I had originally intended to write about Forgiveness in two parts, as I had two separate experiences/ideas to write about. But the universe did its thing, throwing all sorts of relevant conversations and stories at me this week. There has been so much to think about and digest, I can't keep up with it all! For now, I go back to my original plan and the topic I had meant to write about next. I imagine some things from this week will filter in. I'll have to see when I'm finished how much is left unsaid that still needs to be addressed later...
In my last post, I wrote about my need to learn how to forgive my mother. Today, I want to talk about my inability to forgive my father, something that may not just be impossible, but that can be argued may or may not be in my best interest to attempt. I don't want to talk about my father in specifics. There is too much there, and it is all very painful, which will make what I'm attempting to do here much more emotional than I'd like. I'm trying to examine myself, my feelings, the way I think, my opinions - to reconcile this with the outer world, the "normal" world. I don't want to dwell in the past, I want to deal with my present mindset.
But I need to be clear about a few things. First, I believe my father to be the second most evil individual I have ever met. Two, during my childhood my father was violent, alcoholic, quick to anger, extremely volatile - I believe he was/is suffering from schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or some other psychotic personality disorder. Three, my mother on the other hand was/is merely neurotic. Four, I believe my father should be rotting away in some prison right now for the crimes he has committed against me and my family, as well as others with the misfortune of having been in his life. Five, the most evil person I have ever met was my father's step-father, the biological father of my dad's brothers - but not genetically responsible for my father or his sister.
. . .
I had a full session with my therapist this week, knowing I had more to talk about than just the usual half-hour check-in appointment could allow for. I talked about my bitterness, how hard it is for me to forgive anyone for even the smallest infractions, about my negativity and pessimism. She wanted to know where my pessimism came from, if it was something my parents or others from my childhood might have instilled or modeled for me to learn. The answer to that is while my parents are likely hugely responsible for my negativity and pessimism, I believe the extent is merely through the self-defense mechanisms I developed in response to their actions. I don't recall my mother or father being pessimistic or optimistic. I remember my mother encouraging us to follow our dreams and telling us we could do whatever it is in life we wanted to try. I remember my father always chasing fantastical dreams of wealth.
My earliest memories of pessimism are from a volleyball game in the 7th grade. I was not horrifically bad at volleyball, unlike 99% of the other things inflicted on me in school during PE. On this occasion, my team was winning. Every time we made a point or thwarted the other team's attempts to score, all the boys would cheer and trash-talk the opposing team. This infuriated me. I saw no reason to celebrate a game that wasn't over, a game that we could still lose. We shouldn't count our chickens before they had hatched, because it would tempt fate.
Lessons learned through this memory: I was (irrationally?) superstitious from a young age, I am not or at least was not a complete failure at physical activity, and - drum roll please - school kids may be the root cause of my pessimism. Huh.
Today, I feel I am a total failure at anything physical, completely lacking any grace or delicacy of movement, a true "bull in a china shop". In the 7th grade playing volleyball, I already believed this. Why? Because of years of heckling from teammates in PE. It wasn't enough to be fat or white or shy or poor or lacking fashion sense - all the sources of school yard taunts. No, my level of unawesomeness carried over into the classroom, where it was a daily ritual for most of the boys and some of the girls to mock and ridicule my physical ineptitude during Physical Education period. Moving around, this was something that didn't change: co-ed PE was brutal for me in both Hawaii and Port Orchard. Thinking back, I should probably have been more thankful for middle-school PE in Port Orchard, where class was not co-ed, and team sports were rarely (if ever) played. There just isn't room for mocking when every last girl in the class is winded and hating the teacher for assigning yet another day of Cross Country running.
I have always believed I suck at sports. Completely and utterly. A belief in your own worthlessness is pessimism, right? This belief was indeed prompted by actual suckage on my part, but the point was truly hammered home by the voices of cruel little boys who hated losing games by having me on their team.
So my pessimism isn't from my parents. Who knew? But the bitterness, that is another story. As an adult, I have avoided all things physically demanding and voila, I don't suck all the time! But I seem to be incapable of avoiding childhood memories of the cruelty of my father. So pessimism I can work on. Actually, I personally believe I am a closet optimist, because no matter how bad things get, I always hold on to at least a smidgen of hope. This isn't very healthy either, clinging to the hope of miracles in the face of impending doom/failure.
I see my pessimism, my negativity, my bitterness, my difficulty giving forgiveness, as one thing. Maybe it's not? Maybe they're just related? But I definitely see my bitterness as caused not only by my past, but my current inability to forgive and/or let go of the past. I don't want to be a pessimist. I don't want to be bitter. I don't want to spend my entire life dwelling on past hurts to the extent of not being able to forgive. But how?
