37: A Bit on Forgiveness

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

– Pema Chodron

I have consistently recognized Painter’s freedom to choose the relationship she wants to have, or not have, with me. 

As such, I’ve never shown up at her art shows or exhibits, camped out at the house demanding attention, rolled up on her in public pressing anything, or solicited friends, family, or strangers to carry messages to her pleading for reconciliation. 

I decided out of the gate not to force myself on Painter. She asked me to leave, so I went that day.

These actions have been consistent with what I have always said to Painter. Essentially I told her in our earliest conversations in February and March of 2011 that I would stay only as long as she wanted me. 

I am not always emotionally consistent, but in this space, I have been even when heartbroken. I believe I have been patient, compassionate, and consistent in my approach, opinions, and feelings towards Painter. 

Don’t misunderstand, I am aware of some of my darkness and how and why I am where I am. However, I also recognize people’s freedom to walk away from any relationship for any reason at any time. 

That is a relationship value I practice.

Unfortunately, part of the darkness I carry is tied to trauma that teaches me that my relationships will end and I will be alone. Plus, there is a bit of dark muck around attachment, abandonment, and worthiness. 

Frankly, I felt Painter was different. Until her, I always expect to be alone. I believed she saw me. Even though I didn’t always do it well, I tried to reveal myself to her throughout the relationship through my enthusiasm for her and her work, the investments of resources, and embracing of the community.

SIDEBAR: I still am stunned when I think about all of the beautiful qualities I discovered about myself through that relationship I had hidden previously out of fear of rejection and ridicule. I’m struggling with letting my whole heart out again. 

Regardless, the more I see these Things in the shadows of my choices, the more love and compassion I carry for Painter. A patient understanding built on a recognition of our shared humanity and history.

Tragically, I cannot unring the bell of my mistakes. Today I can make choices that strike a new tune and do not ring the same old tired notes.

In discussing this approach, I asked Chef about her ex-husband, Toll, and if she would talk with him if he called. Her answer surprised me.

Chef then turned the question around and asked me the same about Painter and Beatrix. My answer surprised me.

We are who we are. The heart does what it does. We are all more than the Ugly we’ve done, even if others don’t see us. 

I’m able to maintain compassion for Painter only because I retain compassion for myself. In my self-compassion, I can recognize the darkness in Painter’s humanity too. 

Chodron writes, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals.” I realize that I only need to forgive those I judge as being less than equal.

A failure to recognize the pride lurking in the shadows of conversations around forgiveness is an obstacle to vulnerable conversations. My experiences over the last several years has shown me how often my ego and pride need to be satiated before I will forgive someone I have decided has failed me. Even then I’m not sure I am forgiving as much as waiting to be right again.

Knowing this truth makes me deeply uncomfortable as I look back over my life and relationships.

This brings to mind two important lessons in the moment.

First, I have often surrender my humanity to the emotional whims of angry and hurt people as I pursue forgiveness, value, and acceptance. By embracing my darkness with compassion and consciousness I am practicing the skills to not sacrifice my identity and life to other people’s prideful demands for forgiveness and connection. I am no longer comfortable allowing myself to be led about in hopes of fitting in.

Secondly, and more importantly, I have too often hid the ugliness of my arrogance and contempt under the dark cloak of my power to forgive others.

Frankly, I am no longer comfortable in that coat. It doesn’t fit any longer.