Last night Nell hosted another Story Play showcase at Janiece’s house. We three performed along with Meryl and Rachael. I did a solo on the theme of forgiveness and then did a fully improvised duo with Rachael that started out with the topic of “spies” and ended up with us as Holy Rollers. It was freaking hysterical.
I wasn’t sure how my solo would go off because it was pretty heavy and didn’t have a beginning, middle, and end. It was somewhat diffuse. But MaryPat caught me afterwards and said that no matter if I’m doing comedy or something serious, I always come across as authentic. Someone said that about me somewhere before. I need to remember it so I can examine it in my work. She also said I go places other people are afraid to go, which I’ve heard all my life. What’s so scary? Why are people afraid to admit what’s real? Polite conversation is dead dull.
So. The solo. I don’t remember everything and there was one fencepost I wanted to include that I didn’t get to, so I’ll just reconstruct based on what I was going in with.
Yesterday I watched a brief documentary on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly on lynching. They interviewed a 92- and 93-year-old pair of sisters who as children had peeked out their window to see a mob carry a bullet-ridden body through the street in front of their house. The mob took the man to a tree and hanged him, then dragged his corpse through town behind a car to warn “uppity niggers.”
Another man was almost the victim of a lynching. He was grabbed by a mob and was being dragged to the tree when suddenly a white man appeared like Atticus Finch with a shotgun over his arm. The man told the crowd there would be no lynching that night. And the mob dispersed. “I knew when I saw that man,” said the survivor, “that I had to forgive them all.”
The two old women who’d seen the mob from their window talked about how they had hated whites until the hatred started to make them hard, started to eat them up inside. They didn’t want to be that way and realized they had to forgive.
While I didn’t put this in my solo, the most striking example of forgiveness I know of is the Amish school massacre that took place in Pennsylvania in 2006. After letting the adults and male children go, the shooter lined up the girls along the chalkboard and then methodically shot them in the head before killing himself. Five dead, five wounded.
The stunning thing is that that same day the grandfather of one of the murdered girls said he forgave the shooter. “He is standing before a just God,” he said, implying that judgment would be fair and meted out by God and not by humans. Thirty Amish attended the shooter’s funeral to provide comfort to his family. This is saintliness. It’s so far removed from the revenge/vengeance/vigilante culture we have in the dominant society that it might as well be from the moon.
I think about all the men who abused me, from when I was little until I was in my 20s, even when I said, “No!”. Have I forgiven them? I don’t know. I can’t tell.
I know what it feels like to be forgiven. Back when I was a Catholic girl, I would go into the box and confess my sins and then do penance gratefully. It wasn’t so much about the prayers as the trance-like state I would achieve where I could receive God’s grace. I would end up feeling shriven, clean, relaxed, shining.
I know what it feels like to forgive myself. May 15th 1997 I am standing in sacred space under a waterfall of mercy as I forgive myself for the years of cutting and burning and hitting myself, all the years of screaming, “I hate you!” into the mirror. And I am washed clean by these waters and made into a new person on every level. There is a reason I call it Rebirthday.
Does forgiveness come at the start of the process? Do you forgive and then start working through the process of understanding the trauma and re-assembling the self in the light of that forgiveness? Or does it come after you’ve processed the trauma as a sort of culmination/transformation?
I think of the worst of those men, the father of my best friend—tall, dark, with a monstrous limp and an unyielding will. I have done deep work processing the events surrounding his abuse of me and for the most part the experiences have their proper place in my psyche. Do I want him to suffer? A little bit would be okay. Maybe even a lot. But eternal suffering? No. Not even for him. Because somewhere in the depths of that monster I know there is a broken child.
I don’t know if I’ve forgiven them. All I know is that I don’t want to be hard. I don’t want to be eaten up inside. I want to be a being of compassion. I want to be a being of mercy. I want to be a being transformed.