forgiveness is the new black
December 28, 2006
I have been searching for the words to write about the Christmas experience with my mother. I could just write that it was fine. We ate ham and potatoes and opened presents while the children ran around. And I drank wine. But there is more to say.
I had several ah-ha kind of moments during the day, several times where I quietly reflected on things that my mother was saying or doing, several times where I wondered why her words were saying more to me than she intended. Several times I mentally patted myself on the back for holding my tongue, whether or not I actually deserved the self-congratulatory pat.
At one point I was standing next to my mother when she noticed a painting of mine hanging on the wall. She got up close to it, saw the signature on the bottom right hand corner and exclaimed, “I didn’t know you painted!”
I didn’t even have time to stammer out my answer before she began talking about how she has taken up painting. And how her mother had been a painter. And how interesting it was that we were all so much alike.
I bristled at the comparison to the two of them. I am not like you, I wanted to shout. The old angry me would have. The old angry me was was only concerned with being heard (loudly), being right (even if I wasn’t), and well, being angry.
I was the master grudge holder. Anger was my little black dress, perfect for any occassion. Dress it up, dress it down, accessorize it with sarcasm or insults thinly veiled by humor.
I have always heard about this elusive thing called forgiveness that other people talk about. How healing it was to forgive people who have hurt you. Oh yes, their entire family might have been slaughtered and cannibalized but they have forgiven the person. And they feel so much better now that they have let go of their anger.
The old angry me laughed at the notion and said, Fuck that! I am angry! I have a right to be angry! And you will acknowledge my anger even if I have to beat you over the head with it and make myself miserable in the process.
But somehow I discovered this Christmas that the old angry me no longer fits. Much like that well loved little black dress that is no longer flattering and maybe a bit uncomfortable that I keep hanging in the closet. I try it on every now and then before deciding ultimately to wear something else.
This time I didn’t point out to my mother that I majored in Studio Art with a concentration in painting in college. I didn’t say that any worthwhile and semi-involved mother would have known that. I didn’t say anything but acknowledge that yes, I do paint. And amazingly there was a freedom in offering that grace. Who knew?
I know she sucked as a mother. She knows she sucked as a mother. There is no reason to remind her at every opportunity.
I’d like to come off as being completely selfless, but honestly every time I wear the “old angry me” I am also wearing the “victim” as well. The two are woven together so tightly they cannot be unraveled.
I am no longer a victim. I am a survivor. And that small shift in thinking is what has allowed me to to extend grace and forgiveness.
And isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas? The offering of grace and forgiveness when none is really deserved.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I had a better Christmas than I thought I was going to have. I gave the best gift to myself.
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