Practicing forgiveness

For the past few days, I have been sitting with the incredible realization that all my tumors have actually shrunk. This runs counter to what I expected, and I feel like I am in this little wonderland, or a dream. I look around in awe and gratitude.

I don’t feel like I “deserve” it. I know too many people who, by my standards, deserve this kind of thing way more than I do. People who are nicer, kinder, more pious, have a more open heart, more to offer the world – pick a dimension, and I can find someone better than I am.

So I’m holding my breath and being grateful and hoping and praying that all those very deserving people will also experience this, and soon. This kind of wonder, this kind of awe, and certainly, encouraging news.

I always thought it would work like this: I promise God that, if He helps me to heal, I will do anything: be a better person, shout His word from the rooftops, etc. He then does something grand for me, and I become this person who forevermore walks around in a state of grace, spreading love and flowers everywhere I go. Welcome to my little fantasy.

In real life, I finished chemo on Thursday and, on Saturday, we went, as a family, to the matinee showing of Mummenschanz in Boston. One of our sons is on crutches, so Tiron dropped the kids and me at the door of the theater while he parked the car. The show hadn’t yet started and we followed an usher to our seats, which were in the center of a row of perhaps 20 seats, with numerous very full rows both ahead and behind us.

My least-favorite seating situation. Sitting in the center of a crowd can sometimes trigger my claustrophobia. I took a deep breath and told myself it would be okay.

The usher asked a family of seven, seated by the aisle, to get up so we could get to our center seats. I couldn’t hear the whole conversation, but the older woman on the end seemed to be annoyed, and the usher pointed out that one boy was on crutches so asked again, could they please get out of their seats so we could get to ours. While both boys made their way calmly and politely to our seats, that same woman started giving the usher, and me, a hard time. “Why do we have to move?” she wanted to know. “Why couldn’t these people,” meaning me and the boys, “bother the folks on the other side of the row?”

I was feeling virtuous so, before I got into the row, asked her whether we could fix something. She turned to me with what felt like venom, and, between her accusatory and put-upon tone of voice and my impending claustrophobia, I lost it. In a low voice, I started with the fact that we paid to see the show and had every right to get to our seats, then I quickly degenerated into a string of expletives that told her exactly what I felt she could do with her tickets, her seats and her attitude.

After that, I couldn’t sit in the seats. I didn’t want to sit anywhere near her. So I told the usher that I was claustrophobic and would stand in the back. She showed me some seats in another section, my boys exited their seats from the other side of the row (thankfully) and we all sat cozily together in one aisle seat in a new section.

The show was fabulous but I was fuming. I didn’t want to feel this way. I wanted to enjoy the show with my family. I wanted to treat people as worthy human beings. On top of all this, I know that my emotions affect my health. As one of my sons pointed out, if our emotions can trigger our body to make tears, what other things can our emotions do to our bodies. After getting such great news on my scan, I didn’t want to backtrack and have this eat at me.

It is easy for me to love mankind when I am alone and just visualizing it all, or when I am among friends or like-minded people. However, when I am with the general public, it can be more of a challenge. I would like to blame the other person, but in reality, they are just helping to put my beliefs to the test.

We tell our sons that, no matter how someone else is acting, they are responsible for their own actions. I knew that, regardless of whether she was right or wrong or a good or bad person, my actions in that moment were not what I strive for, and the very least I could do was apologize for my behavior. I knew that I would even feel better if I did that.

I also knew that I couldn’t apologize unless I was sincerely sorry for what I did. And I wasn’t sincerely sorry, because it felt good, at least at the time, to lash out. I felt like I was right and therefore, justified. She deserved it. But that thinking didn’t get me closer to a sincere apology and, if I was going to apologize, it would need to be during intermission. I had about 45 minutes to get sincere.

While the actors were on stage and the boys were laughing, I tried to work through my emotions.

  • I tried acknowledging that she might be having a difficult day herself, but I didn’t really care.
  • I tried running sample apologies through my mind, but each one sounded like just another chance to smack her with my righteousness.
  • I tried thinking that she is a child of God just like me, but I still felt superior to her.
  • I tried imagining how people I admire might better handle this and how I could use them as role models, but they looked too saintly.
  • Finally, I tried what is often my last resort, though it shouldn’t be because it works so consistently for me: I prayed for help, and then let it go.

By intermission, I was still holding my position, but my heart began to feel a bit more open to her. I still wasn’t completely ready to apologize, but as intermission started to end, I realized that now was the time.

I walked over to her seat and crouched down next to her. Even as I write this, I can feel how hard it was for me to do this. I hate not being right! I paused and looked at her face.

“I’m sorry that I talked to you that way. You didn’t deserve that.” I was surprised and relieved that my voice sounded kind.

She looked at me with alot of anger and didn’t say anything. I waited another moment and then said, “I found some seats in the back for my family, which are pretty good, and we won’t bother you. I didn’t want to bother you now, either. I just wanted to apologize.”

“I just thought it would be better for you to enter your seats from the other side.” She kind of spat it out, obviously still angry, but this time, it didn’t trigger anger in me.

