Tag Archives: forgiveness

“Instead remember the fruits we have bought because of this suffering”

There will surely be a surge in praying today, even among those like me who aren’t quite sure whether what we’re doing could be considered as prayer. Here’s a prayer you might not have come across before that seems worth highlighting on this day in particular. PW is reading a slightly altered version of it in the interfaith “Back Bay 9/11 Commemoration: From Remembrance to Hope” service later this morning. This was found in the clothing of a child who was killed at the Ravensbrük concentration camp:

O Lord,
Remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Instead remember the fruits we have bought because of this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which have become part of our lives because of our suffering here. When our persecutors come to judgement, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Forgiveness – by Patty Griffin,
published in 1996

We are swimming with the snakes at the bottom of the well
So silent and peaceful in the darkness where we fell
But we are not snakes and what’s more we never will be
And if we stay swimming here forever we will never be free
I heard them ringing the bells in heaven and hell
They got a secret they’re getting ready to tell
It’s falling from the skies
It’s calling from the graves
Open your eyes boy, I think we are saved
Open your eyes boy, I think we are saved
Let’s take a walk on the bridge right over this mess
Don’t need to tell me a thing baby, we already confessed
And I raised my voice to the air
And we were blessed
It’s hard to give
It’s hard to get
But everybody needs a little forgiveness
We are calling for help tonight on a thin phone line
As usual we’re having ourselves one hell of a time
And the planes keep flying over our heads
No matter how loud we shout
Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey
And we keep wavin and wavin our arms in the air but we’re all tired out
I heard somebody say today’s the day
Big old hurricane she’s blowing our way
Knockin over the buildings
Killing all the lights
Open your eyes boy, we made it through the night
Open your eyes boy, we made it though the night
Let’s take a walk on the bridge right over this mess
Don’t need to tell me a thing baby, we already confessed
And I raise my voice to the air
And we were blessed
It’s hard to give
It’s hard to get
It’s hard to give
But still I think it’s the best bet
Hard to give
Never gonna forget
But everybody needs a little forgiveness
Everybody needs a little forgiveness

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Change Management

That bright, clear, perfect late-summer morning, I was one of 15 people sitting around a conference room table. Several of our colleagues from other offices were dialed into the meeting, too.

Change Management. Every Tuesday morning. 9-10 am.

warning change ahead

Look out!

Months earlier, a corporate auditor was attempting to impress upon our departmental manager the vital importance of Change Management. The manager sneered, “Change Management?!? I don’t give a FAT. RAT’S. ASS. about Change Management.” That statement, and the attitude, hung over our weekly Change Management meetings like both a millstone and a team flag.

One of the guys who attended these meetings by phone was named Tom. He called in from Poughkeepsie. He was always a no bullshit kind of guy, calling things as he saw them, regardless of the political fallout. He was one of those truth-tellers who could be searingly funny one moment and witheringly dismissive the next. In nearly 10 years of working at the company, I never met Tom. But I still hear his voice from that morning.

Our meeting that day started with the usual banter. We had been meeting weekly for about six months, so we knew each other pretty well. We talked about baseball and football as we waited for everyone to check in. Tom was a die-hard Yankee fan, so he was teasing the Cambridge-based team about how much the Red Sox sucked. Just as the chair of the meeting started to go over the agenda, Tom blurted, “Holy shit. Somebody just said that a plane flew into one of the World TradeTowers. What the fuck?”

We all looked at each other. Someone asked, “What kind of plane?” Tom said, “How the hell do I know? Probably some idiot small plane. Had to be an idiot if he can’t figure out how to avoid the tallest building in the world.”

We continued to move through the Change Requests (CRs). Tom broke in again. “Now it’s two planes! Two fucking planes have hit the towers! What the fuck?!”

Those of us around the table in Cambridge all looked at each other, bewildered. After a long pause, we continued our routine of slogging through the 20 or so CRs, with Tom’s silence now heavy in the room. Usually, Tom had something to say about every single CR, often describing them with words such as, “Bullshit.” “Stupid.” “Pointless.” But he had “gone on mute,” as we called it.

Minutes later, someone in Tom’s office had hooked up a TV, and Tom was seeing the now iconic images of the twin towers engulfed in smoke and flames. He broke in, “Shit, people, we gotta end this call. You all need to find televisions. You’re not gonna believe this. What the FU–” He hung up.

Our office was across from a shopping mall. Only the CVS and the Starbucks were open, and neither had televisions. The other stores didn’t open until 10. People from our building streamed into the mall anyway, running around frantically looking for televisions. One of the restaurants always kept its three TVs on different stations, even when it wasn’t open. A crowd gathered outside this restaurant. We stood there watching, trying to make sense of it all. We couldn’t hear the audio, so all we had were the images. Gradually, people wandered off. I stood there, alone, riveted, consumed with confusion, with Tom’s “What the FUCK?!” still echoing in my ears.

