Of rattlesnakes, compassion & forgiveness

June 20, 2013

avinyd red copyThis is a post about the journey from hurt to compassion, and its ultimate destination: forgiveness. It’s not an easy path, I can tell you that.  If you’ve taken a similar journey, I’d love for you to share it in the comments.  Thank you.
rattler sign

Once in a while, you run into potentially dangerous people. Like rattlesnakes, they hide under rocks and strike when you least expect it.

You’d think by adulthood, most of us would lose that need to strike out. But, no, there are always some people who haven’t learned the lesson yet. Why is that?

Well, like rattlers, they’re important members of the natural community. They serve a purpose, in that they teach us how NOT to be. And they also teach us compassion, because compassion is the right emotion to aim straight at someone who feels so threatened that the only thing they can do is strike out.

This is the way my family acts and it goes back a very long way.  The other day I found an essay I started in 2006 after a visit to my hometown that included a hysterical fit my sister threw aimed squarely at me. Hysteria is not an overstatement.  After that trip, the man I was dating told his mother, “Carol’s family is not a good place for her. ” He was right.

My other sibling isn’t exactly hysterical, but definitely starts rattling big-time and striking out at anything he deems threatening. Psychological, physical, financial–they’re all treated the same. Striking out is a knee-jerk reaction to threat.

I can see some of the root when I look back at my upbringing, but who knows how deeply the rootball is buried. Maybe it’s so deep it’s been hardwired into them.

For some reason, I didn’t get that trait.  I always felt apart and different, and my life evolved quite differently, too.

No one wants “family” to strike out at them, and I’m no different.  Don’t we all want the perfect TV family? Some lucky few have the mythical family unit, but I’m not one of them. While it was upsetting for many years, I’ve come to see the purpose this situation serves in my life — and I’ve come to terms with it. In some ways, it was a gift. Oh, I know, your eyebrows are raised. But if, as I do, you view life as having a purpose, it’s not a stretch to see this situation as part of my learning process.

tree flowr horizOf course, the first thing to do when there’s a family breach is to examine one’s own behavior. I did that, at length and in depth. I’m clean there. Not perfect, but clean. By nature, I’m open-hearted and supportive; I’ve done nothing that would elicit retaliation. I’m just not a warrior.

After that, forgiveness.  It’s a big word and it was a hard climb for me.  That’s because I want life to be fair and people to work out any differences.  But of course, life is not fair, and people are people, all at different stages of personal evolution. I examined the situation every which way and always reached the same conclusion: there was no way for me to breach the gap. No discussion would be fruitful. I could direct all the love in the world at my siblings and they’d still react the same way. And I understood why, at least to the degree anyone could.

In my own time, I came to compassion and forgiveness. Going back over posts in this blog, it was clear just how long and how hard I worked at forgiveness. How badly I wanted to get there.  And then, one day, I realized that I could see their fears clearly– and I could also see that they had nothing to do with me. It took years.

And in the end, I could lay it to rest in a bed of compassion and forgiveness.  It was hard work because it was work on myself, which is always harder than wishing and hoping others will change. When there’s so much hurt involved, it’s only human nature to want to say “it’s all their fault.”  Well, hey, it’s their problem, but “fault” and its twin, “blame” are  concepts I’ve grown uncomfortable with.  People may take responsibility for their actions, or they may not. Sometimes, they just don’t see what they’re doing and where it’s coming from.  Reflection and self-examination are not for the faint of heart. But whether they do or don’t, it has nothing to do with what we do.

Which brings me to forgiveness.

I had a beautiful text after my Father’s Day post from someone close to me who knows my family almost as intimately as I do. It said this:

I read your blog today & had tears in my eyes because your heart is so big~ always willing to forgive & forget because you really understand how very short life really is.

I treasure this message even more because the writer knows only too well that this wasn’t the case for me 30 years ago, 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. My world view is very different now, after decades of reflection and willingness to work on myself.

There are others in this situation, I know, who feel wronged in some way. To them I say this: Give it time. Lower your expectations. Examine your own behavior. And ask the Divine to help you reach forgiveness.

It worked for me and I’ll bet it’ll work for you, too.

Blessings on my siblings. May they, too, find peace.

8 comments on “Of rattlesnakes, compassion & forgiveness
  1. Marilyn Wolf says:

    I went through a year of therapy to discover that all I needed to do was forgive a family member for just being who they are. Similar to what your did it sounds like.

    I had to write an essay on me and my family for one of my college courses. The course was a TON of work and this was, by far, the hardest part. I ended it by saying something like ‘my family gave me a history of perseverance and courage.’ For that I will always be grateful.

  2. Susan Cooper says:

    I love your perspective. The journey to awareness and then on to understanding and then forgiveness isn’t easy but it is a great learning experience. In the end it shows us how to release old perceptions and bring us new happiness.

  3. Laura Kennedy says:

    So, so true. In our family, the snake is my mother. So my brother and I both inherited/learned “strike” behavior. I have tried and continue to try to heal it in myself, and I believe my brother is doing the same, but mom is still rattling after 80 years. We”ll just begin to think she’s changing, that she’s learned something, and we’ll find she’s actually running one of her games–usually good kid/bad kid. And what can you do, but heave a deep sigh, remember that it’s HER, and redouble your own efforts at healing and humane personhood.

    Needed this this morning. Thanks Carol.

  4. Jo Heroux says:

    I am very happy for you. Reading this is like reading your own heart. What others do or think cannot be controlled by our actions or emotions, but how we react and live our own lives certainly can. This does take time and devotion and is necessary to forgive. Good job!

  5. Allison says:

    Great post. I’ve been through quite a bit of heartache and therapy to learn this lesson. If I had started blogging earlier I might have saved quite a bit in co-pays. 🙂 It feels so good to take ownership of it all through compassion.

  6. Joyce says:

    That’s sad when people hold such bitter feelings toward family. Hopefully, everyone will find a way to move on and make amends.

    http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

  7. Rocque says:

    I am very fortunate to have a brother who at times will drive me crazy with his need for control personality, but other than that is an incredible person. He paid for in home health care for 6 months while my mother was in hospice. No one else could afford to do that. Because of him donating his years of savings to keep my mother in good care and alive, she got 3 more years of life, and every day was a celebration. When she did pass, we knew we had a gift of 3 extra years provided by his generosity.
    I hope people can realize that once someone is gone it is over with. You are not going to be able to say things you always wanted to say once they are gone. We never know when that may be. Live your life so you have no regrets.

  8. I am so lucky to be close to my mother and sister.

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