Because I'm a disciple of restorative justice, I'm frequently placed in positions where people expect me to preach the gospel of forgiveness. Being anointed a spokesperson for anything, especially something so sacred, tends to be problematic. While I'm striving for growth, transcendence of difficult human emotions will be something I assume I'll master in my next life or Heaven or when I am a tree. The future remains uncertain.
In preparation for a recent restorative discussion, I opened up The Book of Forgiving by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho, hoping to situate myself in a mind-frame focused on forgiveness. The Book, however, launched me elsewhere, into investigating past dramas, ensconcing me squarely in my own anger.
It has been said that my anger has some heat on it though it comes off rather cold. I've been known to point it with great precision — a searing and steely, seething and silent, sulky projectile — arriving right on target. I am not proud of this, solely aware, self-scrutinizing and attempting advancement.
My anger derives mostly from pain (real or perceived), and nothing upsets me quite like a power imbalance, particularly in situations too close to my openly vulnerable heart. Ratchet up to threat level red when transparency or agency is low — little information or influence. I'd like to claim this agitation stems from a good place, a deeply seated belief that humans are stunning, possessing the capacity to work through anything after honest assessment. I am also keenly aware that I'm wired to seek control of my surroundings. So I keep working on it, religiously.
There is a Buddhist parable about a man shot with a poisoned arrow. Loved ones want to send for help immediately. He refuses. Before seeking assistance, he wants to know, "Who is the man that wounded me?" The devil is in the details and so the victim demands to know the assailant's name, clan, whether he was "tall, medium or short," which bow was used, "one of fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark." Ultimately, his obsession with the inaccessible brings about his demise.
I'm learning but still struggling to understand that people aren't always in a place to share information, and that even when they do, it's likely I'll receive answers I have trouble accepting. I still exhaust myself over-analyzing the absent.
There is also a Christian song that I remember from attending Mass, one of my mother's favorites. The lyrics continue to conjure a sense of safety: "Blest be the Lord, blest be the Lord. The God of Mercy, the God who saves. I shall not fear the dark of night, nor the arrow that flies by day."
I wonder whether there will ever come a time when I'm more adept with arrows — dodging those shot off accidentally, quickly removing the jagged, broken pieces of others, lodged in my flesh, piercing me deeply. I question whether I'll ever fully acknowledge my own ability, achieving a steady hand that never needs an announcement, showing off or sending warning shots across the bow in an attempt to preemptively protect. I ponder whether expert status is ever attainable, if I'll become an archer who can masterfully examine the ways I've misfired, taking into account my own miscalculations.
In The Book, they say that forgiveness — of others, of ourselves — is a difficult and nonlinear process and our intent is important. To begin, they offer a "Prayer Before the Prayer of Forgiveness." Meditating on the lines "Grant me the will to want to forgive. Grant it to me not yet but soon..." has been helpful, having that as an aim, feels like a fairly achievable target. ♦
Inga N. Laurent is a local legal educator and a Fulbright scholar. She is deeply curious about the world and its constructs and delights in uncovering common points of connection that unite our shared but unique human experiences.