I have written before about friendship and how lucky I am to still have friends from a hundred years ago when we were pig-tailed girls in school but friendship can be a delicate construct. I started thinking about this after reading a recent post by a friend about how friendships are maintained and our expectations of them which is how I ended up writing about forgiveness – or not. As I’m writing this on Good Friday, the topic is a timely one. With all the hoo-ha surrounding it, non-believers probably think Christmas is the biggest event in the Christian calendar but it isn’t. Easter is the big kahuna because without Christ’s Resurrection, there would be no reason to follow Jesus as he would have been just another dead rebel. The whole point is that God sent his Son to forgive our sins and ensure our redemption so the whole concept of forgiveness is a ‘big thing’ and not only in Christianity. Buddhists believe that forgiveness is a critical step towards achieving a peaceful state of being and the Qur’an teaches that forgiveness is a superior moral trait. “Turn the other cheek.” is the yellow brick road. “Forgive and forget.” But what if you can’t. Forgive. Or forget.
In 2010 I severed a friendship and even five years later I can still feel the disappointment and anger as though it were yesterday. We don’t do things for our friends expecting to be repaid but I think it’s OK to consider any equal relationship a two-way street. My friend’s life was always in turmoil. When she discovered her husband cheating, I consoled her by phone from America, where I was living at the time. Her next partner had a vengeful, bitter ex-wife so I was a sounding board for her frustrations and copywriter and editor for mountains of correspondence. Despite having a son together, that relationship ended and it was more commiserating and letter-writing as the miserable sod tried shirking his financial responsibilities in any way he could. I suppose the rot started setting in when, as her son’s godmother, I was asked to be his sponsor at his Confirmation. To reflect the importance of the occasion and because his mother had mentioned he was becoming interested in photography, I gave him a digital camera. And this was years ago, before you could get them out of vending machines. I certainly wasn’t expecting a gilt-edged letter of gratitude but I thought I might at least get a phone call…. Nothing, nought, nada, zip, zilch, zero. Am I belabouring the point? Not even a bloody cup of tea after the ceremony. Her choice in men was appalling and the next one was a certified narcissist. More listening, more commiserating. Then my father died. And she sent me a text message. Some of you will understand exactly why that was the straw that broke the camel’s back while others will wonder why it was such a big deal. It’s hard to put into words how totally let down I felt but there was now a trench in the sand that swallowed forgiveness whole and was never likely to throw it back up.
On the other hand, I have a girlfriend I have known since Kindergarten and I have forgiven her a myriad of transgressions, big and small. When I became engaged, many moons ago, my American husband’s lawyer recommended that we get married as quickly as possible to start all the paperwork for my move to the U.S. and application for my Green Card so my first wedding was an intimate affair of only 10 people in a divine little stone church. (We had the bigger, glitzier ceremony two months later so I have two wedding anniversaries – both of which I now manage to forget…..) S. was supposed to be my bridesmaid and witness but not only was she late, thus missing the entire thing, she had the audacity to be upset because we didn’t wait. My best gay friend ended up being my bridesman and I was as happy as a pig in mud. But my husband was furious and where I laughed it off as a memorable part of the day, he did not forgive her for years after finally accepting that I really hadn’t cared and I wasn’t just saying that because we had been friends for so long. And I think therein lies the difference. By that time, S. and I had 29 years invested in our friendship. That’s a lot of secrets and memories and laughter to lose. It would be like excising great chunks of your past with nothing to fill the holes.
People suffer the most tremendous losses due to violence and yet extend forgiveness to the perpetrators. They are obviously in some state of grace that I can’t begin to imagine. The generally accepted position is that without forgiveness, you can’t truly “move on” but in my totally unprofessional yet totally eloquent opinion, I think that’s a load of horse manure. I believe you can feel sadness, anger, disappointment and a kaleidoscope of other emotions and still lead a “whole” life. Sometimes not “letting it go” is fuel for a fire that changes everything.
It’s complicated. I’m sure everyone has a story. Wait, is that the time? Forgive me, I have to run.
Religion is an interesting proposition in our house. I am – using a recently discovered and the most apt description of all time – a “submarine Catholic“, surfacing only at Christmas and Easter. My dad was an “armchair Catholic“, arguing that God could hear him just as clearly from our house as from any Church and my mum, whose Italian accent was still thick despite all her years in Australia, would attend the local ‘Viet-manese’ Mass because she loved seeing all the children even though she couldn’t understand a word of the Service!
My American husband, Jewish by birth but agnostic by nature, believes that if there is a God, he is totally disgusted with what has become of His earthly paradise and has most certainly moved on to other projects. His father, although not Orthodox, was quite devout while his mother was more inclined to social activism, marching with Atlanta’s African-Americans in their struggle for equal rights.
So, where does that leave our son? Baptised Catholic, he went to a local Catholic Primary School before moving to an Anglican High School where he treated Christian Studies with the same resigned boredom reserved for any subject he wasn’t particularly thrilled with. And then about 3 years ago something happened. I sent him away to a school holiday Sailing Camp. He was unusually keen to get home when I picked him up but assuming he was just tired, we threw his gear in the car, buckled up and just as I was about to ask for the week’s review, he stopped the question from even leaving my lips by not just beginning to cry but by sobbing uncontrollably which left me absolutely stunned and a little frightened.
What I hadn’t realised is that the organisation that runs these camps is a Fundamental Christian group, one of whose camp leaders had informed my son, quite seriously, that his father was going to hell because he was Jewish – which I managed to ascertain after several repetitions of “I don’t want daddy to go to hell.” – sob – “I don’t want daddy to go to hell.” Shame on me for not doing my homework but who, in their wildest dreams (or nightmares), thinks someone is going to say that to an 11-year old on a bloody boating camp?
