Compassion + Vulnerability = Forgiveness. This formula is definitely one that I have come to learn over the years and have employed even in the most grievous situations that have included a spiritual teacher friend that committed suicide, my friend’s estranged husband that became her murderer, and of course on my personal walk, my rapist. Since recently experiencing just enough bottom to fall out of life to include grace, my formula has expanded to more deeply understand forgiveness as not only a living entity, but a daily steadfast intimacy, a love making that allows us to make the choice to burn as the sun burns to give life: unwavering, objective, and constant.
Today, the sun had not made much of an appearance, all heavenly bodies need a break every now and then, and for the solstice here in Knoxville, The sun slept in just a few more minutes longer, resting behind overcast clouds as I made my way to church for our solstice service. As I sat in the back of the sanctuary with my fellow choir members, I saw the sun peek into the gorgeous sanctuary that just stands as an open space. No spiritual icons, no strange platitudes, no extrication of the undeserving, just the earnestness of heart felt words from members of a community or sometimes what feels like a college campus. The sun would make these incredibly serendipitous appearances throughout the service that began to remind me of our ability to change, move inward, heal. Mr. Sun whispered to me, “Show up, or not, life moves forward with or without you.” I felt a strange comfort in this realization.
This week I made peace with my father after sending him a letter (for the third time) that detailed terrible events that occurred while I was under his care that he never truly validated. I sent the letter and gave him four years to contemplate its meaning. When I called him, I of course did not expect anything, but only wanted to send him love and gratitude this holiday season.
Since I have just began to learn about grace, I thought that the present moment was the absolute best time to share the ripened fruit to a man who had been starving for satisfaction all of his life. People don’t realize how their fear of becoming nothingness affects everything in their life down to the way they hold their mouth when they look at a person who they think ‘gets it.’
My father had always been discouraging, berating, and competitive with me as I grew into my womanhood. He kept an arm’s length distance from my vulnerabilities, and once, when I said to him “Maybe you’re scared,” he ousted me from his house. All this time, I realized that the splinter in my mind that was placed by our estrangement would never allow me to move forward with my life. So I called him and told him so with love and thanked him for doing all that he could do to give me a life as best as he could.
At one point he said, “I pictured you in a shack alone and with nothing.” The symbology of his upbringing in the ghettos of Philadelphia in combination of the soul starvation that I experienced with him cultivated his frame of reference. He had to remind himself that I was no longer 13.
As I told him about the 34 year old woman of whom he knows nothing about, I was met with overwhelming graciousness and love. He told me he things that made me feel privileged to be his daughter and thus have validity in the world. “I am so proud that you have created your life beyond the negative circumstances of your past. You are intelligent. You may even be super intelligent.” My father said this about me, right when I was beginning to grasp the concept of not caring about other’s opinions.
This discourse was well worth the wait and in fact, I would wait 100 years in 10,000 lifetimes just to hear my father say my name with love, so this was much more than I expected. Grace begets grace: the nectar of forgiveness, the salve for the broken heart, the bottom to a bottomless world.
And I felt the bottom of the world under my feet for the first time. I met a compassionate and vulnerable person that I never met before and I loved him instantly and forgive him infinitely.
I contemplated this discourse while our choir sang its final song, Choose Something Like A Star, which is a poem by the ever sexy Robert Frost set to a heart expanding melody. As I sang the words, between the breath, in the darkness and the shortness of the shortest day, I felt infinite. And in this glorious paradox, a conversation, a subtext to the poem, if you will, occurred:
Frost: O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant you loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Me: Oh the necessity of hiding away from the epicenter of pain, to swim in the shallow waters of hell is the beautiful aspect of suffering. I, like the sun hid behind the clouds until understanding was abloom in worlds in which I never belonged.
Frost: Some mystery becomes the proud
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed
Me: Keeping myself locked away from my personal joy was a choice. If I wish to give voice to the voiceless I must speak up, mend rends, love without expectation and enjoy the imperfections life has to offer. Holding on to the mind of a victim will only perpetuate the glory of victimhood. Speak, speak, speak with conviction from a higher plane!
Frost: Say something to us we can learn by heart
And when alone, repeat.
Me: I don’t always have to know how to do or say something in order to have value. No one does. In the darkness, the recognition of newness makes me complete.
Frost: Say something! And it says ‘I Burn’
But say with what degree of heat
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend
It gives us strangely little aid,
But it does tell us something in the end.
Me: We all want the same thing: to be a lit with love and to be seen as far as the eye can see, all the way into the very tenderness of our souls and given a seal of approval. All of our fears are based on losing the one treasure that cannot be replaced. Our light, the light that says to self and others, “you are alive, you are worthy, you are beautiful, you are loved, you are forgiven.” Give love, don’t beat around the bush, don’t drench it in disingenuous distance or false intimacy, light the sky with your soul instead.
Frost: And Steadfast as Keats’ Eremite
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks us of a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.
Me: Within us is our own private universe to which we act as God. We spiral downward into black holes, we birth stars, dreams, and choose to place alignments according to our capacity to love and be loved. Forgiveness is the star to be staid upon, for it is a continuum of joy for the journey of understanding that inevitably lies ahead.