Friday, May 20, 2011
This is not an entry about me per se. It is about those people around me or who are achingly absent from me. Today on Story Corps on NPR I heard about this man who killed another when he was a teenager. While in prison, the mother of the slain boy came to see him. They forged a relationship. On a visit to see him, the mother hugged the young man when she said goodbye, and at the moment realized that she had forgiven him. Now that he is out of prison, they live next door to each other. They are in a relationship like a mother and a son. They give each other relationships that are otherwise absent from them. The key ingredient that made it possible is forgiveness.
I don’t know how it happens. I don’t know what internal transaction takes place that makes manifest the act of saying, “I forgive you.” I don’t know. It is something, depending on your spiritual inclinations, in the line of miracle, magic, divine gift or something else that I haven’t thought of but probably you have. It’s not for me to say what spiritual ingredients make up your life. I am still trying to figure out the spiritual ingredients of my own life.
I remember sitting in our basement as a child, taking the red clay from the earthen floor and making bowls with it. They looked much like hollowed out dormant volcanoes. I remember taking chunks of white dirt clods harvested from another area of the basement and pounding them into powder to decorate my volcano bowl with white lines and zigzags and squiggles. I remember wanting it so desperately to mean something. I remember wanting to be met with some sort of approval for my industry. I don’t remember getting it to my satisfaction. Whether I did or didn’t, I don’t know. I just remember feeling pride in what I had made followed by an emptiness made from fruitless effort. Sometimes, I feel that feeling still. It was a good activity for a rainy day and no cable or satellite TV. I remember imagining someone from a long lost tribe occupying that very spot doing that very same thing (I ascertained that the red clay deposits of our mountain would have made excellent ceramics). I imagined some long ago kindred spirit admiring and even copying my work. In those moments I felt a timeless connection to someone that in moments of time that ticked away the seconds into minutes was filled with a loneliness I could never shake. Tapping into some imaginary past or otherworld gave me relief because I could connect where I rarely felt connection in my waking world. Coming out tapped me into the world. Sometimes I feel awake for the first time. All of me is here.
Like I said this isn’t so much about me (well, as far as it cannot be about me because if this is experiential writing, by definition, it has to be about me). Now that I am awake (more than I am not), I see the relationships that I have. I see the ones I have lost. I see the need to forgive and the need for forgiveness. I cannot grieve so much for what I have lost because I have gained me. Costly treasure requires a certain amount of sacrifice. I feel a loss of some older friends. Once I taught a Sunday school class, and I was the youngest member of the group by approximately 25 years. I remember the genuine sadness some of the members had for homosexuals who could (or wouldn’t) be re-educated or reoriented or whatever that misguided endeavor was called. They truly believed you could choose. I guess they never had to choose. It never occurred to me to choose either. Of course for me the choice was to be me or to be something else. I decided to be me. Maybe that part is a choice to choose to live the truth or to live a convenient lie. On second thought, that’s not much of a choice. That’s more of a condemnation – to live the lie that is. I have not discussed coming out with any of these people, so I can only speculate their reaction. I have not been invited to a coming out celebration either. You can draw your own conclusion. I miss those older friends, but am smart enough to know that some doors cannot be shut once they have been opened.
I have observed that the closer you look at something, the harder it is to make a judgment. The harder it is to condemn. A friend of mine, whom I hurt very deeply, forgave me. I asked. She granted. For her, that internal transaction took place. She could forgive. Now, our friendship is stronger. I was in need of that forgiveness and she gave it and now my love for her is deeper than it was before. I think Jesus had something to say about that. The woman who washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair I think that is the story I am remembering… (You are smart … you can look it up). When someone forgives you after you have hurt them, that is a truly precious gift. It’s that kind of love that truly brings you closer to the heart of God.
It is ironic that the moment I stopped letting other’s define who I am is also the moment I accepted a different definition of who I am from someone who was my “Jesus with skin on” as I have heard some people say. With my first transgression in discovering my true self, an acquaintance whom I hurt very deeply, forgave me. She didn’t care that I am gay. She didn’t care that I am bi-polar. She didn’t care that I am a recovering alcoholic. She cared that I asked for forgiveness. I didn’t put up a defensive wall and tell myself I had a right or I didn’t need another friend anyway. I didn’t turn away and ignore what I had done. I asked for forgiveness. Somewhere in herself, she saw the importance of granting it. From that act of forgiveness, I saw myself as still having value still being under the shadow of God’s grace. Now I have a real friend in this person. I am a real friend to that person.
We are not the woman and the murderer. We are not Jesus and the weeping woman. We are who we are, and like the others have the very real change in our lives that forgiveness brings. Thanks for reading.