To Not Make Better of it, but to Forever and Ever Try
Earlier in the week, I wrote a note on forgiveness on my Facebook page. It sparked a decent bit of conversation. As I have cooked this week, I’ve pondered the subject, and the conversation, focusing on my personal work at forgiving, as well as the larger cultural fights to forgive, which I also see playing out on Facebook every day. Maybe it’s something we should talk about more, and see the congruence and dissonance between forgiveness as we hear it and learned it, and how we act it out.
When I think of forgiveness, I think first about growing up in southern churches. I think about my preacher granddaddy, and his deep Alabama drawl. I think about the smell inside Shades Mountain Church’s lobby, in Birmingham: cool air and peace lilies, ladies’ perfume and shined shoes, while the summer sun and the hot sound of cicadas fade slowly away, the glass front door of the church closing behind you. I think about words, and stories. Women with handbags over their forearms, saying My! How much you’ve grown!
Those places are where I first heard about forgiveness. Those people were the people who first talked to me about forgiving. But they are all abstract, the words, and the people. Toothy smiles and flowered dresses, southern smells, snapping green beans, and eating potato salad. I heard about forgiveness, cross-legged in the grass, and then captured fireflies. With little to forgive, I could not know what the words meant to me. I never considered whether I agreed with them, and the concept of forgiveness itself. I put them away, like the fruits of the spirit, into the inner-sphere of abstract perfections: things a girl should always do, but it’ll be hard to get it right every time.
Later, when I pondered forgiveness, I’d think about the earth. As a farmer, watching the soil heal, again and again, each year poking new green shoots around unabashedly, I figured forgiveness was ultimate resiliency, in spite of great odds. I worshipped it, as a way of living, and as a source of life. I worked on being hardy but flexible, complex but roughly digestible. Real. I figured time would do the rest.
Now, I think about forgiveness, and I still think about all these things, but I think about people, too. People who have hurt me, and used me like endless water. Who did not see me, or know me, or fight for me. People who used damaging words along with the word “love,” and left a mess of lies in my chest, magnetized, that my heart pulls up willy-nilly, like refrigerator poetry. For there are things that seem true, and then there are things that are true. Neither or both will always make sense. There is the forecast, and then there is the weather. Because of this, I have days where I fear my own skin. I question my whole person as if I were even capable of doing anything about it, as if there is such a thing as fresh ground. As if the new green growth each year is not just iterations of iterations of the same old, crazy vine.
And so. Here I have been offered a true and desperate reason to forgive, and I have found that none of the associations I had with the concept of forgiveness have really helped me at all. At first, I stumbled around, wondering if forgiveness meant not saying no, when no was everything your heart was saying. I wondered if forgiveness meant understanding. If this were true, forgiveness would be impossible. Or maybe forgiveness did not require understanding, but merely living with a low, painful truth. Or maybe it was just a stark declaration I would someday be able to make, once time had moved fast enough to save me, but slow enough to let me breathe. Is forgiveness space? Allowance? Acceptance? What? Was it necessary? Did it matter whether I figured these things out? Did I want to forgive?
I wrote about it endlessly, not ciphering anything new. I looked to the land, and her fruits. What message lay there, that I couldn’t yet see? Slowly, in the midst of what seemed like a long, peculiar isolation, I achieved lots of things that I thought would bring me forgiveness. I learned to live accompanied only by my own exceptional pain, without submitting to insanity. I learned incredible silence, even when silence burns like a brand in my back. I learned to watch, to become invisible, learned to live, no, thrive, within the waters of unanswered questions. I’m OK. I'm happy. But something still weighs upon me. Allowance, acceptance of truth, admission of horrible sadness, withstanding hate, and even the passage of time: none of these things have brought me forgiveness. Because forgiveness is not ultimately synonymous with any of these things.
Forgiveness, I believe, is a true unburdening, and that looks different for everyone. I believe it goes past acceptance and allowance. I know for a fact that acceptance and allowance are two things that you can be forced to do. But forgiveness is a pilgrimage to take by choice only. For time, acceptance, and me living-with-it, and admitting/allowing truth have come and gone in many brittle layers, but forgiveness is turning out to be a grander telos. A decision to try for a higher freedom. For me.
I haven’t achieved it yet. Sometimes, the chasm between feeling ready to be there, and being where I actually am hurts almost as much as the original horror. Some days it seems like everything and everyone in the universe is anxious for me to be done with this. Some days I relive issues of the heart that I thought were put to rest, and out of the blue, I weep again and again over old sadnesses, and I suddenly feel all the treachery and unrest of the past. It sits on my chest like an anvil, and I fear I have come nowhere, and I have met no one anew, and I have achieved nothing. I find myself thinking that if I could just hurry up and “get over it,” then I would be free forever. But that is folly. That is hurry and want, and being ready to forgive but unable to do so. And I have learned that that’s OK.
This is the stuff of forgiveness. This trek. This upheaval in search of peace. Collapse and reorganization. Minute differentiation. Mutation. Variation. Evolution.
Forgiveness is hard, and long, and not cookie cutter, and not dictated by anyone. It is scary, and surprising, and liberating, and oh-so-strange and new.
Now that I am inside of a real and textured dance with forgiveness, I have wondered if the silly things we humans are all doing are just the reflections of us struggling to forgive. Each other. Ourselves. Society. History. Perhaps some of forgiveness is unconscious, even. Perhaps, the best kind is never acknowledged as forgiveness at all. Never even named. Actually, is it more important to acknowledge the willingness to forgive than to actually achieve it? I think maybe so. That’s the way of the land, too, it seems: to not make better of it, but to forever and ever try. It’s the trying that matters, and trying as beautifully as you can. Happiness is around the edges of this work, in the purple hulls of eggplant, even if the true design is in the seeds. In the silk on the corn, which only carries. Why shouldn’t these things shine?
I made a cake for no one this week, and thought about all of this as I pulled the creamy icing over and around the edges. Again and again, the colorful, rough and soft, hot and cold of food and earth make sense to me. All the trimmings, all the smells--they all fit so smartly with the labors of the heart. I’ve often said “If you can do food well, you can do life well.” Meaning that if you’ve got the stuff to tend to good food, you’ve got the stuff to be a good person. But you still have to choose to match it all up, and to see the connections there. Wait for a cure to set, temper, don’t over-season. Learn to sense the longing of a vegetable, the best iteration of a plant on a plate. These things take intuition, faith, patience, balance, and a light hand. Hope. And failure along the way. You have to let yourself live it, every step and every sip, before it can be done.
This is what I am learning about forgiveness. You create it. It takes time and talent, and how much of that you’ll need, well, you just can’t say. You can’t yet know how it will taste.
What I got in this week’s box:
1 cabbage (which I gave to a friend)
a pint of shishito peppers
1 medium eggplant
1 bunch carrots
1 bunch onion
1 bunch beets
2 large summer squash
What I had leftover from last week:
Two heads of broccoli
What I bought or grew to supplement:
Pretzels (actually, I had some leftover from a trip to Dietrich’s Meat Market in Kutztown, PA)
Parsley, bay, and herbs
Bacon (I made this. Buy my book to learn how)
A navel orange
What I made: