Forgive and then give anyway

A few years ago I was betrayed by a friend, a very good friend and fellow woman student affairs professional. The truth is, I am not over it yet. She really, really hurt me. She betrayed me in an underhanded way. It was behind-the-scenes and it impacted not just me, but my job, my family, and our living situation. After months of not speaking about it, she finally broke the ice and contacted me. We met in a public place. I could not trust myself to be alone with her. I needed the safety of other people. So I wouldn’t lash out at her, so I wouldn’t cry, and so I wouldn’t jump on the “it’s okay” bandwagon that women so easily do when they have been wronged by others. She apologized. Sort of. She made excuses. She said she didn’t really know why she did what she did. She hoped that I would forgive her. When I was ready, she would be there waiting for me and we could pick up where we left off. (That’s not a real apology, but that is a post for another time.)

That was four years ago. Four years that I have let this hurt eat away at me. I have let it have power over me. I have let it change me.

I know I need to forgive her. I’ve written about that before. (See here) I haven’t forgiven her. Not completely. The wounds that she created cut deep and the scars are still fresh. However, as a result of some positive experiences I have had this summer, I feel I am closer to forgiving her than I have ever been.

A colleague (whom I have never actually met in real life but whom I feel I know thanks to Twitter and Facebook!) created a summer reciprocity group. Basically, it is women from all over the country, getting together virtually (some IRL) and submitting pitches. Your pitch is a call to action, an “ask.” You submit your ask and then anyone within the reciprocity group can comment with suggestions, tips, names of people to contact, resources to share. It has been AWESOME. The pitches have ranged from “please help me with my website” to “I want a career change” and the level of time and care that has gone into the responses has been the same, regardless of the ask. In our “free time” women are helping other women get what they want. We are all helping each other get where we want to go. There is camaraderie and genuine interest. The level of advice has even gone beyond the week of your pitch. People are continually posting articles, video clips, helpful tips, and resources, myself included. All free of charge, only asking that when it is your turn, someone will do the same for you.

This summer reciprocity ring has been the exact opposite of what I experienced four summers ago at the hands of another woman who used to be my friend.

As part of the ring, we have “Thankful Tuesdays” and “Flaunt it Fridays.” These are opportunities to thank someone, whether in the group or not, and chances to brag about progress you have made. Yesterday someone posted that they were grateful for…

Me.

Me? Sarcastic, sassy, too loud, not put together, abrasive, aggressive, east-coast me?

Yes, that one.

See, this summer, I have gotten back to my roots. I used to really love helping people. Helping them be their best. It’s why I chose student affairs as a profession, why I learned MBTI, why I used to volunteer and do community service. I am constantly reading articles or watching videos about interviewing, coaching, etc. Somewhere in the last four years, I stopped sharing all of that and kept it to myself. As a result of my friend’s betrayal, I became bitter. I got a huge chip on my shoulder and decided that I would only help someone if: they helped me first, if there was something in it for me, if I got compensated in some way, if, if if.

I put a shell around myself to prevent further hurts. I put strings on my giving. 

Being part of the reciprocity ring has helped me stop doing that. And, I am having an absolute blast! I have been sharing all kinds of stuff, not because I think it is so great. I have been sharing because that’s what you do. Help others. Help them be their best. Give them information that is relevant to what they are looking for. If they use it or not, that’s up to them. But, give it anyway.

I am realizing that by not forgiving my friend, I have hurt only myself because I closed myself off to the great joy that comes from selflessly helping others and letting them help you. This group has helped chip away at that exterior. Thank you, Amma for including me.

 

Keep your heart center open

Most of the time I want to post snark. Snark about students, work, the weather, other drivers…always about others.

I didn’t realize this until today at yoga.

During triangle pose Hannah said, “twist up and keep your neck soft. Keep your heart center open.”

And a voice inside me said, “to myself.”¬†Keep my heart open to myself.

In a heart to heart (ha! No pun intended.) that my mom and I had right after L finished treatment and I graduated in 2010, she said that the hardest part of my moving on would be tolerating others who have not experienced the trauma that we have. That the moving on for me would be marked by moments of exasperation and frustration and impatience. Funny how mothers know us and can get to our very core quicker than any other. I am fortunate that these words were said to me with love and empathy. But, they were still hard to hear, mostly because they are true.

