Remember and forgive
Feeling old and aching in my body and being alone each day sends me off down memory lane, forever looking back and into my past, into the road I came by. I revisit all the phases of my life and from my vantage point today I see so much with new eyes. I see so much that I did not see before. It is like watching a film and I cannot leave my seat and re-enter the story so as to change the sorry things that occurred.
I have a huge resentment against the Church for taking me away from home at the age of eleven. The effects of this event have stayed with me all my life in the shape of the massive repression of my vitality for life, which was so vibrant in my young days. It was all done in the name of giving God glory but the truth is that it stifled the life out of me.
Now in these days, five years after losing Margaret, my wife, I look back and all I see is the accumulated losses of a lifetime. Loss of home and family: loss of friends and girls: loss of power over my own life: loss of self will by which to direct my life: loss of the right to live a normal life and fall in love: loss of sexual life: loss of my own self!
Yet through that journey I did try my best to respond to the days that came along. I have also had very dark days.
The great mistake that the Church made with me was to impose a gospel idealism on a person who has not yet come to any sort of maturity of life. To invite young boys to give up everything and to follow Christ before they know what everything really is cruel misadventure. In that sense my life was misadventure. My sister, Tricia knew it from the start.
It is important at this point to introduce the truth that this pattern of life is true not just for me, but for everyone. Many people have endured and are enduring much worse things in the story of their own journey. Cruelty and misadventure comes to us all.
How do we live with this? How do we make our peace with all this? Can we make peace with it? Sometimes we hear the advice – forgive and forget. I have always recoiled from this suggestion. It seems to be saying that forgiving is easy and forgetting even easier.
This morning, however, I heard a ‘Thought for the Day’ from Nick Baines, Anglican bishop of Leeds, whose accent clearly betrays him as a son of Liverpool. In his thought he spoke about the importance of ‘remembering’, especially in the Jewish culture, and of how to remember is to put the separate elements of life together and into a restored whole.
It is important to face our life as it is and not hide from it. Sometimes we need help from compassionate others to be able to face the life we have lived and the things we have lived through. Nick Baines ended his thought by dismissing the ‘forgive and forget’ method in favour of the ‘remember and forgive’ way of life.
We need to remember the way we came. This is who I am and I am here. I survived. I still count. Life is still for me. I did not choose the road in those early days. It was proposed and I walked where others indicated. This is what the young do. They trust their elders.
In old age it is time now for me to look back and to see and to accept the way I came. For as long as I ‘recoil and reject’ my past I will have no peace. ‘Forgive and forget’ will not do. ‘Remember and forgive’ seems to be a far better way to healthy living today.
In his Christmas sermon for 2012 Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury speaks about ‘stopping and seeing.’ He recalls the story of the military leader who is told by Elisha to go and wash in the Jordan. Go and join all those ordinary humble folk who are sluicing themselves in the river after a hard day’s work, or beating their laundry against the stones. Go and join the rest of the human race and acknowledge who you are. That’s the truest heroism and the hardest. (Choose Life, Bloomsbury 2013, p.103)
If in the company of the Lord we stop and look, Williams tells us that a gift will come to us. We will learn to see ourselves honestly and to see the world differently. I knew when I read that that this is what I need: To have the courage to see my own life honestly so as to see this world differently.
So I will continue to look back down the road I came from childhood to seminary, to priesthood, to darkness, to broken-heartedness, to joy and parenthood, to widowhood and old age, and I will ask the Lord to keep me on the road that follows him.
I will remember and forgive and be forgiven.
I always think of the forgetting as a letting-go of all the hurt and pain and miserable feelings which can surface every time we look back on a certain bad event in life. Remembering it is necessary in order to make sure that it won’t happen again. We won’t allow it to happen again. We will not let our children and grandchildren suffer the agonies so many of our generation suffered in having our freedom and creativity stifled and our voices silenced.
That’s a brave and honest post, Brian. You could weep for lost years and lost childhood and no one would blame you for it but you can say with a measure of pride that you came through it all with integrity and courage and with love encircling and enriching you for many years. Sharing those memories can also teach others, like me, to value what we have and inspire us to try that bit harder to work for justice and truth and Gospel values. No experience is ever wasted if good comes from it and even though this may seem ‘Polyanna- ish’ thank you for connecting us, soul to soul, heart to heart. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair, a chara.
An heart-warming and emotional piece, Brian.
You sense of loss and grief is strong.
I wonder if the ACP might open up this approach on the web-site for priests, still in ministry and those who have left, to share their experience and inspire us.
Just a thought.
Brian, many thanks for your contribution, sharing your life experience, one which very much parallels my own. Remembering times and events is easy (at least so far!), forgiving is more challenging, but the latter all is all the more important, not least for the sake of one’s own sanity.The Institution that was quick to appropriate our youth, with all its naivety and mixed up idealism, was equally quick to dismiss and forget us when our paths in life later diverged from the officially approved highway. Many people have to walk roads they did not choose, caarying loads imposed by those who thought they knew better or who did not care.
Acceptance of what was wrong, recognition of what was achieved to make it right and determination to help others not make the same mistakes, even if almost inevitably they will make others, is what matters in these senior years.
Thank you again Brian for your honest, thoughtfully considered reflections on your earlier life and I echo the sentiments in the posts above.
I hope I am not being too forward or callous at this time, but after reading one of your previous posts I had thought how beneficial it would be to have your experiences in a presentation/s as part of the “Wellness” programmes, or other such programmes run by support groups.. You have a gift that shines a light on the human condition so as to allow for open , honest , compassionate discussion in safe environments… perhaps something to think about..
Either way, I pray that you are finding your path out of grieving and are, albeit without the physical presence of your beloved wife, finding joy in family/life celebrations again.
Thank you Brian. For years I had searched for an article that came close that described my own condition. For so long I have been feeling that I needed to forgive and forget. To remember and then forgive is like rain for a dusty summer. Your article will do so much good for so many of us. Your faith is a gift not only to the ACP but to so many of us so far away and then to our own universe.