The Shoulder Shrug of Forgiveness


This post is my monthly contribution to Bloggers for Peace.

The assignment for the month of February has been to write a post in regards to forgiveness. Like any homework that I have ever been assigned in my life, I’m writing it at the very last minute. Update:  Kozo at everyday gurus, let me know I was mistaken and that the Forgiveness assignment was for March. I started the day being late and now I’m early!

Forgiveness is a tough topic for me to write about for a whole myriad of reasons. Mostly because I don’t know what it really means and have never given it a name in my life. When I read stories about families of victims forgiving the murderer, I appreciate the vast gulf those families must have traversed to get to that point. I think that it must have required time, diligence, patience and a bigger view than I could possibly ever have.

In writing about growing up with domestic violence, a commenter once praised me for my ability to forgive. I wanted to respond that they were mistaken. I hadn’t consciously forgiven anyone. I just stopped being angry all the time, stopped seeking to blame and began to see the players in the drama for the small, weak people that they were. On occasion I feel compassion for them. In rare instances, when a memory has been triggered, I hate them all over again. How do you find forgiveness in all that?

For me, therein lies the crux of the problem. Forgiveness sounds like this all-encompassing, perpetual emotion that continues on ad infinitum. We’re complicated. I’m complicated. I don’t feel the same way for more than a few days, a few hours, even a few moments at a time. Things are always shifting. My brain is a kaleidoscope – a changing perspective each and every day.

In my daily life, I don’t stay angry for very long. It takes far too much energy to maintain and I am quick to realize the futility of it. It’s one of those emotions, like guilt, that should drive a person towards change or action, but not be held onto. It is corrosive. But the absence of anger is not really forgiveness, is it?

People always talk about the power of forgiveness, piously saying “I forgave him or her for this or that”. Unfortunately, statements like that always put me on alert. Sometimes the naming or announcing of a thing immediately gets tagged in my skeptical head as suspect. Telling someone you forgive them seems weird, too. Has someone ever told you that you’re forgiven? It’s like being given reprieve from execution by the person who ordered it in the first place. You feel grateful, but you’d like to punch them for having that kind of power over you. Maybe that’s just me.

If I’ve started doing things that require a grandiose announcement that I’m forgiven, something has already gone very wrong in the relationship. I apologize when I’ve realized I’ve done something wrong or hurtful and the person I’ve hurt says something to lessen the intensity and vice versa. We shrug it off and move on. Forgiveness is then not holding a grudge and being willing to accept an apology. It is part of the connective tissue of our relationship. A condition upon which we have tacitly agreed.

Of all the types of forgiveness, I find self-forgiveness the most challenging. My catalog of misdeeds and small cruelties is fully collated and recorded and dredged up on occasion when I start feeling a might too good about myself. I will easily shrug off the actions or words of someone else while castigating myself for doing or saying the exact same thing. As I get older, I realize the importance of giving myself a mental flick in the ear to say “That was a dumb thing to do, move on, don’t do it again.” My version of forgiveness is less about the warm fuzzies and more pragmatic. Get on with things, don’t wallow.

Often, when I’ve finished writing about a subject, I have a reasonable perspective, I’ve learned something or I’ve reaffirmed something I already knew. I don’t know anything more except to say forgiveness is a concept of which I do not have a good grasp. Perhaps I cannot name that which can only be felt deep in the bones, sincerely and utterly. Perhaps it is a mental obstacle that erodes only slightly, moment by moment, until one day you can clearly see an uncluttered landscape of compassion.

More Bloggers for Peace:

A Gift from a Telephone Solicitor from Authentic Talk

Friends and Enemies: The Malleable Keys to Peace at everyday gurus

The Inertia of Our Forever War at Peace Garret

Kozo & Cheri asks that you…at Bloggers for Peace

Administrative Note: The Green Study “Worst Job I’ve Ever Had” Contest is coming to life with some very funny/ horrific entries! You have until Sunday, March 3rd 2013, 12:00 pm (US Standard Central Time) to get your entry submitted.

The Paradox of Voice

canstockphoto7524142Over the last few weeks, a couple of subjects have come up that I thought I might like to write about and then decided against it.  One is gun control and the other is the ban being lifted on women in combat. These are heady, complicated and complex subjects. I am a woman, a parent and a veteran of the U.S. Army.

Last week, I became quite disheartened when reading comments on articles on both subjects, which prompted an entirely different post. I tried a couple more times, unsuccessfully, to write about these subjects and discovered that holding a multitude of beliefs, some of which are quite contradictory, means that it is nearly impossible to write a convincing argument about anything.

I carried an M-16 as a soldier for four years. I knew how to disassemble, clean and reassemble it. I knew how to “lock and load”. I fired various other weapons over the years, as required for training. When I was 19, I thought that weapons were very cool. I was an average shot. I was left-handed, and the chamber guards provided did not prevent hot shell casings from rolling down the sleeve of my BDU shirt, leaving burn streaks down my arm. My aim started to become the least of my concerns.

