Forgiveness. Really?

Redemption. We’ve talked about this before, yeah? You and I, you and your spouse, with your daughter, your boss, your neighbor, your therapist, your lover, probably even your cat.

     What is redemption anyway? The act of saving or being saved from error or evil; the action of regaining possession of something in exchange for payment; clearing a debt; release from the consequences of an offense for the person who committed the offense.

     Okay then, what is forgiveness? A conscious decision to release feelings of resentment toward a person(s) who has harmed you.

     Interesting. In the program, we used to talk about forgiveness is not forgetting, it is not condoning, it is releasing. Lewis Smedes noted “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”


     Last year, in one of my sojourns to work with the kids in Juvenile Justice, I told the Haitian story from Diane Wolkstein, “One My Darling, Come to Mama.” It goes like this: A mother has four daughters, she loves and dotes on the first three and despises the fourth daughter, Philamandre. Every night when the mother comes homes, she sings as she is coming up to the house door, “One my darling, come to Mama. Two my darling, come to Mama. Three my darling, come to Mama. Stay Philamandre, stay. Stay where you are.”

The three daughters would let their mother in, they’d eat dinner together. If there were any scraps left from dinner, then Philamandre could eat.

     One day, the three daughters were kidnapped. When the mother came home, she sang. No answer. She sang again. No answer. She opened the door, saw the daughters were gone, and ran away like a madwoman, singing the song frantically. Philamandre realized she was on her own, went to the town and found work. Eventually she came to work in the palace of the king, and over time, the prince and she fell in love and were married.

Years passed. One day, she heard the maids talking about a crazy woman singing a song out in the street. Philamandre, now queen, went to the window to look out. Yes, it was her mother. Her clothes were rags, her hair was wild – filled with sticks and bird droppings.

     The queen went outside, brought the her mother in. She bathed her, gave her new clothes, and trimmed her hair. “Mama, the others are no more. I am here. You did not take care of me. Yet now I will take care of you.”

     I said nothing more for a minute or so, looked at the five young women sitting in a semi-circle in front of me, dressed in the standard-issue orange trousers and blocky shirt, and then said, “I’ve never understood that story. How someone mistreated could then turn around and take care of the one who mistreated them?”

     One of the girls looked me in the eye, “Maybe she didn’t want to be like her mother.”

     I’m three times as old as this seventeen year old, yet she has wisdom like that?

Honeysuckle 5-31-2020
Honeysuckle in the rain 5-31-2020

I have often pondered how abused children, when adults, re-establish relationships with their abusive parents and often take care of them, specifically with a couple people I know.

     I have been thrown under the bus, as they say, for things I did not do yet got the consequences as the person who did the action would not take responsibility for it. I have been lied to, stolen from, betrayed, mislead, as we all have, sometimes by my own family members. I was bitter. It wasn’t right, where was justice? I was resentful.

     In looking up Lewis Smedes, he was a professor of theology and ethics, and author of fifteen books. “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

That young woman who responded to me may have been in custody for an illegal act, yet she had certainly learned a few things along the way. Indeed, there is hope for the future.

Years ago, one of my siblings did some egregious things. I believe I have forgiven them yet want no contact with them. One of my cousins chided me for that, saying, “But they’re family.” In my head, I am going, “Yeah, but…” Recently I came across another wisdom of Professor Smedes:

“You can forgive someone almost anything. But you cannot tolerate everything… We don’t have to tolerate what people do just because we forgive them for doing it. Forgiving heals us personally. To tolerate everything only hurts us all in the long run.”

Oh my.

So tolerate is now in the mix. Forgive. Permission to not tolerate. Redemption. Significant issues for me in my life, as many changes are being presented. Some of them being who am I now in my life, who do I strive to be, who do I wish to be with? How do I do this? Where shall I live? How do I pursue what gives me meaning?

I leave you with this from Hans Z and Lisa: while I go redeem my coupon for the turkey taco. Let me know what you think~

Subway to My Heart

     “Hi! Hi! Hi!” She waved her small hand between each greeting. Her eyes captured my attention. Bright, alive, mischievous – insistent that I see her. 

     I smiled and waved back at her, “Hi.” 