When the South Tower collapsed, I blurted, “Holy SHIT!” When the North Tower came down, I ran out of the mall and across the street to our offices. My boss had already sent around an email telling us to go home if we wanted. I grabbed my bag and left.

The drive along the Charles River was surreal and slow. Dreamlike. It seemed crazy to have such a picture perfect day in Boston, while chaos and terror were choking the skies and streets in New York. I called PW and told her I had been sent home. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. Minutes later I called my parents. My dad answered. All I remember about that conversation is that we were both crying.

I drove to GForce’s school. Lots of other parents were milling about outside. The office had posted a note on the door saying that if parents wanted to pick up their kids, they should proceed to the classrooms and talk with the teachers. I wasn’t worried about GForce’s safety. I just wanted to be the first one to talk with her about what was going on.

As I approached the classroom, the sound of Louis Armstrong’s voice singing, “What a Wonderful World” lilted into my ears. The floodgates opened again. With tears running down my face, I asked the kindergarten teacher if I could take GForce home. She patted me on the arm and said, “Of course you can, honey. I haven’t told them anything. We’ve just been listening to music together.”

In the car, GForce had all the usual questions, coupled with the age-appropriate attention span of a honeybee in a field of wild flowers. “What happened to the buildings, Mom? What’s for lunch? Why did people fly planes into the buildings? Can we go to the playground?” I still don’t remember how I answered her “Why?” questions. Probably, I just repeated the refrain of, “I don’t know”

Yesterday, PW met with her interfaith colleagues in their final preparation for the “Back Bay 9/11 Commemoration: From Remembrance to Hope.” While I am glad that Christians, Jews, and Muslims are gathering together on Sunday for this combined service, I feel a twinge of regret that the Christian Gospel lesson assigned for this Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary will not be among the readings in the service:

Matthew 18:21-35

21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Whoa. So much for the “New Testament God of Love,” that many Christians are so prone to citing, in favorable comparison with the “angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament.” But I digress.

This past week, the Boston Globe has been running 9/11 remembrance stories, as I’m sure is occurring in media throughout the country. There was one in particular that surprised me with its coverage of people whose stories I have never heard before: the flight attendant who was supposed to be on American Airlines Flight 11, but called in sick; the baggage handler at Logan Airport who tried—and failed—to get bags labeled “M. Atta” onto Flight 11; a pilot who served as Captain John Ogonowski’s co-pilot for 10 years; the ramp supervisor who cleared American Flight 11 to leave the gate; the ticket agent who sold two of the hijackers their tickets to United Airlines Flight 175; the security agent at the United Airlines checkpoint, who was only 19 years old at the time.

Matthew’s Gospel lesson for September 11, 2011 was rattling around in my head when I was stopped short by this passage in the Globe article:

Arriving in Lower Manhattan two nights after the attacks, [Ogonowski’s former co-pilot] found a sanitation worker about to toss away scrap metal that he recognized as part of Ogonowski’s landing gear. Escaping the dust and chaos, he slipped into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, knelt in a pew, and tried to say the Lord’s Prayer. It took 50 attempts before he could get through “forgive those who trespass against us’’ without faltering.

It gives me goosebumps to imagine this griefstruck pilot kneeling in a pew, struggling to repeat “The Lord’s Prayer” 50 times so that he could get through the passage about forgiveness without getting tripped up by it. I don’t know if I would have had the patience or generosity of spirit to persist. Maybe the open wound of that intense grief would have propelled me toward forgiveness, as many times as necessary and then some more. I hope it would, but I really don’t know. After all, I’m still working on some forgiveness issues that I’ve tried at least 77 times without success.

When I linger on the mental image of that pilot kneeling in the pew, I wonder if forgiveness is the ultimate Change Management. Maybe one reason change is so hard to manage is because genuine forgiveness is so difficult. But how else can we change the ways we relate to horrible things, or even simple slights, so that our future is not filled with wounds that we continue to re-open? Even when I know forgiveness will give me a radically better future, it can still be excruciatingly hard.

Forgiveness is so difficult that Jesus’ teaching in Matthew is that we must forgive “not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” In Biblical terms, that’s the equivalent of “more times than you can count.” And it’s way more than 50. So there we have it, Christians: The Gospel Imperative of Change Management. No wonder we need recurring weekly meetings.

