There is a saying, Only a fool plays the hand he’s dealt.
But sometimes, I’ve found, it is The Fool, himself, who deals the hand.
I have learned a lot about forgiveness this week.
A whole lot.
One thing I have learned is that we all lie to ourselves about the nature of forgiveness.
We want it to be all about resolution.
But what it is really about – what it is about when we are alone with ourselves in the darkness – is justice.
We want justice for the pain.
For the inconvenience.
For the disruption to our lives that the injury caused.
And we use forgiveness as payback.
I know this now because what I saw before me this week, working hard to find something to be grateful for for some people on my list, is that we divide the world up into two categories.
There are the people who do good things, and who are good people.
And for these people, we give gratitude.
And then there are the people who do bad things, and who are bad people.
And for these people, we give forgiveness.
Black and white.
Or, if you prefer, white and black.
We are the personifications of Santa with his list. Only we grant gratitude and forgiveness instead of gifts and coal.
Forgiveness is our means of meting out justice.
People don’t receive our forgiveness; they deserve our forgiveness.
You did this to me?
Well, then, here’s your forgiveness.
Want to see how clear this dynamic is?
Just write out a sentence of forgiveness for someone (a real sentence, a real person).
And what’s in the sentence?
The name of the injury.
With the jar of tears spent on it alongside.
Sentences of forgiveness are minute monuments to the badness that exists between you two.
Plaques affixed to the insides of our hearts.
I forgive you for….
And feel free to fill in that blank.
Anyway you want to.
Forgiving becomes a chant of our hatred and resentment.
Our refusal to let go.
Now turn it around.
Name something for which you are grateful about that person.
I dare you.
Because then, when you come to the end of the sentence, there’s no condemnation.
Unless you add a But.
A big, fat, juicy But.
I am grateful for the time that you drove me to the hospital, but it would have been nice if you had stayed around to see what happened to me. Or called the next day to ask how I was feeling. Or….
See what I mean?
Now stop the sentence at the end of the gratitude.
Put a period at the end of the gratitude. And don’t let yourself go on.
No naming of the injury.
No naming of the dead.
The dead space that has lain between you two for all these years.
The graveyard with one, or two, or a thousand markers in it.
Each with a name etched upon it.
The names of the wrongs inflicted.
So I knew who I was “working on” that day.
I knew the name all day.
So I thought, What am I grateful to that person for?
And I thought. And I thought. And I wondered. And I searched. And I scratched my head.
And there was nothing.
Nothing from the time when we were children together.
Nothing from the time when we lived in the same house as adults.
And it seemed to me to be unrealistic.
There had to be something.
One thing. Anything.
Nope. Nada. Not an inkling.
So I prayed.
I used a prayer from the novena for forgiveness. I asked to be shown how to be grateful to this person.
And little did I expect The Fool to enter into it all.
Wearing his motley.
Smiling as though this were easy. Funny. Fun.
And he bowed. Nice and low.
He was here to serve.
And serve, he did.
I watched, rapt, as he drew back the curtain on the pantomime being performed.
There I was.
Sitting in court.
There he was.
Sitting on the stand.
And out of his mouth came a tumble of crows and moles and spiders.
He had no stake in the game.
(I didn’t realize how much of a game it was until I watched this mummers’ play.)
He was only a servant of the other side.
A servant of the foe.
But somewhere and at some time they had gotten together, The Foe and The Servant, and came up with a plan.
You’ll say THIS when you are called on in court. And THAT. Oh, and don’t forget….
So the canvas of lies was created. Carefully. Each thread thought out and put in place.
And The Servant did just fine with his role. His performance was flawless.
He should have bowed when it was over.
Before he took his exit.
I was, I will admit, stunned by it.
Doing all that.
But as all blackguards find out – at least when there is a good mystery writer around – the best of nefarious plans have flaws.
This one had a tiny one.
Well, perhaps not that tiny.
A person, when he testifies in court, is separated from the other people who testify in court. Not only that, but they don’t know what any other person says under oath.
So before –
and after –
there were people who told the truth.
About my kindness.
The nature of my life.
My real life.
And there was The Servant.
Alone in his act.
Standing under the spotlight.
No chorus to back him up.
No arms of fellows to link up with.
No coordinated dance steps.
Keep in time! All together now!
None of that.
He had been a solo stage act.
Now, my recollection of all this was so minimal that I never even thought about it during the day of mulling this person over.
So I was absolutely fascinated by watching The Fool show this all to me.
The feelings came back. But I saw why this incident had not stayed with me.
It was because after that day in court was over, the judge leaned over across her desk – way up on high – and said how sorry she was that I had to sit through my brother’s testimony against me.
At the time, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
It made me laugh then (when I was alone).
It made me laugh again with The Fool reminded me about it.
And then he turned to me. Here is where you will find your gratitude, he said.
How could I find gratitude in that scene?
Well, I realized, that testimony did become part of MY tapestry of truth and beauty that ultimately was my victory.
The Foe no longer had His Servant to use against me.
And he no longer had any impetus to try that again.
At least not in that way.
He found other ways.
But that’s another story for another day.
And perhaps a few more pages of gratitude.
Not the naming of the dead.
But the acclamation of the living.