One Sunday in church, Pastor’s sermon was about forgiveness. He asked everyone in the church to stand up, then he asked those who had any enemies to sit down. Everyone sat down but one very old woman.
“You have no enemies at all?” asked Pastor.
“Not a single one,” she answered, nodding her agreement.
“Please, come up here and tell everyone how you reached such a great age without having any enemies,” said Pastor. A deacon accompanied the elderly woman to the pulpit and everyone in church applauded as she slowly made her way up the steps. Pastor adjusted the microphone.
“You must have done a lot of forgiving,” said Pastor. “Please, tell us your secret.”
The old lady smiled beatifically.
“I outlived the bitches,” she said.
That’s how I’m beginning to feel. Many, if not most of the people who done me wrong and about whom I used to obsess are gone. I’m not that old — just 67 — but as you get older, you lose people. The ones with bad hearts, the heavy drinkers and smokers.
Chickens come home to roost. Crazy drivers meet their maker on a dark highway. Cancer, heart attack, and other diseases weed out others. The older generation passes away, one funeral at a time.
The biggest baddest villain of my life was my father. I stopped talking to him long before he died. I wrote about his death before it occurred. Most people who got to know me in recent years and read my book assumed he was dead. He wasn’t dead — not physically — but he was dead to me. By the time he died for real, it no longer mattered.
Other stuff? Time made it unimportant. When I look around, few of the people with whom I had a beef are still here. Time has made the rest irrelevant.
Forgiveness is not about repairing relationships so you can be friends again. It’s letting go, passing stuff to your “higher power,” whatever it means to you. Acknowledging you can’t fix everything and realizing it’s not your job to fix it.
Shit happens. Some of it — unfair and unforgivable — happens to you. You can make it the center of your world and spend your life brooding and obsessing over it. Or, you can decide you won’t be defined by the worst stuff that has happened to you — or the worst stuff you’ve done.
I know people who had wonderful careers full of honor and respect who lost their jobs and promptly declared themselves failures. As if that one really bad thing — getting fired — negated everything that had gone before. I know men and women who were abused as children who are still defining themselves as victims 50 years later.
If you like yourself, you can be pretty happy no matter what life throws at you. It’s that simple. And that difficult. When you start forgiving, forgive yourself first. For the mistakes you made. For the bad choices, the stupid decisions, the asshole(s) you married, almost married, allowed to mess with your head.
The jobs you screwed up, shouldn’t have taken, should have taken (but didn’t). The opportunities you blew. The people who stabbed you in the back (you should have seen them coming). The times you were totally wrong and didn’t apologize. Your failures as a parent, the novels you didn’t finish. All the “shoulda coulda woulda” you’ve accumulated.
If you throw the garbage out, you won’t eliminate all your problems. The money you don’t have won’t suddenly appear. Youth and health don’t come back. But you don’t have to haul the past with you into the future and you can enjoy what you do have without obsessing over what you missed or lost.
The sooner you do it, the better. I waited too long, wasted a lot of years. Sooner is better.
Then, with a little luck, you’ll outlive the bitches.