“You are right. The usher sent us this way and I didn’t know any better. I’m sorry that we disturbed you and your family.”

After a pause, she said, “Thank you.”

Awesome. Perfect. But, could I leave it at that? No. I had to add one last dig. “Besides, between two kids and a colostomy bag, one of us was going to have to go to the bathroom during the performance.”

Okay, I have a ways to go before I am automatically spreading love and flowers everywhere. As I said earlier, I don’t necessarily deserve this good news from my scan. But thankfully, we don’t always get what we deserve.

15 thoughts on “Practicing forgiveness

  1. I love this! I am laughing as I read this and so happy that we are taking a walk tomorrow. I feel the same way you described – so often – and don’t like apologizing for my bad behavior, especially when it was triggered by someone else’s clearly worse behavior!

    Anyway, kudos to you for speaking up. I would not have felt good about you letting her feel that she was justified in her obnoxious behavior! oxoxoxox

  2. Marie,

    I don’t know how you found the strength to apologize. But then again, I always knew you were amazing.

    xo, J

  3. Oh Marie! What a story.

    Also, how human of you! And I mean that in the nicest possible way. Nasty people happen all the time (just as saintly ones do!). It is so very HUMAN to defend ourselves and our children when we’re hurt or angry. So, you know, congrats on the whole human gig!

    Here’s another thing, though: that lady was behaving in a way that was unkind and selfish (really, lady? you can’t get your *ss up to make space for another audience member and her 2 kids?) and when you confronted her, you made her accountable for that behavior. I don’t see that as being so wrong! 🙂 Really!

    I get that you don’t want to carry the negativity of the exchange with you. And you DID apologize, you DID make an amend. But maybe part of your exchange with Ms. I-Am-Wedded-To-My-Seat was one of those tricky karmic gifts to both of you:
    * For HER– to understand that you cannot treat people like dung beetles without incurring some consequence.
    * For YOU– yet another reminder that the Universe/God has no logic that our sad little selves can see clearly. Certainly NO-ONE I know gets what they deserve in this life, tumors, parking spaces, and theater seats included. But maybe you had the gift of being authentic in that encounter, the gift of articulating an injustice, and making a blip on the cosmic screen of human interaction.

    So: YAY for speaking up. YAY for having your children see that you are capable of defending them aloud. YAY for having the balls to make a scene! And YAY for being humble and brave enough to own the situation, attempt an apology, and move on.

    What I’m trying to say is–When I grow up, I’d like to be you! (you know, minus the tumor thingy…lol) Thanks for sharing your experiences with such grace and rigorous honesty–that’s a hard balance to pull off!

    • Jennifer,
      I love reading what you write! You just make so much sense AND you make me feel good! And you are right, I walked away with the “…no logic that our sad little selves can see clearly.” In my mind, I was jokingly throwing up my hands and saying, this all doesn’t make sense to me but whatever – I’ll go along for the ride!
      So, thank you for ALL of this!!!

  4. Marie-

    That was brilliant- I laughed out loud on the airport bus reading your final retort.

    Kudos to you for pulling it together to apologize, my hat is off to you!

  5. Ah Marie,

    What a beautiful post. I am sitting with you in the aisle feeling your anger and your emotions and your desire to forgive and be kind and be the person you know yourself to be. Ahh – the drama – why couldn’t you just have had the night you so needed with your family? A night your so deserved? Because as we know, life rarely works that way and these “tests” are always put in front of us when we least need them – as if we ever “need” them.

    I am reminded of another story as I read this. My neighbors and close friends lost their baby son to a brain tumor a few days before his first birthday a few years ago. Sherri spent the better part of 8 months going back and forth to the hospital to see her son and one day while she was driving and pulled over at a stop sign, a woman honked her horn at her and flipped her off. Perhaps she was slow off the line or had made a mistake, she never knew.

    But I remember as she told me the story, how much I wish I could have looked that woman in the minivan, the one who had just flipped my friend off as she drove to the hospital to sit with her dying infant, and told her what my friend was going through. How much I could have explained that while she was losing her patience with my friend, who was watching her world fall in on her – at least that’s what it felt like to her at the time – what awaited my friend at the end of that drive and for those few months.

    I wish that woman knew and understood what you are going through. I hope that she was just cranky because she was just “cranky” – not because she was going through something. I kind of find that the people who are often the kindest are the ones who know pain or grief or hurt. Because they also know empathy.

    I am glad you showed yours. And your grace.

    • Wow, thanks Kiran. I read your message and could feel this amazing softness. Thank you for sending that. (And, of course, my heart goes out to your friend, both because of all that she went through (and are likely still going through) AND because, as I read, I could completely feel that “last straw” feeling, that feeling where you are holding it all together. Barely, but still holding it together, and it just takes one thing to make it all come crumbling apart. It can be overwhelming to realize that we each have that impact, that potential, that power to crumble the world of another, or strengthen it even a little in a way that will carry them through.
      Lots of love to you.

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