This afternoon we all went down for a nap, since we were all operating under the blight of continuing sleep deprivation. Joanna slept the longest, for over two hours. Even Emily napped for an hour, though, and I slept for an hour and a half. It was so lovely. The rest of the day went much better.
Tonight, we put the kids down at bedtime and crossed our fingers. Joanna spent the whole week we were in St. Louis crying piteously for me at night, and bedtime became somewhat fraught as a consequence. Tonight I tucked her in with a stuffed animal, put her blankets on her, said goodnight, and we walked out. “Waaaaaaah!” sounded very shortly; Ted didn’t make it downstairs before the first wail. He tried for a while, and then asked if I could take over. I went upstairs, hoping that one snuggle with me would do it. It didn’t. And not only did she keep crying, she kept getting out of bed and coming to the door. So, I bit the bullet and went back to our sleep-training tactics of waiting for a bit until she escalated, and then coming back in just long enough to pick her up, hold her only long enough for her to stop crying, put her back in bed, and then leave. It was painful, but from that point on it only took 3 or 4 tries before she was quiet. I felt that since I’m the one she’s been crying for, I was the one who had to do the sleep training. She only wanted me, but only my continued presence could satisfy her. And that is a recipe for sadness, difficulty, and resentment. That $$ we paid the sleep specialist when the twins were a year old has paid off in dividends, as financially painful as it was at the time. That training gave us some tools that have lasted, and something to return to when we need to. I am feeling much better tonight, knowing that I was able both to take action and get a better result.
Also this evening I have had a couple of really good conversations with friends. I am still ruminating on their content, but one insight that came to me during the second talk is something I want to write down now before I forget it.
And that is, I think there are different kinds of forgiveness. I have gotten stuck before in thinking of forgiveness as a blanket sort of thing that applies in all circumstances of hurt. I am coming to believe now, though, that it’s not. There’s the kind you can engage in when there’s been a problem in a relationship, but both parties are working to engage in truth-telling and reconciliation. That sort of forgiveness can help you heal and move forward, and allow the relationship to grow. It’s the situation in which you can honestly say, “S/he did the best s/he could, and I accept and forgive his/her human failure, and choose to see it in the light of the whole person, and move forward with love and compassion.” And that’s what I’ve considered forgiveness to be.
But that is not always possible. It’s not always true to say that somebody did the best they could. People don’t always do the best they can. I certainly don’t. I make choices every day that are not the best choices I can make. One of the ways in which I’m growing as a person is to be able to see that without shame, to just accept that, and to know that I am working hard to improve, and that it is human to make mistakes. But still, it’s easy to think of tons of examples of people not doing the best they can. I think it’s foolish to claim that they do. And consequences from those choices can be grim both in nature and degree. And in that case, sometimes, even through great pain and betrayal, people do find ways to forgive and to heal, to strengthen their relationship.
But it is not always possible, or even desirable or appropriate to move a relationship forward.
So, what does it mean to forgive someone when there’s not a mutual process of understanding and reconciliation?
I think it has to do with a variety of factors. (I haven’t fully thought or felt this out, so my apologies for any lack of coherence or organization in these ideas.)
First, acceptance: when I was talking to my friend L, the image that occurred to me first was of acceptance at a very basic level of a person’s flawed human nature. This is not the idea that someone is human, and therefore did the best s/he could, and is therefore deserving of understanding and forgiveness. This is more a practice of cultivating a resentment-free, adult-level acceptance of the fact of life that because human beings are flawed, and sometimes significantly so, they make sometimes terrible mistakes, sometimes with great deliberation or malicious intent. This happens. It sucks, but it happens, and is one of the costs of being alive. I accept this reality of human existence.
Second, disengagement. Who is carrying the burden of pain forward? Is it me? Can I choose to step away from the dance of pain, anger, resentment, disappointment? Can I commit to self-care, to loving myself with passion and consistency, and to allow the wounds from the original act/circumstance to heal? Can I view each repetition of the pattern that troubles me not as a fresh assault, but just another piece of the whole package of which I am practicing forgiveness? Can I set the other person’s behavior aside, out of the domain of my psyche, view it as having nothing, ultimately, to do with me? Can I let go of feeling rage, of being at all surprised when another repetition occurs? Can I pull myself in and be 100% responsible for my own happiness, regardless of his/her actions?
Third, being open and honest about possibility. If I can let go of needing a relationship or a person to be any particular way, then perhaps I can cultivate awareness and gratitude for anything positive, no matter how small, I have gained in the past or do currently gain in that relationship and with that person. This may let me focus on the basic human relationship I have with him/her, in order to see and feel any positive nuggets that exist, without having to engage in the complex dances of a much more connected, committed relationship that constitutes a family, romantic, or friend relationship between two responsible parties.
I think forgiveness might be a concept for which there should be many different words, to convey a variety of different approaches. For now, what I can do is work on acceptance, because that is what I owe myself, what I can do for myself.