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.