It was a lovely little church, sunlight streaming in through stained glass windows, the pews full of happy, smiling people. Our little niece has just learned to walk and she doesn't like to keep still, so she was crawling off her mom's lap to go sit on the altar as the pastor spoke. Back and forth, back and forth like this. The pastor didn't seem to mind, nobody did. She was just so damn cute.
But it was also a bit frustrating for her parents - as these things can be - and after much patience on both their parts, a slightly harsh word got traded between them. I watched them, wondering if it would turn into a (quiet) argument right there in the front pew.
Instead, Mom and Dad looked at each other. A moment went by and then ... they just smiled at each other. Really smiled. And the heated moment evaporated in an instant. I saw it happen in front of my eyes.
Maybe it was being in church. Maybe it's that my sister-in-law is a family therapist and knows how to handle family tiffs. Because it was the kind of thing that could happen to any couple - and end up turning into four hours of grumbling and resentment. I loved seeing the forgiveness happen so quickly.
Forgiveness is something I've had a lot of experience with over the years. Because I've had to learn to forgive myself for the things I did when I got drunk in the old days. It's a long, hard lesson. I'm not sure it ever ends.
One time in particular comes to mind. In the summer of 2004 - a full year after I started my first six-month cleanse (and before I had 'perfected' my plan) - I got too drunk and blacked out. I woke up in the morning with that horrible familiar feeling. The dread, the guilt, the shame. I wondered what fight I might've started with my husband ... because that's always what happened when I blacked out. But my life had already started to change ...
Here's a journal entry from that weekend ... (I've put contemporary comments in parentheses.)
June 7, 2004
The weekend was part disaster as somehow I managed to get blotto drunk on Saturday night. I say somehow because I mean somehow. I didn't intend it. But I just remember looking at a fat glass of chardonnay before dinner ... and there are just snippets after that. I felt like shit the next morning and was devastated. But Mark wasn't angry for some reason. He said it's not the same as it used to be. "The zombie is dead."
(In the old days, that's how he described it. I was a total zombie when I drank. Completely out of control of my own thoughts and actions. But after just one six-month cleanse, my reaction to alcohol had already started to change. I felt I had more power over it - and it didn't control me anymore. Consequently, I had already become less defensive about my drinking. So instead of getting depressed or angry, I stayed in a good mood the whole night. Apparently, anyway.)
Still, I was so upset with myself. Since it was such a wallowing surprise, I've been trying to reconcile it to my new attitude of searching for the positive in everything. I realized ... the one thing I can't stand about myself ... well, one of the things ... is my drinking. It's probably the one thing I could do this weekend to throw me off the rails. And there I was. I did it.
When we went out to run errands that afternoon, I was still in a guilty funk, trying to find the "lesson" in this huge mistake. Strangely, we pulled in behind an old van with a personalized license plate: It read FORGIVN.
We drove behind this van for a long time. Turning corners. Climbing hills. FORGIVN. FORGIVN. It almost felt like a message ... FORGIVN. And then it came to me ...
In order to be truly happy, in order to truly love yourself, you have to know how to forgive yourself. That is so important. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. There is a power to forgiveness that even the world's oldest religions understand. You cannot love yourself without the ability to forgive yourself completely. So I've done that.
Well ... 99%.
Despite the fact I hadn't gone into a rage that night, I knew I wasn't out of the woods yet. So that very summer, I took my first month-long cleanse. Then again about five months later. I've been taking two months off a year from drinking - and at least two days a week - ever since (all this long before I ever thought I'd share my plan). And - to tell you the truth - it's not very often that I have to forgive myself anymore. At least not for drinking ... ;)
Here are some thoughts about 'forgiveness' from a book called The New Dictionary of Thoughts: A Cyclopedia of Quotations. Only it's not 'new' - it was published in 1954 by the Standard Book Company and it's dusty salmon-covered cover is faded and almost falling off. The pages are yellowed and full of Post-it's and notes from me. It's a fabulous - if dated - resource.
It used to be my mother's book. Inside the front cover is her girlish handwriting. Her maiden name and her old address at home before she got married. She also wrote: I remember paying $10 for this book - so hang onto it.
I used an inflation calculator - ten bucks works out to $85.92 today. She was a single girl working as a legal secretary. She must've really wanted that book to pay so much for it!
It makes me wonder where she was in her life back then. A lot of the book has religious overtones to it. Was that important to her? And what about her drinking? She was only twenty at the time, but over the next two decades, alcohol would begin to wreak havoc on her life. And mine. Speaking of forgiveness, I have forgiven her ... and I hope she has me for my drunken tirades against her. We're both alive and well and our relationship is the best it's been in years ...)
So with the idea of forgiveness in mind, here are some quotations from that old book (now available used from Amazon for about twenty-five bucks. Not a very good investment money-wise. But still a charming resource!)
To err is human, to forgive, divine.
- Alexander Pope 1688-1744 (English Poet)
His heart was as great as the world, but there was no room in it to hold the memory of a wrong.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882
Only the brave know how to forgive; it is the most refined and generous pitch of virtue human nature can arrive at.
- Lawrence Sterne 1713-1768 (Anglo-Irish novelist and clergyman)
To be able to bear provocation is an argument of great reason, and to forgive it of a great mind.
- John Tillotson 1630-1694 (Archbishop of Canterbury)
He who has not forgiven an enemy has never yet tasted one of the most sublime enjoyments of life.
- John Caspar Lavater 1741-1801(Swiss poet)
Who from crimes would pardoned be, in mercy should set others free.
- William Shakespeare 1564-1616
We forgive too little; forget too much.
- Sophie Swetchine 1782-1857 (Russian mystic and intellectual)