Sunday, June 24, 2012

No easy road

June 24, 2012

Dear friends,

In this (alleged) “Golden Age of Psychology” we cut our teeth on the idea that relationships are vital to the “good” life. However, when we push ourselves to explain why this is so we find ourselves floundering. Saying what we need is far easier than saying why we need it.

For the most part, however, we sense what we cannot readily explain: we are wired in such a way that connection with others who share our human identity and experience is a necessity not a luxury. Those people who need people include us all.

This intuitive sense about the essential nature of relationship sometimes over-simplifies our understanding of the forgiveness process. From a place of reasonable self-concern, we can decide that we should forgive because 1) forgiving is “good” for us, making us better people, and 2) forgiving is the “sensible” thing to do, helping us retain relationships that have value to us.

There is truth in this line of reasoning, of course, but it is truth focused in a narrowly self-serving form. In this pragmatic sense, forgiveness is an exercise that aids in the development of moral maturity and an act that repairs and preserves a valuable resource. While this is true, this approach embodies a superficial approach much like reducing the complex matter of dental hygiene to the process of flossing.

A client’s work this week reminded me graphically of the limits (and dangers) of framing forgiveness in this fashion. This client’s parent had been emotionally and physically abusive over the range of a horrendous childhood. When the issue of forgiveness arose, my client rejected with great intensity this form of superficial forgiveness that a well-meaning friend had urged her to undertake. She said:

“Well, someday forgiveness may be something I can think about. But today, I’m just angry. I am angry—really angry. I want to be angry and I’m OK with my anger. And today I can’t imagine a reason to preserve this relationship. I need to put as much distance as I can between the two of us. I mean to do just that without a single twinge of guilt. I have no intention of preserving a relationship that has brought nothing but pain and shame for me.”

On the surface, my client forcibly rejected any idea of working on forgiveness. In fact, however, she had intuitively undertaken the first difficult step in authentic forgiveness: getting in touch with the anger that accompanies the injury and identifying the pain and damage that has occurred.

Thinking with you this week that we cannot truly forgive a wound that we will not acknowledge and whose infection and drainage we will not identify and deal with.

See you next week.

Gay













June 24, 2012



Dear friends,



In this (alleged) “Golden Age of Psychology” we cut our teeth on the idea that relationships are vital to the “good” life. However, when we push ourselves to explain why this is so we find ourselves floundering. Saying what we need is far easier than saying why we need it.



For the most part, however, we sense what we cannot readily explain: we are wired in such a way that connection with others who share our human identity and experience is a necessity not a luxury. Those people who need people include us all.



This intuitive sense about the essential nature of relationship sometimes over-simplifies our understanding of the forgiveness process. From a place of reasonable self-concern, we can decide that we should forgive because 1) forgiving is “good” for us, making us better people, and 2) forgiving is the “sensible” thing to do, helping us retain relationships that have value to us.



There is truth in this line of reasoning, of course, but it is truth focused in a narrowly self-serving form. In this pragmatic sense, forgiveness is an exercise that aids in the development of moral maturity and an act that repairs and preserves a valuable resource. While this is true, this approach embodies a superficial approach much like reducing the complex matter of a dental hygiene to the process of flossing.



A client’s work this week reminded me graphically of the limits (and dangers) of framing forgiveness in this fashion. This client’s parent had been emotionally and physically abusive over the range of a horrendous childhood. When the issue of forgiveness arose, my client rejected with great intensity this form of superficial forgiveness that a well-meaning friend had urged her to undertake. She said:



“Well, someday forgiveness may be something I can think about. But today, I’m just angry. I am angry—really angry. I want to be angry and I’m OK with my anger. And today I can’t imagine a reason to preserve this relationship. I need to put as much distance as I can between the two of us. I mean to do just that without a single twinge of guilt. I have no intention of preserving a relationship that has brought nothing but pain and shame for me.”



On the surface, my client forcibly rejected any idea of working on forgiveness. In fact, however, she had intuitively undertaken the first difficult step in authentic forgiveness: getting in touch with the anger that accompanies the injury and identifying the pain and damage that has occurred.



Thinking with you this week that we cannot truly forgive a wound that we will not acknowledge and whose infection and drainage we will not identify and deal with.



See you next week.



Gay












































Sunday, June 17, 2012

Indian summer


June 17, 2010

Dear friends,

When I took abrupt leave from our weekly conversations I traveled to see my sister who was gravely ill. Caregivers and family feared that she would not live. I am happy to report, however, that she does continue to live although for reasons that medical facts do not completely explain. While this time with her has had a happy ending, the experience has left much to think about.

The day of the crisis came quietly. With family around her, she moved slowly and steadily toward that other world we are aware but do not see. She approached the point of final entry so closely that she sensed the presence of others already resident there. But inexplicably when she reached that final boundary, she paused, then turned and came back to us.

The return to this world has left her slower, frail and exhausted. She sometimes experiences a momentary confusion, but she is now fully present with us, strengthening daily, aware and actively participating in the world around her.

I have returned home. My sister and I talk together almost daily via Skype. We are both amused by and grateful for technology that permits us to meet face to face and that gives Miss Annie opportunity to model her beautiful self as well.

We talk about everyday things: the wheat harvest, Miss Annie’s antics, people and places we remember. We laugh and tell stories. We struggle jointly to recall events and names, piecing together fragments of memories and the shadows of names and half-forgotten events. We share the simple rhythms of our daily lives and play together with the idea-Lego's that interest us both. Neither of us has chosen to focus on the drama of her recent journey toward death and unexpected return. Our awareness of this underlies all that we say, however. In the tradition of prairie women, we confront this mystery for the most part through the sense-filled silence that sometimes falls into our conversations.

“I had chocolate ice-cream for lunch,” she told me one day, then added with a twinkle in her eye, “I had some ice-cream. I didn’t say I had enough.”

We laughed at her reference to a shared childhood memory, a time when our father said with amused exasperation, “There’s never enough chocolate ice-cream for you two, no matter how much I bring home from the store."

“Better than my place,” I answered. “I didn’t have any ice-cream at all. I did have an extra fine cup of coffee with real cream, though, and I sat in the porch glider for a while and enjoyed my flowers.”

“That’s good,” she responded. “Did Miss Annie sit out there with you?”

"Well, in a way,” I said. “But she didn’t sit—she took a nap.”

A thick warm silence came between us. Neither of us spoke; wordlessly, we shared the love that flowed through our connecting space. But we sat together sensing as well the shadow of her recent walk toward the boundary of that other world.

We understand. We see with unblinking clarity what we are living. For us relationally we are experiencing an unexpected Indian summer following a severe early frost. Emotionally we share an Indian summer filled with rich harvest, warmth and beauty. But this season is filled too with the slow downward drift of yellow leaves across fence rows into now fallow fields.

My sister and I are prairie women, and we are not easily fooled.

After Indian summer winter comes.

Thinking with you this week of Shakespeare’s lines:

“This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”
                                                                                        Sonnet 73


See you next week.

Gay