The Work That’s Never Done
There’s one item in our house that always catches people’s eyes.
The item in question? A photo collage that my husband Jonathan received when we moved away from the L’Arche community where we met.
Farewell collages are a tradition at L’Arche DC; they feature the faces of every person that was a part of L’Arche during the years one lived there. In Jonathan’s case, that means five years of faces, five years of relationships.
When we first moved, I hesitated to display the collage. The goodbye was still raw; there were (are) so many people we love and miss. And some faces triggered feelings of grief or discomfort, in the wake of try-as-we-might-but-alas-still-unresolved conflict.
Even so, I sensed that putting it out in the open was the right thing to do.
Ever since we moved, that collage has been an excellent emotional ‘gauge’ for me. If I pass it and my heart aches with missing beloved people, I know it’s time to let myself grieve, to send them love and light. If I feel old hurts stirring, I know it’s time to pray in the words of the Wailin’ Jennys in their song Beautiful Dawn:
Teach me how to see when I close my eyes / Teach me to forgive and to apologize
Show me how to love in the darkest dark / There’s only one way to mend a broken heart.
Our work of forgiveness is never done (not in this life, anyway). I will always need to return to this prayer. But more and more, as I look at those faces, all I feel is love.
To be sure, I’ve had to do hard things to get there, like cleaning up messes I made or participated in, and admitting where I was wrong. I’ve had to write:
Dear friend, I have eaten some humble pie since last we met, and it has helped me to see our time together more clearly. I thought I understood everything, but I understood almost nothing at all. I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I gave you the cold shoulder rather than the benefit of the doubt.
I’m sorry I didn’t fight harder for our friendship.
I’m sorry I was too scared to tell you the truth.
I’m sorry I couldn’t let you go your own way.
Could you forgive me?
When I’ve sent such messages — difficult as they are to compose — I have never felt so free. And don’t even get me started on people’s replies. When I consider how so many people forgave me before I even knew I needed their forgiveness … I just lose it. Things get undignified. Holy tears.
Heaven, I believe, is simply a place without barriers, and I’ve never felt this as strongly as when I see walls between us fall.
So here’s what I think when I look at that collage now: the people who love and forgive you are your family … and so are the people who resent you and hold things against you.
Because we’ve all done both, haven’t we?
In the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
And so I pray for every face on that collage. Even if we never meet again, we will always be connected. We are part of one another’s stories, pieces of one another’s hearts. We’re family, and family isn’t simple or easy or get-it-right-the-first-time. We have to keep falling down, and getting back up together.
It’s like what happened when I was trying to take a picture of the collage for this post. At first, all my shots came out blurry, with too much glare. Finally, it hit me: I have to sit on the floor and look up from below. I have to, quite literally, get out of my own way.
And then – only then – will I be able to see clearly.
How have you experienced forgiveness? Join the conversation in the comments!
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About Caroline McGraw
I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. I grew up in New Jersey (think peaceful suburb, not Newark), graduated from Vassar with honors, then served as a live-in caregiver and program director at L'Arche Washington DC. Nowadays, my husband renovates our historic 1901 home in northwestern Alabama, while I try (& fail) to keep our cat Bootsie from developing an epic tuna fish addiction. It's a beautiful life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.