     About three years old, with short dark brown curly hair and vivacious brown eyes, the little girl wore a flowered dress with a red background. Sitting kitty-corner across the subway aisle from me, she perched on her seat, while her mother sat on the seat behind her. The subway rattled and rocked us as it rushed to McGill Station, the next stop on Montreal’s green line. 

     She pushed off the plastic seat and hopped the three steps over to me. As she reached up toward my oval-shaped earring dangling from my left ear, I was instantly wary – I leaned slightly back. In my moment’s hesitation, she gently rubbed her thumb and forefinger on the length of the earring, smiling slightly as her bright eyes watched me, and then fingered the right earring without the slightest tug on my ear. 

     Her mother called her back to sit down. We waved at each other the rest of the four minute ride. The panel doors split open, she turned and waved, “Bye.”

     I waved back, “Bye.”

     I smiled, perhaps as big as her smile, “Bye!”


    Holding her small hand, her mother and she merged into the melee of people going up the tall flight of stone stairs, leading to the underground plaza to either change trains or head up the two-story escalator to the street.

Streetlight in front of Notre-Dame Basilica Montreal. Photo by MDessein

     I turned the corner, found the correct direction to Boulevard Maisonneuve, and who is in right in front of me as I step onto the escalator? The bright-eyed little girl. She could have covered the rest of her face, and I would have known from the sparkle in her eyes of her joie de vivre. She recognized me immediately, “Hi! Hi! Hi!” and put her hand up. 

     My heart warmed instantly. I put my hand up to give her a ‘high five.’ 

She opened her fingers, put them between my fingers, and closed her hand around mine, looking me in the eye, as if she knew a happy secret. 

     She held my hand the entire way up the escalator, we looked at each other; she seemed to know clearly what was going on, while I held her hand in wonder.

     This child’s intuition, spontaneous action, seemed so clear and sincere. No hesitation, simply clarity in action. Her small hand warm in mine, my eyes moist and my heart entranced with her being.

     Countless times in decades past, I missed these opportunities of genuine engagement. I smiled and kept going. I would have said “Hi,” in return and gone back to reading or whatever important, adult thing I was doing at the time. 

     I now realize those wondrous moments of true connection, spontaneous positive interaction are more important, more life-giving than anything I might have been reading, planning for, or worrying about. 

     In submitting a grant application recently, the grant requirements helped me articulate a vital nugget my intuition has known for years: I write to help people see their humanity in others, to see their own stories in the stories of others. Our human connection. 

     Oh! I write to find my own humanity and connection to others. I tell folktales and ancient legends to connect with humanity, decades and centuries past. We are all stories. 

     “The Black Prince,” a millenia-old Egyptian folktale has followed me for years trying to teach me that. On some level, I knew it as I told the tale when teaching life skills, including telling it to my son when he was searching for himself. Then the Black Prince showed up again in my dreams and my writing a couple years ago until I completed the CD telling his story. The story of his search, my own unaware search, and the search of countless other people.

     Then this little girl, filled with joy and trust, held my hand the entire way up the escalator.
And I held hers.

Remember …

You think we have it rough now, yes, we do have a challenge. None of us has dealt with a pandemic before, perhaps ever heard the word before. The uncertainty and so many unknowns can freak people out.

Hold on to yourself. Fear and panic are bad places to make decisions from. Right?

Imagine being Peer Gynt, captured by trolls and taken before their king, Dovregubben. Right?  (Some of Edvard Grieg’s most famous music.)

Near Snohomish

Remember who you are, who we are. In our regular lives, very few of us live in isolation. Keep contact how you can, it’s important.  Ah, Leonard Bernstein, what would he be composing now and Jerome Robbins be choreographing?

Feel your strength, know it. Yeah, it’s there, sometimes we get distracted and forget our spine is flexible and strong. It needs protection yes, yet it protects us. (Listen at least into the second minute. Carter Burwell, born in a great year, has scored many Hollywood movies. This is from Rob Roy; he’s done The Big Lebowksi, No Country for Old Men, Being John Malkovich.)

Remember. So many things, one of which is that whatever each of us does ripples out to others. Be kind, compassionate, respectful. I have to smile at this one, as when I am called to those things, I usually don’t want to! Okay, self-disclosure: I can be a bit righteous and judgmental. I keep working on it. (Aaron Copland is in the audience for this performance!)