I understand the appeal, the adrenaline rush of firing, the drive to train to expert levels, the sense of power felt, carrying this weapon of death. But I grew up. I thought about the kind of world in which I’d like to live. I realized that no amount of training or mechanical machine would ever prepare me for the moment I’d have to defend my life or the lives of my family. But that gun would always be there, this piece of hardware designed to take the life of another living creature. So I made a conscious choice to do without and despite comment boards, I don’t feel like I am a big liberal weenie because of it.

The lifting of the ban on women in combat didn’t make me do a little dance of joy last week. I worked in military intelligence as a Russian linguist. My unit was attached to an infantry division in Europe. We spent six months out of the year in the field and the other six doing important work, like picking up cigarette butts on base, working on our vehicles in the motor pool and doing dog and pony shows for high ranking officers. I served at a time when militarily, not much was happening. It was near the end of the Cold War. The year I finished my tour, the Berlin Wall came down.

Myself and the many women I served with, were already in combat positions, working close to what used to be the front line dividing us and the Soviets. That we were not classified as being in those positions was irrelevant. We just were. There are, and have been for years, thousands of women in combat positions. 146 women have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, even while a ban on them being in combat positions was in place.

All that being said, the arguments against it rile me because they’re so nonsensical. I can address a few commonly cited reasons. Physical abilities: Test. That’s all you need to do. A person is either qualified or they are not. Sexual Assaults and POW conditions for women: Stop assaulting your fellow soldiers. And I’m guessing being a POW is not a party for men or women. Unit Cohesiveness: Good leaders at every level determine this, gender does not. And my least favorite argument is concern about the lady parts. There are 15 million things that can go wrong with the human body in combat conditions, afflicting men and women equally. There is no vaginal predisposition for chronic infection, old white men.

I was proud of how hard I worked. I was proud that I trained, carried heavy equipment, knew my vehicle inside and out. I carried my own weight, didn’t ask for special treatment, didn’t have sexual orgies with my all male field team and didn’t have magical lady part infections.  There are, like any segment of the population, women I would not want to serve with, but there were an equal number of men who were unreliable, didn’t carry their own weight, complained and whined and wouldn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. Being a jackass is an equal opportunity, military or not.

All that being said, this is the part that gets me stuck: War is horrible. The idea that it is inevitable is so embedded in our hearts and minds that we can’t imagine what real peace looks like. I don’t want men and women to die, killing each other relentlessly on the battlefield or from the sky. I don’t want to casually allow our Congress and President to send thousands off to war. I don’t want orphaned children or civilian casualties – on either side. If I should become a vocal advocate for any position – have I just become part of the machine?

It’s okay to still believe in an ideal world. It doesn’t make us fools or softies or lefties or commies or all the other names anonymous trolls like to leave in their shit-laden trail of mediocrity on comment boards. It makes us the defense against complacency and acceptance of violence. We are one of many voices of reason in a world that seems destined for self-destruction. In the face of a million options for killing and hate and violence and destruction, I choose peace – in my life, in my desire for others, in my hope for my child. If someone wants to stand there, empowered with their arsenal and call me a coward, so be it.

I would like to thank Bespectacledape for his post, The Weakness Stereotype. It inspired me to follow through on the thoughts that have been nagging at me this last week.

Waging Peace, One Thought at a Time


This post is my monthly contribution to Bloggers for Peace.

Sometimes you read something and it never goes away. It’s a nagging thought, a bur under the saddle, something that whispers in the background. This is my bur: Thoughts as acts of aggression. When I first read Practicing Peace in a Time of War by Pema Chödrön, I had a knee jerk reaction when she suggested that peace, on a grand scale, starts in our heads. I saw thoughts as generally harmless, internal, a way of coping with stress. I humor my irritations, my opinions, my stubbornness, never realizing that my kind of thinking starts wars.

We live in a time when digging in and shouting and taking retribution reigns over the softer voice, “wait, breathe, think”. I consider myself a reasonable person, until I start to think about parenting choices, conservatism, women’s issues and racism. Then I know, I am an aggressive, angry thinker. I have hard edges resistant to the other side. I am not listening. I am not waiting for reasoned dialogue. I have trained my brain to shut up tight, protecting its opinions to the detriment of my own enlightenment.

Many years ago, when I was in a management position, I said something unflattering about another employee. I was overheard and subsequently called to the mat for it. I was angry at the person, who overheard, for reporting me and angry at my employers. I worked quickly to rationalize my behavior by saying things to myself like  “It was true – it wasn’t that awful of a thing to say. Why did she have to be so sensitive? She’s a jerk. I loathe her. I can’t believe that I worked for my employers for so long and they immediately took her side.”

