Ah, the good ol’ days! Travel used to be so simple then.
When I was a kid, part of the excitement of any trip south of Chicago was the picnic in the car. There were always sandwiches, fried chicken and cookies. If we were lucky, there was cake. If someone had to tinkle, we merely pulled onto a shoulder and ran down an embankment, out of view.
We knew where we could stop and where we couldn’t; we knew what we could say and what we couldn’t. Choose the wrong stop, say the wrong word, have the wrong expression on your face, and the males in the car would most likely inspire an even larger picnic. Folks would come from miles around, toting their blankets and young ones to see humans hanged from trees. And this was wholesome family entertainment.
How soon we forget those perilous times. Here I set off on the road to Forgiveness…the Final Frontier–alone, with no rations, and not the slightest bit of apprehension. What, me worry? Times have changed. I fully expected that I would be able to stop anywhere and that I’d be accepted, if not welcomed.
Earth to Pat: Wake up and smell the coffee. Forgiveness isn’t always embraced. It doesn’t always heal; in fact, sometimes it incites full-blown rage. I found out the hard way.
I posted my Get out of a Jam with the “F” Word essay on Gather.com last week, because the community over there actively shouts back, and we have great dialogue even if we don’t always agree. The “F” Word essay was selected by the Gather editors for the blog site’s home page, which heightened its visibility.
That was good news–and bad news. One reader not only objected to the topic; he characterized it as “cult like, cypto-religious psychobable” that “bleeds over into the islamic cartoon mentality”.
I’m not sure what shift this guy works on the blog police force, but I’ll try not to post again when he’s on duty, lest I inspire another one of those ill-fated picnics. He was particularly outraged that I had the temerity to take it upon myself to do something divine.
“Who and what are YOU, to forgive anything?” he screeched.
Alrighty now. This brother obviously was not having a good Friday, and I apparently hadn’t made it any better. Maybe his paycheck was short, I don’t know. But despite all his ranting, this dude had as much chance of goading me into a wrath-filled tirade as I had of convincing him to give his carcinogenic rage a rest.
But he did get my attention, for a reason that was both peculiar and eerie: It was the second time in less than 24 hours that I’d heard these venomous words. The first time, I was watching a public TV segment about the premiere of the documentary, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele”.
The 80-minute doc profiles a Terre Haute, Indiana woman Eva Mozes Kor, who survived Nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s diabolical medical experiments on 1,500 sets of Jewish twin children. Fewer than 200 survived.
During a public ceremony at Auschwitz in 1995, Eva decided to free herself from those painful memories. As she later told a Catholic Herald reporter, “I realized that I had the power to forgive, that no one could give me the power and no one could take it away. And for a little victim, who was a victim for almost 50 years, to realize that I have the power made me feel very good.”
Eva loved that feeling, so she openly forgave her torturers and the other Nazis whose intolerance of difference led to the murders of her parents, siblings, millions of other Jews, and almost as many Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals.
How dare she.
“Who are YOU to forgive anyone?” another survivor angrily screamed at her, declaring that forgiving the Nazis was an insult to their victims.
Why does forgiveness attract full-blown rage? Who knows? Ask Gandhi. Ask Martin. Ask those who love their anger and pain so much, they’ll resentfully attack others who choose inner peace. Some attacks are more vicious than others, which truly tests one’s resolve to forgive, as Eva discovered when arsonists destroyed her small Holocaust museum.
To err is human, but why do we think that only God can and should forgive? Why is it that when we resolve to act less human and more divine, there are always those who will dramatically demonstrate the difference between the two?
What happens when we decide not to let anger fester inside of us? According to Eva, “I felt immediately a burden of pain was lifted from my shoulders, that I was no longer a prisoner of my tragic past, that I was no longer a victim.”
This, from a woman who was snatched from her parents and older sisters, who stepped over the skeletal corpses of other captive children in the concentration camp latrine, whose young body was poked and probed and injected with germs that were expected to kill her. And we’re still ticked off with someone…about what?
If you ask Eva, she’ll tell you in a minute, “Forgive your worst enemy. It will heal your soul. It will set you free!”
As for me, I’m kicking it into passing gear–and putting my bail bond card on the dashboard, in case I run into another hard-nosed blog cop between here and the Final Frontier.
While being interviewed this week for Dana Roc’s “Inspiring People” column, she asked me, “One hundred years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?”
It reminded me of this scenario Stephen Covey painted years ago in his inspiring bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: You’re at the funeral of a loved one, approaching the casket. When you look inside, you come face to face with…yourself.
Stunned, you sit and wait for the services to begin, reading the program. There will be four speakers. One is a family member, another is a friend; the third is a business associate, and the fourth is someone with whom you’ve performed charitable or church work.
