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
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?
to grace's bountiful gifts
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'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.