All Souls, Forgiven

All Souls, Forgiven

So it’s that time: All Souls Day, Dia de los Muertos, Samhain.

These holidays, celebrated during  the time of year when the veil between the living and the dead is at it’s thinnest, call us to remember our ancestors.

Which is why, when it came time to write this week’s post, I was all set to talk about my mom, who passed away just over a year ago.

If you’ve read any of my past posts like this, you know a little about her, but I thought it would shake things up a bit if I tell a nice story about my mother, for a change.

True, it would take some digging, but I was determined.

Until, that is, I sat in front of my computer and thought, why would anyone care about that??  

A story about how my mother once cooked a nice leg of lamb won’t mean anything to anyone. It’s self indulgent and uninteresting.

Also, it’s not even true.

Blogging is dumb, I decided.

So,  I quit.

Just like that.

(It is worth noting that I quit blogging exactly two and a half times a week, and don’t really think it’s dumb, except sometimes. )

All of this brings me to Sunday night, when my sons and I were hanging out, eating the homemade chicken soup I had so lovingly prepared, and discussing something that had happened between my 13 year old and one of his friends.

(Those of you who are parents will know that, in recounting a conversation about my son’s friends, I am skating on very thin ice. It is for this reason that I will scramble all details, rendering the whole thing completely mysterious. If you think I’m being paranoid, check out this cautionary tale.)

So anyway…

My son mentioned that a friend (we’ll call him Chauncey) had an issue with a girl we know. According to my son, Chauncey finds this girl “spacey.” I, being an astute observer of human behavior (and also clueless in the workings of the adolescent mind) said, “Well, Chauncey is a little spacey, himself, so he shouldn’t talk.”

“No he’s not,” 13 said, his spoon frozen in mid-air.

(I know what you’re thinking. This is where I should have stopped talking. Who the fuck cares what Chauncey thinks?? Certainly not me, and yet…)

“Yes he is,” I said.

“Name one time he has acted spacey,” he countered, in full defense mode, like only a 13 year old can.

Looking back, I am warmed by his loyalty, by his willingness to have his friend’s back, even in the face of his own mother, who’s approval he still grudgingly,

almost imperceptibly,

but still most definitely, craves.

The rest of the conversation went pretty much like this: me giving lots of amusing examples of Chauncey’s spaciness. I was careful to keep it light, peppering the list with other observations, like how smart Chauncey is, and funny, and kind to animals.

“I love Chauncey!” I assured 13, who had already dumped his bowl of hot soup and was busy making cinnamon toast (a passive aggressive move that wasn’t lost on me), with tears in his eyes.

God.

The whole night went south from there, with 13 giving me the silent treatment, leaving me to wonder why in the world I feel it necessary to share my opinion on every little thing to anyone who will listen, or, in this case, anyone who has no choice but to hear it.

I let a little time pass, then delivered a sincere apology.

This wasn’t the “I’m sorry if I said something that bothered you” kind of apology, but the three part real deal apology.

He deserved it.

I had, for no good reason, criticized a friend of his. It  wasn’t kind, it wasn’t necessary and, as far as he was concerned, it wasn’t true.

Like the good and compassionate egg he is, he accepted my apology.

So why didn’t I feel better?

The maternal anxiety I was feeling was clearly out of proportion to the pretty minor screw-up. What was my deal?

It wasn’t that my son was mad at me, puh-leez. Happens all the time.

Only later, in bed, as I stared into the dark and hoped for sleep, that I realized what was gnawing at me: the whole thing, the petty observations, the criticism disguised as humor, the taking down of someone smaller and weaker—

all of it was straight out of my mother’s playbook.

Shit.

Thus commenced a longish stretch of self-loathing, which brought me to my kitchen table at around midnight, pen in hand, to hash it out on paper.

The veil felt thin alright. In fact, I had the unsettling sensation of my mother sitting right beside to me. 

Maybe even a little bit inside me.

I hated the idea of being like her in any way. Because I saw her as wholly awful in the mother department, I wanted her as far away from me as possible.

I remembered her falling asleep with her cigarette burning, spending the scarce money on Jack and stealing from my ballerina jewelry box. I would never, I thought, and opened my journal.

Unforgivable. 

I began to write.

But, weirdly enough, what ended up on the page, was this:

Yes, She Did That. But She Also Did This

She taught me to eat a balanced diet

She taught me that making art was worthwhile

She didn’t obsess about her looks or her body and that rubbed off on me

She was funny, and I learned that laughter is a survival skill

When I was eleven and chipped my front tooth, she didn’t let the dentist give me a silver cap, even though it would have been cheaper.

I put down my pen and looked at what I’d written.

Not bad, Mama, I thought.

I didn’t plan to post a blog about it. The list was long overdue, and it was just for me.

But then I noticed something had lifted.

I could see, or was finally letting myself see, in the dim light of the midnight kitchen, that I couldn’t help but occasionally sound like my mother. By the time I was thirteen (ah, 13), she had gone, but, like the sculptures she made of me as a child, I was covered in her fingerprints.

