You know, I’ve read that the only way we can develop traits like compassion or forgiveness is when life hands us a situation where we get an opportunity to express these positive qualities. I mean, you can’t learn to swim without water, can you? Recently I was given two opportunities to forgive someone else for quite frivolous misdemeanors really. The first was at a conference. The person running the conference had promised that I would be given the opportunity to recite my poem, Life’s a Mango, to close the three day meet-up which focused on wellbeing and positive mental health in schools.
I stood in the shadows of the wings waiting for my cue. The day before, when everyone had left, I had gone up on the stage and practised so that I would feel comfortable when the real moment finally came. This moment, my moment, had now arrived. As the speaker brought the conference to an end, I waited in anticipation for her to say, “And to close, I would like to welcome Jen Compton up on stage ……”. Well, it didn’t happen. She thanked everyone for attending and dismissed them. All the 300 participants started talking to one another and got up to leave the room. In that very moment, amongst all the chatter, Dr. H suddenly realized that she was supposed to have introduced me. Her face looked ashen as she searched the crowd and finally met my eyes with a look of horror. In that very instant, I felt a pang of disappointment and irritability. Not very long after those emotions arose though, there was an acceptance that somehow the universe had chosen this for me. It was not my moment.
Breathe. Accept. Be.
After I went back to my table and relayed my disappointment through words and body language to my teaching colleague, Dr. H came up to apologize. I could tell that she felt truly sorry and in my heart I didn’t want to make it harder for her. Forgiveness was the best option. I found myself consoling her and even gave her a peck on the cheek and a hug. Gosh, haven’t I stuffed up too and needed forgiveness? She actually asked how she could make it up to me and my colleague, who’s not one to mince words, suggested that perhaps next year I could be part of the main program. Without hesitation, Dr. H agreed and asked me to email her later in the year.
My second opportunity for forgiveness came the other day when I was supposed to have someone come to the house to teach me about Mailchimp. As we spoke on the phone and she explained that she wouldn’t be coming because of car trouble and personal issues, I could hear in J’s voice how difficult it was for her to have to cancel our appointment and, once again, I didn’t want to make it any harder. Now, I don’t want you to think I have a halo around my head and that the forgiveness attitude is some kind of instant default but as I practise more mindfulness, it seems to come up more quickly (after the initial disappointment and irritability). As she gave me her sincere apology, I told J that she was forgiven and that one day she would be in my position and needed to pass it forward. I asked her to please remember this moment when somebody else lets her down or disappoints her. I could hear in her voice the gratitude and relief. That made me happy.
A couple of stanzas from my poem, Feeling Hurt from Life’s a Mango sum it up well:
It’s easy to forget
the words that we say
but when others wound us
we can tell them the day!
Feel the peace now
In your heart and your chest.
The anger is going,
Your relief is the best.
Understanding the other
From their point of view
Will help you forgive
Both themselves and you. ©
So remember that if we want to be forgiven by others, we need to forgive. Give them a break and you’ll find that when you need forgiveness, you’re more likely to receive it.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
Take a look at this short video on Forgiveness from The School of Life. It’s a profound, gentle reminder that we are all in this together and each of us is the result of a life time of circumstances largely beyond our control.