It took the entire trip of explaining why that couldn’t possibly be true, to calm him down but obviously it played on his mind because some time later he asked the question of someone at school and in another jaw-dropping response, was told that like cancer, no-one wants to hear the diagnosis but you have to accept that that’s the way it is. I’m sorry – I laughed. I just found the whole thing so ludicrous and fortunately, so did he because in the interim I had managed to reassure him that you could believe in a God without believing in ‘religion’. We are attempting to raise a compassionate, tolerant, broad-minded child and the Church’s attitude to homosexuality, birth control, pre-marital sex and female clergy has no place in the world-view we are trying to give him.
You could try and condense every directive from every religion and still not surpass the simple exhortation of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” and if this is the only ‘religious’ path my son chooses to travel, well that’s a guide that will never let him down.
THE 10 COMMANDMENTS FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS.
1. Thou shalt not have any false idols like that bum-baring Kim Kardashian although I might make an exception for really talented musicians.
2. Thous shalt not make any graven images unless it’s of Grumpy Cat because he’s almost as awesome as Me.
3. Thou shalt not take my name in vain when Justin Bieber’s works just as well as in, “Justin f….king Beiber, my head hurts.”
4. Remember to keep the Sabbath Day hol(e)y. Eat Swiss cheese.
5. Honour thy gym membership even when you’re tired and/or hung over.
6. Thou shalt not kill. Applies to everybody. (Indonesia, are you listening?)
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. And don’t think not being “officially” married lets you off the hook.
8. Thou shalt not steal – unless it’s all those cute little toiletries in hotels. No bathrobes though.
9. Thou shalt not lie because you have to have a very good memory to stay out of trouble.
10. Thou shalt not want what others have unless it’s patience, kindness or maybe a winning Lotto ticket.
GO FORTH AND BE HAPPY.
I’m the happiest person you’ll ever meet. Really. Sunshine and light. The funny one. The eternal optimist (married, ironically, to the world’s greatest ‘don’t-trust-anyone-ist’). My girlfriend says my opinion on people is rubbish because I like everybody. That’s not strictly true but I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, the disappointments who have crossed my path have been few and far between. Unfortunately, incompetents and the inconsiderate are another matter entirely. Especially on the road.
As we enjoyed four days of almost empty roads because half of Sydney cleared out for the Easter break, allow me to enumerate the many and wondrous ways you can improve not only my, but your fellow travellers’, experience on our narrow and congested highways and byways.
1. Re-acquaint yourself with your blinkers. (Indicators, for any American readers.) One ‘blink’ when you’re already three quarters of the way into my lane, two inches from my bumper bar doesn’t cut it. They are supposed to indicate intention. I would have let you in, honest. Now I’m just peeved.
b. If you want to turn right (left, in America), how about you let me know more than two seconds before you stop or before I pull up behind you at traffic lights. When this happens, I guarantee you, that person you see gripping the steering wheel and mouthing something is not singing along to the radio. If expletives could be magically transformed into electricity, this scenario would power the entire east coast.
c. Like pimples on an adolescent’s face, roundabouts appear seemingly overnight in this city. Since they are placed at intersections and since I am not clairvoyant, I don’t actually know which way it is you intend to go. Left? Right? Straight ahead? Could a blinking light on the outside of the car give me a clue? While we’re here, I may as well point out something else. The rule is to give way to traffic already in the roundabout and proceed when there is a gap in said traffic. It does not say stop and give way to the car on your right which is still in the next suburb, just heading your way. (Hello? Husband?)
2. Clearway times are not flexible. Surprisingly, if the sign says 9.00am, the expectation of The Roads and Traffic Authority, along with your fellow drivers, is that you NOT PARK there before that time. There is no small print on the sign that says “Oh, by all means, if you’re running late for your train, feel free to park here at 8.50.” You will also not find an exception made for those people desperate for their skinny lattes who “should feel free to just stop for a few minutes to duck in and get their coffees.” at 8.45. Same applies at the other end of the day when clearways commence at 3.30 to ease that great seething mass of automobilia known as the school pick-up. Clearways are our only pitiful defense against peak hour because we get two miserable lanes instead of one. So please stop stuffing it up.
3. Learn how to park. Honestly, if there is a line of cars waiting (not by choice) to see whether your eighth attempt at reversing into that Westfields car space is successful, may I humbly suggest you just bite the bullet, find another one and go in nose first. Truly, there’s no shame in it.
b. Marked car spaces. Those lines that delineate car spaces are not a suggestion. You are supposed to park in between them – not over them, not across them. You are lucky we live in a reasonably civilised society otherwise people would stab your tyres.
c. Even in the suburbs, on-street parking can sometimes be difficult to find so when you see someone who has taken up two car spaces, your first instinct is to buy a crane, lift their car and drop it into the nearest body of water. Well, maybe not but you get my drift. Unless you are driving a limousine or a Hummer, there is no excuse.
4. Green means Go. Most people understand that when the light turns green you put your foot on the accelerator and move…..forward…preferably, immediately. There is nothing more frustrating than watching from bumper to bumper traffic as the first car in line waits for a particular shade of green then those following leave a couple of car lengths before deciding to head off. This eventuates in a grand total of four or five cars getting through the lights before they again turn red. When this happens at Right Turn Arrows which only last a millisecond at the best of times, it makes the rest of us want to curse your first-born children.
I’m sure everyone has their own pet peeve to add to the list. A mass exercise in grumpiness! Even with the Easter weekend over, school holidays are still bringing some relief on our roads so enjoy while you can. The chaos will be back soon enough.