Sunday, March 18, 2012

Miss Annie's "forgiveness"

Blog, March 18, 2012

Dear Friends,

At the close of last week’s blog, Annie was quite cross with me for leaving her to sleep in the garage. Her annoyance, while understandable from her cat’s world-view, seemed unfair from mine. I had, after all, faithfully opened the door for her to come in at the usual time. Because she refused to come at that time, Annie’s indignation over my failure to come back again at midnight appeared unreasonable, particularly in light of my need for sleep, and the uncomfortable relationship my knees have with the stairs.

Annie has little understanding of my need for sleep at night, even less insight into my view of the stairs, and no concept at all of the limitations posed by creaky knees. Given her lack of knowledge of these factors, she viewed her indignation at my failure to meet her need as fully justified.

In thinking about Annie’s reaction to my “neglectful” behavior and my contrasting view of the affair, I suggested that cautious response when others fail to meet our needs is an important relational skill. We rarely (if ever) know their story in full. Love, Paul reminded us, is patient and kind.

Annie provided an additional insight this week by the way in which she chose to resolve the affair.

Annie rejoined the household shortly after noon. She spent the afternoon stretching elaborately and then curling up with her back to me, just beyond my reach. Any effort to pet her was met with disdainful withdrawal to a place under the table, behind the couch, under the piano or behind the recliner. She gave a virtuoso performance of hurt feelings while sending a clear message that it was my responsibility to make amends for her injured sense of importance.

That night when I turned out the lights before going up to bed, I discovered that Annie had chosen to retire on her blanket at the end of the couch. I thought a moment, and then sat down beside her.

Very carefully I reached out and gently touched her head. “You are behaving quite foolishly,” I told her, “but I will wait until you work this out. You are still Chief Therapeutic Cat.”

I sat for a few additional minutes making no effort to pet her, thinking not of Annie but of the number of steps in the stairs. To my surprise, Miss Annie suddenly crawled into my lap, and then, paws on my shoulder gave me a brief purr and a forgiving lick on the nose. After demonstrating her generous forgiveness she promptly returned to her blanket and curled up, back to me, to sleep the sweet sleep of the righteous. She had done the morally superior thing. I had injured her, but out of her generous heart, she had forgiven me. All was well.

Annie’s solution made me smile, but it also made me think.

I was pleased that Annie had forgiven me, but I thought too about the way in which Miss-Annie-type behavior causes problems in human relationships.

At times in important relationships we “forgive” others for their failure to meet our needs, and are then confused and sometimes hurt by the ambivalent response our “forgiveness” evokes.

“I forgive you,” we may say. “Now the problem’s over. We’ll just forget and go on.” At times what we then sense on the part of the other person is a reservation, a wordless resistance to our act of “forgiving” that may puzzle us.

We forget that a “forgiveness” transaction which stems only from one person’s story rarely provides a resolution to relational conflict.

We may, like Miss Annie, be able to sleep more comfortably when we have “forgiven” the failure of others to meet our needs. The relationship is strengthened, however, only when we are first willing to do the hard work of understanding the story of the behavior from which the need for forgiveness has emerged.

Thinking with you that instant forgiveness is no substitute for the slow delicate discipline of learning to know and cherish another’s heart.

See you next week.


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