“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.” – Bernard Meltzer
“Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world. But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.…So, the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all. Life is a procession you walk together towards your god-self. You are the way and the wayfarers.” “On Crime and Punishment” The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran.
When I began the rough draft of this blog, I realized this is the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. What a perfect time to write about forgiveness and compassion. Then serendipitously, I had an opportunity to revisit an incident in which I’m working on those very things.
Last night one of my college acting students, who was also a high school student of mine, asked me why I was let go from teaching at her school eleven years ago. She knew there was a big hoopla about it, because she was still attending the high school and taking drama classes. Those who’d seen to my demise never failed to tell the students about my faults and even indiscretions regarding money, which of course were not true. Being loyal to me, however, she didn’t believe the stories and wanted to know my side. I told her what happened from my point of view. I also told her that I had recently been working on forgiving the people involved. It was a political situation, and I was made to look like the villain. Funny how wolves can hide in sheep’s clothing and make the sheep look like the wolf. I told her how I’d held onto the pain of that horrible event for ten years, but how freeing forgiveness could be.
I didn’t give her details, but what happened to change my desire for revenge to one of forgiveness was studying A Course In Miracles. As I studied, I was faced with the reality that by holding a grudge, I was in a very real way, attacking myself. I was hurting myself by wanting revenge, so I let go of that anger and hurt. I’m still letting go of it. I had to admit, that were it not for the attack on my character and competence to do my job well, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this post. I wouldn’t be writing a novel. I wouldn’t have found the thing that makes me supremely happy. I’d still be teaching drama and find myself in constant battles. I’d be stressed out.
That brings me back to the 9/11 attacks and my use of the Kahlil Gibran quote.
Any attack, whether it’s personal, or on a group, or on a nation, is not a one sided affair. I wasn’t the innocent victim of an attack on my character and teaching ability. Something in me attracted the attack upon me. Now I understand that it was my soul trying to get my attention. I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. The only way I’d see that fact was to lose the job I thought was meant for me.
Just like my personal story, the 9/11 attacks weren’t perpetrated on an innocent nation. Something about who we are, called those attacks to us. Maybe we don’t see it, because we live in the most powerful nation in the world. But we’ve influenced the art, fashion, politics, religion and cultures of almost every country in the world with our movies, literature, music, financial aid, and even things like the Peace Corps. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, except that we have the attitude that our way is the best, so, of course, everyone everywhere should be happy to be changed by us. We’re a little bit like Ancient Rome, except that we don’t conquer with armies, we do it with all the things I’ve listed above. The thing is, we don’t open-heartedly respect what other countries and cultures have to offer us. And that makes me weep, because it contributes to more conflict in the world than any of us want. The conflicts that we’re faced with today are our chance to make a new choice, to change our attitudes, and to forgive ourselves and those who’ve transgressed against us.
On this September 11th anniversary, I hope we’ll focus on forgiveness, not rehashing what was done to us. I don’t mean we should forget those who died. But I hope we’ll give up some our arrogance and open our hearts and minds to the richness of the other countries and cultures of the world. I hope we appreciate the view points of other people at home and far away and consider the wisdom found there. I hope, we’ll be humble enough to give up our arrogance and entitlement. If we do, we can change the future and contribute to peace in the world.