“A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Amazing Grace




In tragedy's wake,
grace visited us again,
sharing love's mercy.

Through the embrace of
compassion and forgiveness,
grace found expression.

What infinite love
can bestow on humankind
occasions wonder.


Adding prose to my weekly poem is a departure for me. However, after the families of those slaughtered in a Charleston church said they forgave the killer, I have reflected a great deal about what forgiveness means. And, it turns out that the issue of forgiveness has a great deal to do with coming to terms with MS.

First, let me address the Charleston event. For the South Carolina victim families, the heavy lifting required just to voice, "I forgive you," surely must have been overwhelmingly hard. Yet, that's what many did, leaving the rest of the world in awe of their graciousness; thereby, encouraging us to examine the nature of forgiveness and grace in our lives.

Inspired by the remarkable example of the families, I was led to ask myself, where have I failed to exercise forgiveness? The answer landed me squarely on MS' lap. We MSers struggle in varying ways while coming to terms with how MS has altered our lives. One's body seems to turn on itself destructively, which can feel like a vicious, random, and senseless attack. The impact may alter so comprehensively the person one used to be, some might say that person died.

But, who or what can we blame for that? Understandably, we turn MS into a villain toward which we direct our anger, resentment, and fear. Yet, as Robert Parker reminds us, MS does not exist as an entity.

The irony is we end up becoming both victim and victimizer. Certainly, one loses and likely grieves for the person one used to be. However, MS could be viewed, too, as the killer who also might need forgiveness. Because how do I separate MS from who I am physically? Am I making my emotional and perhaps physical healing more difficult by viewing MS with anger and loathing? Do I then end up hating and loathing my body? If MS can assume a separate existence at all, shouldn't it be integrated affirmatively into whatever characterization I hold of my physical body? Is it necessarily a matter of It versus Me? Is there an act of forgiveness I can embrace that will limit self-destructive behavior?

In saying, "We have no room for hate. We have to forgive," what can the South Carolina families teach me? If they were able to respond so magnanimously to an act of such horror, how can I embrace their forgiving nature with respect to my MS?

I say that, thinking that following their example surely seems laudable. Yet, in a practical sense, what difference does it make for me to forgive the "entity" which destroyed my life as I knew it? What real impact does forgiving MS or the process of MS or simply my body's physical breakdown have on my life? This is especially challenging since MS will likely cause a never-ending cascade of losses and grieving. How can I forgive and move on if the process of loss seems endless?

Or is the act of forgiveness encapsulated in the following haiku, which I removed from the above poem because I wasn't sure I wholly accepted its meaning?

Remaining open
to grace's bountiful gifts
ensures renewal.

I would like to rise to such a noble sentiment. Yet, in a practical sense, I am not sure what it means. I want to avoid the hazards of what some have called "cheap grace." I am assuming those commentators were alluding to the need to keep forgiveness from being an empty act, and that forgiveness can, and perhaps should, require emotional, spiritual, and psychological hard work.

Yet, again, I am led back to the question, what does that mean for me in a practical sense?

I'm hoping you will illuminate me.


*****

I sought your counsel, and you did not disappoint. Your comments have illuminated me. Forgiving MS is a slippery concept, both in understanding it and in applying it. Several among you have said they could not forgive MS. Some have said that through their anger they gain strength in their ability to live with MS. Others have said that perhaps it is peace we seek, rather than forgiveness. Some believed that it is really the human condition we need to forgive, that condition which opens us to experiencing both joy and pain.

I'm afraid that figuring this out may be above my pay grade. Perhaps some noticed that out of my post's 42 sentences, more than a third were questions. Even after your input, I still have mostly questions. I remain, though, grateful for the deep reflection this issue has generated for me and for others. I suspect for me it will remain an open question, generating ongoing thought.

The issue, though, perhaps boils down to, who is in control? It may seem laughable to some that I invoke control in dealing with MS. Isn't MS, after all, an illness over which we currently have little control other than delaying the process of decline? True, but we have ways of finessing that lack of control; indeed, of wresting total control from MS or any similarly dire circumstance.

