Saturday, March 1, 2008

Healing the past

Several years ago a man telephoned me to apologize for having hurt my feelings when I was 16. I was stunned.

I had developed a massive crush on him. It was your typical teenage crush and for a while I went around acting like a love-struck idiot. He was 21 and had little time to waste on virginal girls. And really, he was right to ignore me because I would probably have been overwhelmed had he returned my affections.

Years later, our worlds happened to intersect again, and he made a point of calling me up to apologize. He said that he had known then how I felt about him, and he felt badly that he hadn’t handled it properly. I forgave him.

Since the events of Sept. 11th I have not been able to shake the awareness that life is too short and too precious to waste by holding on to feelings of hurt and betrayal and bitterness and rancor over events long past. That it is important to learn how to let go.

Of course some hurts are too profound for a simple letting go. But many situations can often be worked through, with hurts visited and revisited until their impact lessens and can eventually be erased.

True forgiveness is very hard work. Some people can only forgive after they have extorted some kind of revenge. That’s the aspect of forgiveness that makes us human (as opposed to divine) beings.

But the work towards forgiving someone, the effort required to let go of the nasty feelings before they begin to fester, the sometimes superhuman journey you have to make to get yourself emotionally to the other side – that work may seem to be an investment in the other person but it isn’t. It’s actually an emotional investment in yourself.

The man who called me up years ago to apologize was performing an act of self-therapy. It wasn’t about me. I had already moved on; in fact, within months I had already started behaving like a love-struck idiot over some other boy.

But this man had not moved on. He called me up so that he could set himself free. A moment of rapprochement before the final letting-go, in the way that parents hug their children really close just before saying goodbye.

It was not up to me to understand why the guilt affected him so. That was his problem. My role only was to set him free, to tell him that it was OK, that I had not remained scarred for life, that it is quite possible for teenage girls to love one boy like mad today and then love another equally passionately half-a-year later.

It is not a surprise that I have never heard from this man since. That was the purpose of his call – he needed to rid himself of me once and for all. He needed to close out some unfinished business. And I had accommodated him.

Of course it is not always this easy to tie up loose ends. Sometimes the other person just is not in the same emotional space to allow for a mutual and healthy letting go. And sometimes too, people forget that this was a person that they once loved, and end up doing such destructive harm to the relationship that healing may never be possible.

Sometimes too, the intent in reaching out becomes misunderstood, and what is actually a gesture towards release gets incorrectly interpreted as an attempt at reconnection. And someone may end up getting hurt a second time.

But sometimes it becomes possible to reach back and actually heal the past. If for a moment your worlds align just right, and you rediscover a few minutes or hours of compatibility, you find that you can once more reach back so that you can go forward, can hold on one more time so that you can let go completely.

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