What will they say? The question is both provocative and eerie for me. First, it’s disconcerting to imagine myself at my own funeral, primarily because I’ve forbidden my family from hosting one of these gatherings on my behalf. If they feel compelled do something, absolutely no lifeless bodies are allowed on the premises. Jiminy Christmas! They’re such a downer.
Despite my aversion to these momentous events, I must admit that Covey’s illustrative example of highly effective people’s #2 habit, “beginning with the end in mind” made me think. I’d resolved that I’d play hooky from the whole affair, but I’d never thought about what would be said about me after I leave Pat’s body.
Think about it, Covey urged: “What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?
“What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you have liked to have made in their lives?”
Pow! Even now, 15 years after I first read Covey’s words, they still pack a punch. I recall thinking back then what a terrific opportunity he’d given me: the chance to re-write my script, “with the end in mind.” Sometimes, we get so caught up in our daily dramas that we lose sight of that unavoidable end, and we forfeit the opportunity to fine-tune the speeches the other actors will read in that final scene.
I find that it’s helpful to take inventory, periodically. Don’t you?
When’s the last time you asked yourself, “How am I impacting others? What difference am I making? Are my family, friends and business associates observing that I’m growing in character, understanding, and compassion, or that I’m simply growing older?“
What will they say? What lines will you have written for them?
We’re all messengers. What message are we leaving for those who are close to us and those we encounter, even casually, enroute to our end?
We’re all here for a purpose. What’s yours? If you don’t know it, when do you plan to find out? Are you content to wander aimlessly in the desert until they shovel sand in your face, or will you leave a message that neither time nor windstorm can erase?
Who are you, really? Are you today the person you want to be? Do you know who you want to be?
What will they say when the curtain falls? What will be their indelible memories about you? How will you direct that final scene?
Time’s almost up. The interview is drawing to a close. There’s just one more question:
“So Pat, 100 years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?” Dana asked earnestly.
I thought for a few seconds. Then I knew with certainty. “I want to be remembered for delivering Truth…joyfully.”
Surprised, she wondered, “Anything else?”
Now that she mentioned it, there was one more thing.
(To read the entire interview, click here.)
My mother isn’t the only one who used to say that, is she? Nah. We’ve all heard it, at some point. Sometimes we believed it, and brought our behavior in check. Other times, we did what we wanted to do because we thought we could get away with it.
It’s our belief that we can do things with impunity that often causes us trip over our own feet. We conveniently forget or bend the Golden Rule, or maybe it’s just that we don’t connect the dots from cause to effect.
I was reminded of this today when I opened two email messages from a friend. The subject lines hadn’t grabbed my immediate attention when the messages initially arrived. They were about a genie in a bottle. Didn’t seem too urgent to me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Tucked inside those messages were two gems: one was a short documentary film; the other was a suburban Chicago newspaper article about the filmmakers. Their message boiled down to this: A Hard Head Makes a Soft Behind.
This drama isn’t about somebody else’s life. It’s about YOURS. I invite you to take 16 short minutes out of your life to watch Genie in the Bottle Unleashed.
(By the way, you’ll need QuickTime Player to view it. Here’s the link for the fr*e download, if you’re on a PC platform.)
If you want to know more about the awesome young filmmakers, here’s a terrific article.
The first stop was at the door of a client who signed a hefty one-year contract that he didn’t have the financial resources to fulfill.
“F” him! Yep, I forgave him. In fact, every time he crosses my mind, I shout the “F” word again. I’ll keep practicing that line until I can recite it with loving sincerity.
The next speed bump was the prospective client who dramatically demonstrated what disrespect looks like when it’s taken to the extreme. He had offered an even more lucrative contract. Got lost on his desk, I guess. He refuses to talk about it. “F” him in generous helpings with unlimited refills. Ooh! That was so satisfying!
Wait a minute. What happened? Am I on the right road? Didn’t I pass this intersection before? The corner of Shallow Pockets and Shady.
OH! And look who’s standing there. It’s Client #1. He knew that I wasn’t the slightest bit entertained by his first performance. But he also knew that I suddenly needed a client to fill the gaping hole in my schedule, a client with both integrity and money in the bank. So he disguised himself as one.
“Tsk, tsk, your sharp teeth are showing, Sir. “
Do you know that karma-creatin’ clown actually tried to trick me into doing a massive project on 100% contingency? “F” HIM!!! And, please God, make it stick this time so I’ll never attract anyone like him into my life again! It’s time to move on.
Screech! What now? Just as I thought I was ready to shift into the passing gear, I slammed right into a four-letter F word: none other than the illustrious James Frey, big-as-if-you-please, casting an ominous shadow of suspicion on every author who ever wrote a memoir. I needed this cloud over my first book?
“F” James—and my former colleague Oprah, who dared to say that truth doesn’t matter. She changed her mind. Not sure he’s gotten there yet. But I’m gonna keep forgiving him, anyway. “F” you, James–and Random House.