Actively working on forgiving my mother has been helpful. Time has helped partially heal the scars caused by childhood bullies. But time hasn't helped in the case of my father, and I cannot or will not forgive him. Leaving me to wonder, do I have to forgive my father to let go of my past and finally be happy with my present?
This is my dilemma, and one I don't really have an answer for. Of course, blurting out this statement only came at the very end of my therapy session. Ha! But she didn't shut down the conversation before telling me that it didn't have to be necessary for me to forgive my father. That there are ways of letting go of the past without forgiveness. Now there is a solution I'd like to pay money for! Unfortunately, if it was something simple, it would have been dished out by now in therapy. Nope, I'm thinking it's going to be rather complicated.
This hasn't really been much about my father like I expected, so let me steer back in that direction. I am the only person in my family who does not have a relationship with my father. My mother, my sister, my brothers - they all allow him in their lives. Hell, not a single one of my mother's relatives have ever put a foot down and banned him from anything - it's always up to my mother to convince him that everyone would be more comfortable at Thanksgiving dinner if he didn't go with us over to Gramma's house. All of this passive acceptance of him has added more bitterness for me to deal with. Because I don't understand. I don't understand how he can do the things he's done, treat them just the same for years and years, and still be allowed in their lives. I just don't understand it. It's confusing to me. It hurts, actually. It's been more difficult than I feel it should have been to communicate just how serious I am about not being in the same room with him, ever, for any reason.
My step-grand-father, the most evil person in the world, was never disowned by anyone in his family. Not even by my father, who was an actual victim of physical abuse usually shared for non-family members. Usually. You would think that violence in the home would give weight to accusations by outsiders, but it didn't. You would think that the violence against his stepchildren would give weight to the accusations of his grandchildren, but it didn't. You would think that he would have eventually ended up in prison and then some state graveyard only to be identified by a number, when in fact he lived out his last days happily at home, then was buried right next to my grandmother with a name and honored remarks on his tombstone.
Have all these people forgiven? Just put it out of their mind? Lied to themselves? Denied and remained unbelieving against all evidence? I don't get it, not in the case of my father or his step-father.
The same day CNN carried a story about forgiveness and Casey Anthony, I followed a link to Why people stick by scandal-plagued pastors. The article touches on money scandals, infidelity, sexual coercion. In all cases, there are people who "jump ship", but there are others who "stand by their man". What. The. Fuck? Apparently, disbelief is a big part of it. Cases where there is just no evidence that could possibly come to light to change the favorable opinion of a few loyal followers. Some people are voyeurs actively interested in watching the scandal fallout first hand. Again, WTF? Some "view themselves as participants in a cosmic struggle." Uh, what now? This has got to be my favorite though:
None of this appeared to matter to Kirkpatrick. He said Long would have to answer to God, not him.I thought that the article might shed some light on my family's (un)reaction to the crimes of my father and his step-father. The closest that any of it came was the concept that a parishioner (child) can't leave a paster (parent) to whom they attribute a positive action in their life like help with drug addiction or a failing marriage (or... giving birth???).
"I don't think Bishop Long can do anything worse than what Judas did, and God still loved him," Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick compared pastors to doctors.
"There are people who we trust with our lives every day, like doctors, who do all sorts of things, but we don't question them. This is our spiritual medicine. We come here to get what we need and then we leave."
When asked if there was anything that would cause him to stop attending New Birth, Kirkpatrick lowered his head and paused before he finally said:
"The church would have to close."
"There is a suspension of common sense, a refusal to put two and two together," Thompson said. "For a lot of people, this is the man who gave them the keys to a whole new way of living. They can't separate the good they received from the man himself, so they feel it would be a betrayal to turn on him now."In the end, I am no less confused. I'm just more in awe at some people's capacity for stupidity and/or ability to self-delude. Some things are just unknowable, unexplainable, to someone not experiencing it for themselves. Even when we're talking about two people having two completely different reactions to the same event.
When outsiders ratchet up criticism against an embattled pastor, members often go into battle mode, said Thompson, author of "The Prodigal Brother: Making Peace with Your Parents, Your Past, and the Wayward One in Your Family."
"They circle the wagons to protect their guy," Thompson said. "They don't want to see, and they don't want to be made to see what 'the world' sees. They believe the world's view is false, so they form the firewall."
And I'm no closer in my quest to understand and grant forgiveness.
And dammit if now there has to be a Part 3 in this series.