I received a small note in the mail three days ago. Adorned with a super hero stamp, the card was a picture of a Georgia O’Keefe painting, and the message inside was a kind inscription, wishing me a happy birthday. The writer wished me as wonderful a celebration as I had arranged for him on his 40th birthday over a decade ago.
The note was from my former partner, and reading it was one of those moments where time slows down and everything else slips into your peripheral vision. The note didn’t bring back any rush of affection or love. Rather, it gave me pause to consider my own generousness, my own capacity for forgiveness.
When most relationships end, it’s messy. Lots of hurt feelings, maybe some bitter words, yelling, and slammed doors. My seven year relationship didn’t end like that. After my partner admitted a months-long infidelity, our relationship began a death spiral almost imperceptible at first, but undeniable at last. I can’t remember yelling or screaming or gnashing my teeth, but I can remember the sad dawning of realizations that Humpty Dumpty could not be put back together. It was a long, quiet, torturous goodbye.
Throughout it all, I was pretty remarkably stoic, and I’ve written previously how, to a large extent, I probably just couldn’t process the awfulness of it. As the relationship ended, as I caught my breath, and as I just happened to meet someone amazingly wonderful the following year, I found myself growing in understanding as to what had transpired, and, rather than reaching a peace about it all, I became more indignant, more self-righteous, and, for lack of a better word, more angry. I didn’t lose sleep, but I no longer cast the ending of the relationship in my mind as something poetic and sad. Now, I understood how shabbily I had been treated, and grew to appreciate how moving on had been the right choice. At the same time, I was enjoying a maturing, deepening love (with Hubby), and hindsight allowed me to see all that had been missing from the prior relationship.
In that process, my heart hardened toward my former partner. We did not communicate regularly or see each other, so it was very much an internal process, but it happened nonetheless. No “Happy Birthday,” no “hope your move goes well,” no anything. We tend to cast the people in our lives into character roles, and he had been sent to the “villain” line in central casting. I’m sure most people would just call this “moving on,” but I know that my feelings were not true to who I am. It wasn’t just moving on; it was taking cherished memories and a decent soul and rewriting them out of existence.
And, then, one day, you find yourself standing in your office, holding a birthday card harkening back to a wonderful trip to New Mexico and reading a kind inscription, and you understand that the inner turmoil, the judgmental posturing, it was all just an indictment of yourself and no one else. And you reflect that we are all screwed up, flawed, inconsistent, hurting, wonderful beasts, and you know that nothing and no one is ever all bad or all good, and you remind yourself to see and embrace nuance, and you…well, you just exhale.
A thoughtful card doesn’t erase the past. And it doesn’t make up for transgressions. But that’s not the point. I think the secret is learning to let go of all the hurts and all the pain, and to keep opening yourself up to love and kindness. And to loving and being kind. Ultimately, nothing else really works.
Since starting this blog, I’ve continually written and rewritten a post on forgiveness, and it never works out. Something is always off. But, standing with the note in my hand, with a little paper reminder that life’s kindnesses come in many different shapes and forms, I think I found some forgiveness.