Who knew the road to the Final Frontier would be this tough? Forgiving everyone, including myself, for random acts of unkindness is not for punks. How long will it take to get to my destination at this rate? This is not exactly how I want to spend the rest of my life—on a path to somewhere that always seems just a few miles ahead.
What should I do? I wondered.
Do what you always do: Create a different reality with your mind.
Duh. What was I thinking?
In the blink of an eye, I created the world’s largest coliseum. State-of-the-art, of course. A first class venue, if you ever saw one. The concession stands sold the best food in the world–and at reasonable prices. It had plush seats, cup holders holding beautiful crystal champagne glasses, and under each chair was a mysterious looking sheet of shiny metal.
With another thought, I recalled every encounter in my eternal life that still held some residual anger, guilt, judgment, condemnation, or resentment because I had never said or thought the “f” word. Instantly, the stadium was filled with those who were pivotal to each scene. I mean this place was packed. In fact, there were so many folks in the parking lot that I had to build another stadium!
The air was buzzing with anticipation—curiosity mostly, but I could sense a bit of hostility, too. Some weren’t exactly thrilled to see my behind again. Others were embarrassed and ashamed to look at me.
I smiled, took a deep breath, and lowered the gigantic four-sided screen that hung over the playing field. As the lights dimmed and music slowly faded in, I explained that we were about to witness the most amazing reality show ever. That got their attention.
In the deeply edited version of my life, many of those in the stands were on-screen, co-starring in scenes that had no entertainment value. Absolutely none. But these were valuable scenes, nonetheless.
What all of us dramatically discovered by watching the big screen is that Life is always fair: whatever you do comes back to you. Every thought, every action, and every word ricochet, leaving dark impressions on our eternal souls.
It was spellbinding, eye-opening stuff, those bigger-than-life scenes in front of us. We noticed that an act performed during one encounter encored in another seemingly unrelated scene. When those scenes were played back-to-back, however, we could instantly connect the dots that we had failed to connect previously.
We were mesmerized. It was so clear why the Rule is Golden: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Because…it will. Eye for an eye. We’d heard it, but we didn’t understand it. Now, it was so clear why Jesus had advised us not to judge or condemn, unless we wanted to be judged or condemned. It was clearer still why we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Our actions are interrelated, and so are we.
I like quoting my friend, Rev. Dr. Vici Derrick of Seattle’s Joy Chapel, who says, “I am not my brother’s keeper. I am my brother.” Roll the credits.
Stunned silence greeted the movie’s end. No one moved.
Perfect! I didn’t want them to. (That’s the great thing about directing your own dream.)
I asked my guests to lift the glasses in their cup holders. Instantly, they were filled with pink champagne.
With my glass held high, I made a 360-degree turn, bowed humbly to each section of the stadium, and did what I should have done ages ago: I said the “f” word. I forgave them and I forgave myself for anything I might have done to hurt them in any way. I followed it with the “l’ word. I told each of them that I loved them the way Jesus taught us to love, the way God loves His prodigal children: unconditionally.
We saluted each other and sipped the delicious champagne.
“One more thing, Loved Ones,” I said. “Please pick up the iridescent sheet that is under your seat and hold it high.
I didn’t even know what was going to happen, frankly. So I was as surprised as they were when the forgiveness I had gently cast their way reflected off of those panels right back at me. It seemed to bounce off of every panel, multiply and intensify. There was joy in the house!
The Light of Forgiveness dispelled the darkness of anger and resentment that had blocked our personal paths, lifted it out of that stadium, and we watched it disappear into nothingness.
The cheers were deafening. We were free, thank God Almighty! We were finally released from our self-imposed prisons.
When I opened my eyes, I could still feel the overwhelming joy, the chills from the experience. I had witnessed a miracle. I could physically feel that I had removed roadblocks in my own path that had hampered my progress, created unhappy relationships, and attracted people who are not impeccable with their word.
Something had changed. I had changed. Days later, I’d discover how much.
I had trusted others to be honorable. I made plans based on their misrepresentations. As a result, I was in a real jam. Stuck, almost to the point of paralysis. Every time it appeared that the ambulance was pulling up to my door, it would suddenly disappear. Poof! Gone. As if I had never seen it.
Poor perception on my part—and yep, poor memory. I’d forgotten that we can’t solve problems on the same level that we created them. I’d also forgotten that my rescuer, like my problem, is never outside of me.
More important, I’d forgotten how powerful the “f” word is and how it reflects back on you and heals you where you most need it. Yesterday, that stadium full of forgiveness made an encore performance in my life in the most unexpected and miraculous way.
From now on, if I find myself in a jam, the first thing I’m going to do is “F” it! In fact, I’ll probably make a grand production of it, and write the most powerful, life-altering script I’ve ever penned.
One soliloquoy: “I forgive…”