It does not say, ‘Forgive everyone unless they’ve said something rude about your child.’  And it doesn’t even say, ‘Just try.’  It says, If you want to be forgiven, if you want to experience that kind of love, you have to forgive everyone in your life–everyone, even the very worst boyfriend you ever had–even, for God’s sake, yourself” (Lamott, TM, 134).     

Okay, so I don’t like this because it doesn’t come with any guarantees, and it certainly doesn’t protect you from being crapped on again by the people who’ve hurt you.  But nothing does.  And as Father Tim says in one of Jan Karon’s famous Mitford novels, it doesn’t matter what happened in the circumstances before, “because God is with you in the circumstances now.”  

In other words, get ready for a leap of faith.  And really, Anne Lamott knows what she’s talking about.

Those of us, or perhaps just some of us, who have been in long-term relationships know that it’s the people we love whom we put through hell.  Why?  Because we can.  I do know that lifetime relationships (and this includes partners, spouses, those family members, immediate, inherited, or whatever) aren’t fairy tales, not by a long shot.  And it’s bullshit when we are fooled into believing that they are.  But what exactly are they?  I don’t know that either, except to know, when we are very lucky, they are something worth fighting for.  And if I am going to fight for anything, it’s going to be for love.  Because that’s what I believe we’re here for: to love one another and to figure out what that actually means…”In good times and bad, in sickness and health, for better or for worse,” etc.  

Does anyone who, like me, gets married in the perfect dress with the perfect reception planned, have the vaguest idea what that means, what lies ahead?  Sweet Jesus in Heaven, I don’t think so.  If they did they should probably run like the wind out of that church and enter the witness protection program.  Take a look at Time magazine’s recent article about whether marriage was even important anymore.  But just in case those people do stand there and make promises thay have no idea how to keep, they must have a lot of courage and faith on their side.  And God, please be there with us when we learn what it means, when we learn that there is so much more crap and fear than romance and desire with the someone who makes us feel so good about ourselves on the other side of that aisle.  God be with us when we need the faith to believe that there is something far beyond our understanding that is out there for us, and please God, give us the faith and strength and perseverance to go for it, to stick it out.  

Here’s Carrie Newcomer’s answer to what’s worth making the effort for.  And I believe it takes 100%.  Actually more like 150%, or maybe even more if you’ve got it.  You can listen to this song at carrienewcomer.com (“Something Worth Fighting For” or just go ahead and read it here (but she has a killer voice, and even though her web site takes a while to load, it’s worth the wait:  

Something Worth Fighting For  

There’s stormy seas this side of heaven
No guarantees of reaching shore
Well I’m not perfect and you’re no better
But this is something worth fighting for
We got something worth fighting for
It’s not enough these hearts and flowers
You build your home on something more
When life gets tough then
Love must be tougher
This is something worth fighting for
We got something worth fighting for
For everything I ever wanted
And I never wanted less
Than a lifelong true companion
And a love that can always stand the test
We can be strong
Come hell or thunder
Mightier than the sword
This time we’re on the side of the angels
Cause this is something worth fighting for
We got something worth fighting for
This is something worth fighting for
Worth fighting for 

Carrie Newcomer, “Something Worth Fighting For,” My True Name

5 Comments

Filed under anxiety, hope, poetry, spirituality

5 responses to “Best Not to Start With the Gestapo

  1. Loved reading your article. I just wrote an article the other day on forgiveness.Keep up the good work

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  2. Sharon

    Hi Leslie, I haven’t written for a time but appreciate what you are doing and how you are going about it. You are a lovely, honest, real thing person! Thank you for your writing and reflections – and great illustrations/photos.

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  3. “Does anyone who, like me, gets married in the perfect dress with the perfect reception planned, have the vaguest idea what that means, what lies ahead?”
    Too many people are in love with the idea of being in love. Relationships take time, effort, and understanding … especially in times of hurt. Unfortunately, that also means realizing that we and the people who we are in relationships with are human … damn!
    Keep on truckin’, sister!

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  4. Marilyn

    I loved this post and wanted to share my initial thoughts!
    It is not easy to forgive but it is sometimes much harder to forget!
    Relationships based on love are hopefully where married couples begin the journey. When the relationships are not based on love that journey becomes more like an endless road to nowhere. We all need love and I think that the whole idea of marriage should be encouraged! The committment of marriage is the cement that makes us want to stay on the journey and not get stuck on that never ending highway!
    Love and Forgiveness………. The fuel that keeps us going

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  5. Colleen Crowley

    This was really helpful for me. I know the topic is forgiveness. I like every quote from Anne Lamott. But I am also pondering the whole romance thing and the awful moment when we come out of the pink cloud and realize the minor god we make our lover to be is a mere mortal. I think that I am doing well this time around because I went out on a date with a man to just go out on a date. My best friend made me do it. I could not imagine being with anyone but my deceased husband (as infuriating as he could be at times in sickness or in health) I thought from the first that the man I am with now was wackier than Woody Allen and I projected nothing on him nor expected nothing but a nice evening out- which turned into another nice evening out, and a day out until one day I was surprised by a romantic love for him. Oh, if only we could treat our life’s partners with the greater tolerance of friendship first. Or perhaps that first great love break us in …
    I do not know but just pondering. Thanks for your beautiful insights, again and again, Leslie

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