I have been fond of citing Holocaust aurvivor Viktor Frankl's concept of the ultimate freedom, which is the ability to choose one's attitude regardless of circumstance. Since he developed this concept in light of the Holocaust, I feel safe in assuming that he thought the concept applied even in extreme circumstances, where one's life is at stake.

In the particular case of the Charleston families, someone shared with me an unusual take on how forgiveness possibly applied in that circumstance. He suggested that with their apparently noble act of forgiveness, the families (unwittingly perhaps) acted with passive-aggressive hostility in saying to the killer that they forgave him. That is, by expressing their forgiveness so publicly, the families essentially neutered the killer's intention to create public pain and mayhem. Whether their forgiveness was a passive-aggressive act or not, the point is that the families took control of their story. They took away his power to control their lives any more. They decided how they were going to feel, what their attitude would be. It was their choice, not the killer's.

So the issue of MS and forgiveness may boil down to, how does one take control of one's story? Would forgiveness do that? Would anger? Depression maybe? Even, as several friends have done, ending one's life? It could be all of the above. Or none. Forgiveness, for example, could be dismissed in favor of seeking peace or some other goal. My belief, though, is that each person can choose freely what the attitudinal response will be.


9 comments:

Gail said...

HI JUDY - you have certainly raised some challenging points to consider and reflect upon. I think, for me anyway, it is about balance. I try always honor my limits and celebrate my freedoms. I get a sense of personal power and surrender. I never thought of MS as something I needed to forgive. And even after reading your eloquent words I still can't embrace that for myself. For me it is more about allowing myself to grieve and be happy all at the same time - for that is my reality with MS and perhaps with many others who know not of this disease. I I so appreciate your sharing today - you have touched me deeply.
Love Gail
peace......

Robert Parker said...

Wow.

Amen!

Wow!

So, then, are we not called upon to forgive ourselves? For not being, fully and joyfully, human? Warts and all? Malfunctioning nervous systems--which are pretty amazing that they work at all?

It has been quite the life...and continues to be. So, why not forgive ourselves for... not enjoying it? Because there ARE parts to enjoy... a smile from my wife is always quite amazing. As is the sunlight, and the heavens at night, and those amazing "little" planets that wander into the night sky... So, that's our prescription: Love, and forgive.

No side effects. Except, peace, maybe?

xaidw B said...

Judy,
More thought provoking words from you.
Answers or reflections will depend on much.
It's all personal.
For me, I will not forgive MS. I hate it for what it did
to my son and his life.
It won't matter whether I forgive or not.
My reality is just that...what really happened.
Hilda

Travelogue for the Universe said...

Great Prose :) and Haiku. I could not forgive the insane guy who killed those people. I will not forgive the MonSter. I would like to Slay the MonSter. And yet, it is part of me. I drew a picture of myself offering myself an olive branch. Maybe it is more about peace than forgiving. Best wishes in your quest. Mary

Mimi Lenox said...

Hi Judy - Thank you for visiting my blog.
You provide much food for thought. It is clear you are an introspective soul. I am sorry that you have to deal with MS and all it must entail physically and mentally. I can understand how you must feel violated, betrayed, and even angry. That is human.

I'm struck, however, with your strength. Because it takes strength to face the monsters in our lives. You are not surrendering. You are not even bowing. You are perhaps, at best, making a compromise for the sake of your own sanity and spiritual health (which is most important, for without it, there's no hope of being physically well).....

I've been struggling with the concept of openness in my own life the past few months, and diligently trying to keep the walls of comfort and complacency knocked down - because they cripple me. They hold me back. So, I war with myself to remain freely alive. You also war with yourself for the same reason, except you have two enemies - the disease and your dance with it. You wrote, "Is it necessarily a matter of It versus Me? Is there an act of forgiveness I can embrace that will limit self-destructive behavior?"

Well, if you believe that it is self-destructive to hate MS, then maybe you can learn to separate the disease from the essence of who you really are, lest you begin to hate yourself. That would never do for a poetic soul. It's a delicate dance. The physical vs the spiritual. Pain vs. peace. Remaining open to all feelings and emotions is healthy (and necessary for poets)...the problem is you can't remain open without vulnerability and the risk of being wounded. And you feel you've been wounded enough, I would imagine.