Andrew Davis, born in a good month, is conducting here. He is an internationally respected conductor and musician. Turn up the volume, raise your arms, welcome it into you.  I will never forget the first time I heard this. (More about that another time…)

Since you are still with me, here goes:

When he gave Emerson, Lake and Palmer permission to arrange and play his magnificent piece, Aaron Copland said he was attracted to what they had done, not sure how what they did in the middle was connected to his music, and then famously chuckled. Keith Emerson regarded Copland as ‘the soul of American music.”

     Remember …

Lace, Grace & Scars

Foggy Morning photo by Mary Dessein

A loud wail rent through the room, its anguish and sorrow piercing the whole apartment, unrestrainable. Surprised even me, the source, and I could not stop it.

 I rarely see raw grief, uncontainable and wrenching – much less experience it myself.

I had just hung up the phone with the animal hospital and made the appointment to put Monkey, my sweet tabby, to sleep. In two hours.

     To end a life, and a life I loved so much was an enormous decision. My brain knew it was time, indeed, Monkey had shown me he was physically near the end and might be in pain. Yet my heart called, “What if it’s too soon? What if…?”

     The remorse I felt fifteen years before came back to me, when I did wait too long. Our cat, Midnight, was in such pain before I could say, “Okay, we have to,” to my teen-agers.

     Death is all around us, as is life. Two of Jodi Picoult’s novels come to mind, Leaving Time and My Sister’s Keeper. A quote from Alice Metcalf, an elephant scientist in Leaving Time, got my attention, “What I was really researching was not how elephants deal with loss but how humans can’t.”

There are so many folktales, myths, and stories about life and death, how they interact, and how we as humans, and a world, must have death in order to live. Great old 1939 movie, ‘On Borrowed Time,’ with Lionel Barrymore, takes on a version of the tale of when Death is tricked up into a tree where, in this case a he, where he can’t get down, nothing dies and the world gets too full. A similar one is a Spanish story, “Tia Miseria,” Aunt Misery. There are stories about dancing with death, making deals with death, tricking death, even preferring death to God or fate, as death eventually treats everyone the same.

Monkey had gotten tangled in the blanket on my bed, and was scared. He gouged a good sized scratch on my left arm in his frenzy to get free. Instead of an irritated sharp response that I might have made at another time, I put him down on the floor, “I know Monkers, I’ve been scared, too.”

It seems to me that going through the losses, dealing with the sorrow and the empty place in our world, teaches us how to live. All of us have losses, some are huge – losing one’s family in an accident, losing a child, losing a body part, etc. One friend told me when her mom disappeared into the jungle on a guided tour and was never found, that was harder than anything she ever experienced as there were no answers, no understanding, no closure.

Yes, I was going to publish my upbeat essay on how I jumped to my feet when hearing a piece of music, yet thought I’d finish this experience first, so please know I shan’t be Donna Drama indefinitely.

We all come back to, circle around, avoid, deny, yet at some point have to face the myriad of issues around death and loss in our lives. It’s been a while since I’ve had to, and several have resurfaced. What if? Maybe I could have… If only I’d… I still hear his claws tapping on the wooden floor in the hallway. I hear a bump in the kitchen of the towel drawer (he used to pull out the dish towels.) The dissonance of how can he be gone, yet he is.

Playing great CD’s I’d forgotten I had has been a balm: Jesse Cook’s The Rumba Foundation, Narada Decade: The First Ten Years, IZ Kamakawiwo’ole’s Future, Michael Gettel’s san juan suite. Like a lace tablecloth for the family dinner, the music didn’t change the event, yet added grace.

I told you he was smart!

So my generous friend, Deborah, offered to go with me to the vet. Monkey so did not like the pet carrier, and he had little energy, so we wrapped him in the sky blue fleece blanket and Deb held him for the short drive to the vet’s. I turned the key in the ignition, “I will ease your mind. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind,” floats out of the stereo.

Are you kidding me? Deb and I looked over at each other, our eyebrows went up and we shook our heads. Our eyes got moist, we each started blinking as I pulled up to the intersection

Friends. Community. Neighbors’ kindness. Empathy. Learning how to live and live with each other.

The scratch on my arm is healing well, there will only be a tiny scar. Scars can be our strongest parts – – if we let them heal.  

