In June of 2012 after getting home from the 21-day retreat in Plum Village in southern France I faced a large stack of mail. Not looking forward to the task of sorting through it I found a card sized envelope from a dear friend amidst the bills and junk mail and decided to open it first. I was delighted to see a good piece of mail in the sea of paper! The card had a lovely flower on the front and I remember smiling. As I started to read the card my smile soon disappeared. My very close friend of the past few years had written to tell me she no longer wanted to be in a friendship with me.
I was terribly confused and had no idea what had happened to make her take this drastic action. I must’ve read the card over and over 10 times the day I opened it. My confusion very soon turned to anger. Not only had she ended our friendship in a pretty little card but she had sent it while I was out of the country, and at the time she lived only 8 blocks away from me. I felt extremely disrespected by what I felt was a very cowardly and immature thing to do. In the matter of moments I went from looking forward to seeing a dear friend and sharing my retreat experience with her to literally never wanting to see her again. I was hurt, sad, confused, and angry.
I wrote her a letter back telling her how I felt and ended it by saying that when I tried to strip away all of the strong emotions I was feeling I could see clearly that I would miss her. I hadn’t heard from her since then until last Thursday when, before departing for our local fall retreat, in yet another stack of mail, I found a small square envelope with her handwriting on it. I wasn’t expecting to hear from her and yet I wasn’t surprised either. I took a couple of deep breaths and opened the letter. In it she wrote about how she wished she had done things differently and how she didn’t mean to cause harm. She hoped that I could find forgiveness in my heart.
While on retreat I sat in meditation with the idea of forgiveness and what it meant to me. For myself, if I forgave her would it mean I would have to be friends with her again? Is there a way to forgive her, truly forgive her, and not re-engage in the friendship? Am I able to let go of my anger? Am I able to let go of my story of how unfair and unjust her walking away was? Am I able to let go of feeling justified in my stories and anger? These are important questions.
Over the last year my hurt and anger has diminished, but not entirely. I understand that her walking away from our friendship had very little to actually do with me at all and that it was her own difficult journey that led her to feeling that it was the right thing to do, however misled. We all make mistakes. We all have the possibility to act unskillfully, especially amid times of extreme challenges. And I also understand that she did not intend to cause harm and was doing the best she could. Yet, I also see that while she did not intend harm it was implicit in the way she chose to act. While on retreat our dharma teacher spoke about forgiveness and mentioned that trust was something that takes a very long time to build and yet can be broken in an instant. This was my experience as well. The trust we had built with hard, loving work over the course of our friendship had been shattered with one short card. I felt betrayed. I was broken hearted.
It is clear to me that forgiveness is not something we do for the other person but an act we cultivate for our own well being. The anger, resentment, sorrow, hurt, and confusion that still lingers only causes harm to myself. Holding on for dear life to unskillful energy is taxing on the mind and the body. Letting go is truly a deep fruitful practice. Still, there’s part of me that thinks, “If I let go of this anger then it’s OK for her to have done what she did, I’ll be letting her off the hook.” Sometimes what the heart knows takes a while for the head to understand.
On my continued journey to unfold what it means to forgive I am asking myself difficult questions and connecting with my authentic experience. I don’t want to artificially forgive her because it’s what I think I’m supposed to be doing. I want to forgive in a mindful and honest way. While on retreat our teacher spoke about how it’s OK to realize when we might not be quite ready to forgive someone. She said we can set our intention to incline towards it – to point our hearts in the direction of forgiveness and let that guide us forward.
So, here we go heart…lead the way.