Perhaps the only act you need to embrace is the act of being wholly human, wholly imperfect, wholly beautiful, and wholly capable of surrendering to grace.

God bless you in your journey. Healing and peace to you.
Thank you for such lovely words.

Muffie said...

I, too, was so humbled by the forgiving nature of those families in SC. Could I (would I) do the same? It's a conundrum. Forgiving myself is another questionable area -- Do I? MS angers me, but offering forgiveness? Again, I'm not sure. You've given me a lot to meditate on.

Judy at Peace Be With You said...

I sought your counsel, and you did not disappoint. You have illuminated me. Forgiving MS is a slippery concept, both in understanding it and in applying it. Several among you have said they could not forgive MS. Some have said that through their anger they gain strength in their ability to live with MS. Others have said that perhaps it is peace we seek, rather than forgiveness. Some believed that it is really the human condition we need to forgive, that condition which opens us to experiencing both joy and pain.

I'm afraid that figuring this out may be above my pay grade. Perhaps some noticed that out of my post's 42 sentences, more than a third were questions. Even after your input, I still have mostly questions. I remain, though, grateful for the deep reflection this issue has generated for me and for others. I suspect for me it will remain an open question, generating ongoing thought.

The issue, though, perhaps boils down to, who is in control? It may seem laughable to some that I invoke control in dealing with MS. Isn't MS, after all, an illness over which we currently have little control other than delaying the process of decline? True, but we have ways of finessing that lack of control; indeed, of wresting total control from MS or any similarly dire circumstance.

I have been fond of citing Holocaust aurvivor Viktor Frankl's concept of the ultimate freedom, which is the ability to choose one's attitude regardless of circumstance. Since he developed this concept in light of the Holocaust, I feel safe in assuming that he thought the concept applied even in extreme circumstances, where one's life is at stake.

In the particular case of the Charleston families, someone shared with me an unusual take on how forgiveness possibly applied in that circumstance. He suggested that with their apparently noble act of forgiveness, the families (unwittingly perhaps) acted with passive-aggressive hostility in saying to the killer that they forgave him. That is, by expressing their forgiveness so publicly, the families essentially neutered the killer's intention to create public pain and mayhem. Whether their forgiveness was a passive-aggressive act or not, the point is that the families took control of their story. They took away his power to control their lives any more. They decided how they were going to feel, what their attitude would be. It was their choice, not the killer's.

So the issue of MS and forgiveness may boil down to, how does one take control of one's story? Would forgiveness do that? Would anger? Depression maybe? Even, as several friends have done, ending one's life? It could be all of the above. Or none. Forgiveness, for example, could be dismissed in favor of seeking peace or some other goal. My belief, though, is that each person can choose freely what the attitudinal response will be.

Gail, allowing oneself to grieve and still be happy is no small task, and yet a necessary one if one wants to continue living. That may or may not be consistent with forgiveness.

Robert, you have particularly inspired me by referencing the human condition. That condition may be at the heart of how to deal effectively with MS, in embracing its coherence with the protean reality of the human condition.

Hilda, your words, too, have been thought provoking. They also suggest a Buddhist-like detachment as a way of achieving peace.

Mary, believe me when I say I really understand your preference to slay the MonSter. All of us probably feel that at one moment or another.

Mimi, thank you for your thoughtful response. I love your "Perhaps the only act you need to embrace is the act of being wholly human, wholly imperfect, wholly beautiful, and wholly capable of surrendering to grace."

Muff, yes, we both have a lot to think about with respect to forgiveness. In your case, I would imagine your deeply Christian beliefs might play a role. I think those beliefs may have played a role in the actions of the Charleston families.

wonlife said...

Ah, i struggle too. it is hard to feel this anger, this betrayal, yet find no person or place or concrete thing to be the object of those emotions. i can forgive, but who or what do i forgive?

Judy at Peace Be With You said...

Yes, wonlife, it is a struggle. MS is a slippery mess.