The only way to live with that, to forgive myself when I occasionally sounded a bit too much like her, was to raise the veil and take a long slow look at the truth, even if it complicates the story.

Even if it means I have to give in a little.

Like a lot of us, she was just an imperfect woman, raised by an imperfect woman.

And we are all forgiven.

 

Holding On To My Grudge

Unknown-2

For the past three years, I’ve been holding a grudge. I have tried to rid myself of it, I really have.
I went for the straightforward approach first. You know, the grown-up schtick, where I talked directly to the person, suggesting we just forget “The Thing” happened and move on. It did not go well, I think because this method of conflict resolution requires not only that I forget the unforgettable, but that the other person admits that “The Thing” actually happened at all, which I think is the first, and most important step to forgetting “The Thing.”

(Stay with me, people.)

I went to plan B.

“Kill them with kindness,” was what a good friend told me to do, and though I’m sure that works for some people, when I am in full on grudge holding mode, it’s just not a realistic approach.

(Let me just say that it’s super tempting to tell you “The Thing” right now, because there’s nothing a grudge holder (me) loves more than nice people(you) saying they are right. I want to share the whole story so your jaw can drop and you can tell me that it’s totally ok that I can’t forget “The Thing”, who could, after all? So hungry is my grudge for validation, that I am actually walking away from my computer right now, so that I don’t go there.)

Ok, I’m back.

That was close.

As time passed, and my grudge still nagged at me, I decided to do a little research. Tich Naht Han wrote a whole book on anger. In it, he suggests we “take care of” our anger:

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying.
Your anger is your baby. The baby needs his mother
to embrace him. You are the mother.
Embrace your baby.”

 

The idea of embracing my feisty little anger-baby, stroking it and singing it Beatle’s songs, sounded like a nice change, but also kind of creeped me out, though I can’t exactly say why.Unknown-1

I decided to give it my own spin and, with props to Tich Naht Han for the inspiration, came up with this mini-meditation hack for when you can’t let go of being pissed. (It’s similar to another one I wrote about here, for when I’m anxious. Good times!) Feel free to play along:

First, I close my eyes and imagine my grudge. Not the person I’m holding it against, but the actual anger, the whole fiery, dangerous, white hot thing. My grudge is roughly the size of my son’s Nerf basketball, or one of those mini-watermelons that seem like a good idea, but are totally not worth the money. Anyhooo…

I hold it in my hands and see that it is beautiful,

orange and red and yellow.

I feel its warmth.

I don’t try to cool it down or make it smaller.

I don’t try to make it be nice.

I take care of it.

Holding it in my hands reminds me that it isn’t part of me, it’s a thing I am holding:

Anger.

Grudge.

I could choose to put it down, if I wanted to. But for now, I don’t.

I am a beginner person.images

(If you are doing this meditation and decide to put your grudge down, you are doing way better at life than me. Please leave your tips and suggestions in the comments section, following this post. Thank you.)

So, that’s pretty much it. After that meditation, a few deep breaths, and a piece of cheese, I feel so much better. It gives me a bit of relief from that feeling that my grudge is controlling me.

And reminds me that I could, if I wanted, put it down.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, it’s looking like I might have to spend some time this summer, in a small group setting, with the person against whom I am holding my grudge.

giphy

I know.

Some friends have said that this is The Universe offering an opportunity for forgiveness and healing. To them, I say, with great affection, “bitch, please.”

(Ok, I don’t actually say that.)

What I actually say is that maybe they are right, but in that case The Universe is going to be sorely disappointed because I don’t know how to forgive this person. Like reading the Qur’an, or toning my upper arms, if it was that easy, I would have done it by now.

So here’s my plan: I’m going to take my grudge along with me this summer. I’m going to wrap it safely in its own cozy little beach towel and let it ride shotgun with me, heading North on the 101 freeway.

Because grudges are needy, it will need lots of help applying sunscreen and want the crusts  cut off it’s sandwiches. It will demand the radio be tuned to it’s favorite station,

AM talk radio, of course.

I’ll give it all these things because, even though this grudge weighs me down, and has hijacked a tiny corner of my brain, when I have exactly no corners to spare, it also means well. It doesn’t want me to feel the pain of “The Thing” that happened, so instead,

it makes me feel

right.

It’s possible that eventually my grudge’s needs will get to be too much, and it just won’t be worth it anymore. One day, when it doesn’t feel so goddamn important to be so very-all-the-time right, I might decide to pull over and leave it on the side of the road.

I’ll give it a juice box and wave good-bye, watching it in my rear view mirror, red hot, beautiful, and smiling.

I’ll wish it well.

And I’ll head to the beach,

just in time for the sunset.

images-2

 

PS–Even with my handy meditation, I do still have a few questions, which I’ve listed below. If you have answers, please advise.

1) Is it my responsibility, as a grown-up, to forgive this person?

2) If I don’t forgive this person, will The Universe keep making me run into them at Trader Joe’s? 

3) Why is The Universe such an asshole sometimes?

4) Do you have a grudge success story? Share it here!