“You don't ask for no diamond rings
No delicate string of pearls
That's why I wrote this song to sing“
I want to know what it feels like to forgive someone who apologizes first. God didn’t offer many apologies when I lost my mom or my grandma, which I guess makes sense. I can’t pick my father out of a lineup, so forgiveness being a one-sided experience for me there also makes sense.
I've found reciprocity in forgiveness when looking into the mirror and admitting I fucked up and mistreated the body, soul, and heart that I see reflected back at me. The staring and learning to forgive myself, it’s led me down a road of figuring out what forgiving others, those who are alive and able to speak by their own volition, would look like.
I start with myself though.
On a Monday, 106 days into my 25th year of life, I found myself in the bathtub, stripped naked, and crying into myself. Therapy had been hard. Life had been hard. Becoming has been hard. Speaking apologies to the person who rested below warm water has been an Everest. Learning what forgiving others means has been pure lava.
I sunk in the water deeper. I visualized myself on my knees clearly. It’s the only way to really start the apology process, I think — with humility, with understanding that “on your knees” translates to “I’m responsible for the hurt caused.”
I’ve spoken so many apologies into myself that my words mean nothing to my body, heart, and soul anymore. My actions were the ones that repetitively hurt. I shortchanged myself. Didn’t acknowledge how worthy I am of love, of complete acceptance, of an equal. I hurt myself. Didn’t understand the importance of boundaries, of respecting my feelings, of taking ownership of my body.
Changed behavior, that’s the key to repentance. It’s the only form of repentance that my body, my heart, and my soul are accepting these days. Changed behavior. Forgiveness. Selfless acts of love.
With every time I change a bad habit, I start trusting myself more, I have less to forgive myself for.
With every time that I acknowledge humanity and imperfection — of myself and of others — I loosen the reigns on what needs to be forgiven and what needs to just be accepted.
With every minute that I don’t turn my back on my anger and hurt, my heart let’s me in a little bit more. It learns to trust me again. It allows me to give and receive love again.
By ignoring my hurt, I ignored the opportunity to forgive myself and others. The cycle formed toxic because it was stripped of love. To acknowledge how we’ve hurt ourselves, or others, is an act of love. It’s to say, “I see you. I see how my love for you, how your love for me, means that my words and my actions held the power to hurt you. And hurt you they did.” To accept that we have the power to both forgive and ask for forgiveness, that we are worthy of second chances, it’s to say, “I see you. I love you and your humanity. Apologizing, forgiving, it doesn’t make you a bad or weak person, it makes you a brave person. I see myself. I am brave. I am worthy of forgiveness, of second starts.”
Forgiveness is born from bravery. It’s born from a long time of sitting with regret and a few seconds of jumping into fear and calling “mercy” because you’re tired of twisting your own wrists.
The risk comes from understanding that humans are flawed and that attempts at giving or receiving apologies may fall short. The reward comes from understanding that humans are flawed and that attempts at giving or receiving apologies may fall short, but a pat on the back for those who at least take the first step.
Because that’s another truth I’m learning. We often think of forgiveness as an exchange of vows — “Do you forgive me for [insert slights here]?” “I do.” We do ourselves harm by simplifying such a layered process into the exchange of two sentences. A marriage isn’t the wedding, it starts with the wedding. Forgiveness isn’t the apology, it starts with the apology.
I haven’t actively practiced large scale forgiveness in my life until I turned 25. I look in the mirror and the list is long of the things I need to forgive myself for. I look at pictures and the list is long for the things that I need to forgive others for.
I start with myself though.
A month and a half before my 10th birthday, my mom went into the hospital. A month and one day after my 10th birthday, my mom passed away. Every day since January 10, 2003 has been an attempted lesson in forgiving hurt that was inflicted on me. Every single day until my 25th birthday saw me choosing to forget and bury instead of to forgive and accept.
Then I turned a quarter of a century old.
Besides my 10th birthday, my 25th birthday has been the only one that I had ever really looked forward to. There was something about turning 25 that felt like a turning point for me. For months, I’d dropped hints that all I wanted was a guitar and to recreate some of my mom’s go-to birthday traditions. I’d made it a point to state that I didn’t want extravagant, I simply wanted mine. I wanted an intimate dinner that spoke to who I am as I weave in and out of relationships — delicate, steady, joyful. I wanted presents that spoke to how I hope others see me — thoughtful, meaningful, fun, unique.
I wanted the control I was letting go of when it came to planning my own birthday to follow me into the next quarters of my life. I didn’t want to build the rest of my adulthood on having to hold everyone’s hands as they figured out how to show up on the other half of our relationships.
I wanted to sit. I wanted to wait. I wanted to feel celebrated.
Instead 25 brought me here — joy by way of forgiveness and bravery. I wanted others to see that I had been caving under the weight without having to say the words. I wanted for things to be different without needing to ruffle any feathers.
How often do we find ourselves here? Caving, breaking, deteriorating under weight and still we hold ourselves back from asking for…help, love, grace, forgiveness, a second chance, a third one, a moment to fucking breathe.
I wanted to walk into my quarter of a century year by surrendering to the love that I’d sown and I wanted to finally reap. That level of acceptance doesn’t come easy though, it’s born by way of shedding, and for too long I resisted the process. The universe screamed that I needed solitude to change and I screamed back that I could do it my way and still end up in the same place.
I was wrong.
Forgiveness is a difficult process to put into words when you don’t know what it looks like in communion. For most of my life it’s felt like a process that I couldn’t really participate in. Then I started practicing it with myself and I realized I’m tired of it being one-sided or unavailable, so 112 days into my 25th year, I’m inviting love and forgiveness and bravery in.