Impatient. That is how I feel most days. Even now, 4 years later. Impatient. Why was that truck parked at the gas station (it’s a gas pump not a parking spot), while the engine idled (duh! gas!), and the driver chuckled on his cell phone? Why is he in my way? Why is he blocking my way to the pump? Doesn’t he know I am already late? Doesn’t he know that I have been through more than him? Doesn’t he know that my son and our family have been through a lifetime of fear and agony and so the rest of life should be smooth sailing?

I thought all of those things in the span of ten seconds this morning, all before 8:15am. That’s a lot of thinking and a lot of brutal self-awareness. I so desperately want to move on from our experience with cancer. Yet at the same time, I wear our experience with cancer like a badge of honor, trying to be an advocate and drum up awareness. I use it like an angry megaphone, when maybe a quieter instrument would be more effective.

In the deepest, truest parts of my soul, I know that there is still healing I need to do. I need to forgive myself for not seeing L’s cancer sooner. Maybe if I had looked harder I would have seen it sooner.

I need to forgive my friend who betrayed me when I needed her the most. I need to forgive myself. Long before she betrayed me, I saw things in her that made me uneasy. I chose to ignore them. I shouldn’t have.

Many of the things that are frustrating me about others, are really things that are unresolved in me. The thing with trauma is that it takes your locus of control and flips it upside down, backwards, and sideways. In childhood cancer world, there is not control. You are a slave to the protocol and absolute neutrophil counts (ANC). We spent 15 months rudderless and hyper-paranoid. It’s exhausting. The re-entry into a world where I do have control (in theory) has been long. It has been arduous work that I underestimated.

I can’t go home again. I am not the same and neither is home.

Today in yoga, a voice told me that my snark is about me and not anyone else. Today in yoga, a voice told me that I need to keep my heart center open- to myself.

Weeding out the garden

We have a community garden plot again this summer. Because our neighborhood is so shaded, there is no room in our own yard for a garden. We rent a plot in an open field/park area about 1/2 mile from our house. This year we are growing tomatoes, radishes, beets, cucumbers, and beans. I will confess that overall, the gardening experience has been less than magical for me. I feel bad that our plot is not as well groomed as others. I hate mosquitoes. And most nights, the last thing I want to do after work is fill up every possible gallon container in our house (you have to bring your own water), load it into our car, convince the boys to come with me, and then drive over to the plot. We have been less than diligent this summer.

After being away for a week, my husband drove out to the garden yesterday to assess the damage. I was secretly hoping that it would be beyond repair and we could say “oh well! We tried!” and be done with it. No such luck. He called to say that the vegetables were still there and that they were growing. In his words, it was “worth salvaging.” There were even enough radishes there to harvest. I grumpily packed up the car and headed over to help. When I arrived, there were weeds and grass as tall as my knees. The vegetables looked like they were completely gone. Where was all this stuff that could be saved?

It was there, growing in spite of the weeds. Growing under the weeds. Growing within the weeds.

The ground was moist and soft after all the rain last week. So, pulling weeds was actually quite easy. My husband taught the boys how to look for the plant first. Squat down right next to it. Find the plant with your eyes and your hands. Then, gently pull the weeds away from the plant. Work closest to the plant first, then move in a circle farther and farther out so the plant has room to grow. Especially the cucumbers. They need a lot of space.

The dirtier I got, the better I felt. It was fun to see something overgrown and unruly turn into an actual garden that will provide sustenance for our family. We worked hard and we made a lot of progress. There was a great sense of satisfaction that came from putting in that time and effort. And, the quiet time I spent on the ground helped me think about the weeding out that I need to do in my own life.

There is someone who I need to forgive. I know in my heart that I haven’t yet and I know in my heart that I need to and that I want to. Holding on to my anger and frustration is only making more weeds and more work for me. Holding on is doing me no good. I’ve been close. And, I am closer now than I was before. But there is part of me that is hanging on. Part of me is still attached to the righteous indignation that I feel at having been betrayed by someone whom I once loved and trusted. Part of me is still hoping for a happy ending. Part of me is secretly hoping that I do not have to forgive her ever, that I can just let the weeds overtake the fruit.

Relationships are like gardening. Results yielded are directly proportional to time spent. I know this. I’m hoping to find the courage to keep digging and get dirty. Forgiveness is tough stuff.