Yesterday morning, two days shy of the 10th anniversary of that awful day, GForce said she wanted to interview me for a school project. “Sure, what’s the project about?” I asked. “It’s about September 11th, and what you remember about where you were that day.”

What I remember about where I was on the morning of September 11th is that I was in a recurring weekly meeting. The subject: Change Management.

Forgiveness Tai Chi

Toy, Miniature, and Standard Poodles. My rant was a little smaller than the dog on the left.

I had a toy rant about forgiveness the other day. You may wonder, “Is it possible to have a rant — of any size (toy, miniature, or standard) — about forgiveness and be taken seriously?” I’ll make my case, and then you can decide for yourselves.

My nephew-in-law’s Facebook page exploded into a debate Tuesday after he posted a comment, “4 out of 5 dogs agree, Michael Vick’s performance [on Monday Night Football] doesn’t make him any less of a horrid human being.”

A relatively respectful (by Internet standards) argument unfolded beneath his comment, between several people who said they could never forgive Michael Vick for what he did to his dogs, and a vegetarian who essentially said that anyone who eats mass-produced meat products is participating in a factory farming system that is far worse, in scope and in practice, than anything Michael Vick did.

Back and forth it went, and I read along without commenting until one too many people said something to the effect of, “I can forgive a factory farmer because he’s contributing to our food supply, but I can never forgive Michael Vick because he was torturing his dogs for sport.”

I think it was the friction of having the words “can” and “forgive” that sparked my rant and made it burst into a toy flame. Most everyone ignored me, probably because I never really indicated which side I was on.

I am on a side, though. I am on the side of understanding that forgiveness is complicated and difficult. More often than not, whenever I have forgiven people, it’s NOT because I got to some point where it was comfortable to do so, some point where I thought, “Okay, I can do this.”

What I know about forgiveness is that it occurs most often when people need a way out of no way. The conditions that bring about forgiveness, in my experience, are when you reach a point where a future without forgiveness is unimaginable, and the present without forgiveness is unbearable.

My comment in the Facebook thread was: “Forgiveness isn’t supposed to be easy, cheap, or something you do because you CAN. Forgiveness involves stretching yourself into incredibly uncomfortable – even unfathomable – positions, and then staying there. People don’t earn our forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we decide to Give FOR people, whether they deserve it or not.”

I bet each of us has at least one person that we just can’t seem to forgive. Maybe we’ve even tried, but we just couldn’t make it out of the pit of unforgiveness. I know I have at least one person I haven’t forgiven. I suspect there are more than just the one, but my particular unforgiven person looms so large and casts such a huge shadow that I can’t actually see any of the other people I haven’t forgiven. They are eclipsed by this one, singular, unforgiven person.

As I typed out my four sentence toy rant on forgiveness yesterday, to a bunch of people I don’t know (except for my nephew-in-law), my unforgiven person leaped to the front of my mind. The massive inland property that this person takes up in my life was suddenly beachfront real estate. In that moment, it became really clear to me what I have to do to forgive this person: I have to be willing to give up carrying around the loss of my relationship with this person, to stop wearing it like some sort of Supersized Emotional Purple Heart Medal of Valor Blindfold.

The refusal to forgive creates a kind of blindness, doesn’t it? By focusing so relentlessly and exclusively on the damage done to me, I’m blinded to the ongoing corrosion and erosion that characterize unforgiveness. I also rob myself of any vision of a future that only forgiveness can offer. Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee that I’ll have a better future with my currently unforgiven person. But at the very least, forgiveness will give me a future that’s roomier, with better views, more counter space, and maybe even a window seat.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I spent this past Saturday at a “Beijing Circles” workshop. At the workshop, we watched a video by a woman named Margaret Wheatley. She does a lot of leadership training around the world. In the video, she had this whole riff on “following the energy of Yes!”

She talked about how change happens when people start taking action instead of thinking about taking action and wondering how. We often get immobilized because an issue seems so big that we don’t know where to start. To that, Wheatley says, “Start anywhere, with a Yes!, and follow the energy of Yes! everywhere. We learn what works by doing the work.” Follow the energy of Yes! Start anywhere. Follow it everywhere. Learn what works by doing the work. When I went back and read my workshop notes yesterday, they seemed like instructions.

So. It is with no small amount of bewilderment that I am saying “Yes” to beginning the work of forgiving my unforgiven person. All right, it’s probably more of a “Sure. Okay, I’m in.” Maybe I’ll get to “Yes!” if I give an exotic and goofy Tai Chi posture name to whatever unfathomably uncomfortable position I’ll have to assume to pull this off. I know, how about Repulse Broken Heart Blindfold in Verdant Valley Of Laughing Monkey?!

If you hear sounds of discomfort, it’s just me working on my new posture.