He’ll Let You Know

Are Life and Death extremes, at opposite ends of a spectrum? Or are Life and Death partners walking together along the path in the world? Are Life and Death parallel experiences, intersecting and criss-crossing each other? Perhaps they are flip sides of the same coin?
Mused on by countless thinkers, authors, philosophers… and folks like you and I.
Do Life and Death find definition by not being the other, such as if you are alive, you’re not dead. If you’re dead, you’re not alive. Sort of like the definition of black is the presence of all colors, white is the absence of all colors.

Ziggy – 1 day old!

I arrived in Oregon last week to visit my wondrous and beloved daughter and son-in-law. Within a few hours, their goat gave birth to beautiful twin girls. I can take no credit for that other than my arrival may have startled the mama, yet I so love my little grand-goatlings. Who knew goats could be cuddly and responsive? Not me. These are Swiss Oberhasli goats, the new babies’ names are Fantasia and Ziggy, each at one time or another fell asleep in my arms.

I get home and again in the time frame of a few hours, my veterinarian diagnoses my gentle tabby with advanced kidney disease, with a short life expectancy. Monkey is just shy of thirteen years old and has stopped eating. It is all up to him now. He is gentle, purrs, and likes to sit on my lap. However every few minutes he fidgets and rearranges himself – he just can’t get comfortable, and will then awkwardly toddle into my room to nestle in my thick fleece blanket.

After a couple tearful meltdowns, I pondered on what do I do that is best for my sweet tabby? My son, who gave Monkey his name because as a kitten he insisted on climbing the drapes, gently told me, “Mom, he’ll let you know when it’s time. He’ll meow differently, quit purring, or won’t get up – he’ll let you know.”

This river of life (I know, you are impressed by the originality of my metaphor) splashing along, capturing and whisking things along with it, tossing other things up on the shore, drowning some and feeding others. Cleansing the earth, replenishing the earth, sometimes devastating, more often nourishing.

Monkey’s gentleness and tenacity remind me of my mom’s passing three years ago. She too was gentle and tenacious. I can still hear her last breath, a long, slow sigh. I felt in it acceptance… and relief.

Acceptance. Monkey seems calm, he is not anxious or fretful.
The life force he has. He jumps up on my bed, gives a little trill as I first pet him when he wakes up. He hasn’t eaten for several days. Yet purrs in my arms.
I have lost pets before. I have lost loved family members and friends before. What is different now is that I have time. I am not working a forty-seven hour week. I have been able to cancel or reschedule my commitments and spend time with Monkey, make visits and calls to the vet myself instead of delegating.

If you had told me a few years back that one day I would be sitting on the hay-covered ground in a goat pen holding a baby goat, enjoying the smells of hay, goats, and fertilizer wafting all around me, delighting in the ‘bi-ip’ sounds the baby goats make, laughing at the the barking and jostling of the pups, and swaying to the the coo of doves, I would have thought you had me confused with someone else. This different connection with life, and time, is stunning to me.
Wasn’t I connected to life? I sure thought so: I raised two children, I worked in social services for decades. I taught, volunteered countless hours at many organizations, had a romance here and there, walked on the Great Wall of China, swished my hand in the water as the gondolier paddled us down a canal in Venice. Yet this was different.

Monkey 3-5-2019

Sitting on the earth, holding a newborn goat, away from phone and internet. Sitting close to my newly pregnant daughter who is married to her soulmate, I was connected to life in a deeper way, a clearer way.

One of the memorable stories about my mom’s mother, Grandmere Marguerite, happened just before she died. Many of us were in her hospital room circled around her bed, some standing, some of us sitting: my mom, her sister, her brother and his wife (so all three of Grandmere’s children), a couple cousins, and myself. We were hushed at first, then as families do, the whispers evolved into chatter about who did what with whom when and where.
“I am dying. You should be praying,” Grandmere declared firmly. Instantly we became silent. A few stolen looks passed among us from beneath lowered brows. Now, that was clarity.

Grandmere had lived life: a war bride, widowed at thirty-nine with three young children separated by an ocean and a continent from her birth family in eastern France, survived breast cancer. At eighty, she had lived and parts of her had died to get to such clarity.

Why yes, I did say newly pregnant daughter. So life embraces all. We love, we leave, we learn, we grow. We live, we release, we accept.

Monkey has taught me new things about being in the Now. I hold him, he purrs and snuggles into my shoulder, tucking his head by my chin. Now is what we have.