The incident would have passed had it not been for the aggression I felt. That thought cycle churned in me until I felt I had no choice but to resign from my job.  It took several months after leaving the job for me to soften. I wasn’t angry at other people. I was disappointed with myself for being so unprofessional and unkind. I was sad that I had upended many years of good service by not maintaining appropriate boundaries. I allowed my shame and embarrassment to become anger and resentment because I did not want to deal with the pain. I would rather quit than feel that pain.

Aggression, whether on the battlefield or in your head, becomes a self-feeding cycle, solidifying more intransigent and bitter thoughts with each shot fired. We teach ourselves to hate so that we can continue the fight. If we stop for a moment, patiently waiting for our true thoughts to emerge, we soften. We feel our own vulnerabilities, our pain. We begin to see that our opponents really want the same things – safe homes for their families, healthy and happy children, the opportunity to work and create and feel needed, education, food, all the basic human needs and wants. The heat of war becomes untenable. They are no longer the enemy.

Most of us don’t deal with life and death issues in our everyday life, but all of us experience thoughts of aggression. There is that cliché Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? When I first heard that, I shrugged it off. It sounded like being conciliatory for the sake of peace, as if one has no principles or opinions. I see it differently now. Being right means being closed. It means hardening yourself to the point that no amount of negotiating or explaining will help you see the other side. It means waging war, instead of listening and having dialogue.

I struggle with thoughts of aggression everyday. When anger arises, I ask myself, What is this about? Even taking that moment softens me, prevents my thoughts from solidifying into armor. Stay open. Wait. Breathe. Think.

More Bloggers for Peace:

The Mirror That is You at KM Huber’s Blog

Road Peace at This is My Corn

A Split Second to Peace at everyday gurus

Happy New Year from The Green Study!

canstockphoto11419687Ah, so here we are. 2013.  I’ve read tons of blog posts that are hopeful and optimistic about the new year. This won’t be one of them. I’m still hungover from 2012. I’m exhausted from the holidays, flus and colds, elections, horrible crimes, struggling to get myself back into workouts and good eating habits, struggling to be a better parent, spouse and human, struggling to be a better writer. I’m only grateful that I don’t have to quit smoking (did many years ago) or start a new diet (short-lived morale squasher which I refuse to engage in).

I’m a realist and I know that hope and optimism won’t get me far. The same applies to discouragement and pessimism. Those are emotions that are about tomorrow and I can’t think about tomorrow right now. It’s too overwhelming, too long term. I’m here. Right now. And that is what I can handle. My daughter is in the reading chair behind me, hungrily gorging herself on a book (she’s caught the bug!). My husband soundly sleeps in the next room after a New Year’s band gig (he’s a keyboardist in a cover band, when not being an upstanding cube citizen).

Right here, right now. I am surrounded by the people I love. In a warm house. I am not, at the moment, afraid or anxious. I love my cup of coffee. I love that it’s 7am and I’m writing and the house is quiet. I love being here right at this very moment.

I don’t make resolutions anymore. The word “resolution” suggests there is something to be fixed, completed, ended. In the context of New Year’s, it means “a firm decision to do or not do something”. Sounds extreme. My favorite definition is one used in the context of music – resolution is the point at where dissonance becomes consonance or harmony. Dissonance becomes harmony.

What is the dissonance in your life? Is it the constant battle you have against a negative self-image or against addiction or against physical maladies? Is it the unhappy relationship you’re in? Or the job that makes you boil with rage inside or drains you of any positive energy? If you firmly resolve to do or not do something, is something in you putting up an equal fight? Are you walking around, listening to a cacophony of voices in your head trying to convince you, stop you, berate you?

It’s easy for me to hear the dissonance in my life. I have wonderful intentions, but on a day-to-day basis, I can be quite moody, easily irritated and quickly derailed. My heart and my head have big generous, creative ideas, but my disposition finds me growling at passerbys and pushing away the ones that love me.  I reach out and I push away. Dissonance.

Many years ago, I participated in several improv comedy workshops. It was perfect for me. I was tightly wound, physically self-conscious, worried about making mistakes. By the time I was done, I was still all of those things, but just a little looser, just a little more willing to be foolish and silly.

One of the first rules of improv is to “Say Yes! and… “. One player does an action or word or piece of dialogue and the other players build on it by mentally, physically or verbally saying “Yes and”. It means that you stay open to the suggestion – you don’t hesitate or pass judgment or worry so much that what you say or do is right. You just take the ball and run with it.

That is my intention in 2013.  I want to see what happens when I take the ball and run with it. I want to hear the harmony when I stop fighting and start listening. I want to quit struggling so much, fighting against my first impulses, when so often those impulses are good and right and better than what my judgment and disposition offers up. I want to say Yes and…

Wishing all of you many wonderful moments in the upcoming year!canstockphoto4839212

Quick Note: The Green Study has joined Bloggers for Peace (see the groovy icon on the sidebar) over at Everyday Gurus. It was my first Yes and for the New Year.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the 2nd Place entry in The Green Study Holiday Humor Contest!