Forgiveness, Serenity and Gratitude

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

This month, I want to talk about three words: forgiveness, serenity, and gratitude. They come around quite often. I first started paying attention to them fifteen years ago, when I was changing my life. Three words of three syllable each.

Chances are, if you walk into any spiritual or therapeutic group meeting, any day, any time, you’ll hear those words. They are p.c. words, among certain groups of people.

It used to be that “forgiveness” was a word I could not hear without feeling like I was from another planet-at the least. I often felt insulted by it. Forgive what?-months of lying in casts

? The pain of mediocre doctors setting my fractures? Insensitive nurses? My whacked-out 100% addicted family? It was just too much for me.

Forget that! I was lucky that my support group-my extended family-wasn’t too hot on forgiveness, either. Forgiveness is a great idea whose time comes all too often and too early.

I’m not talking about hanging on and hanging on to hurt or resentful feelings-not that I haven’t done a great deal of that in my life.

Life is too short. I just turned sixty-six and now I’m closer to seventy than sixty and, believe me, that seems old. My time is passing.

The time left is too valuable to hang on to bad things from the past. I need to be savoring what’s out there in the present, not re-tasting bile from the past.

What I notice is this: the less I worry about forgiving people, and the less about doing what I should do, the fewer ill feelings I still harbor.

The process of hanging on to those bad times is called “gunny-sacking”-stuffing them into a conceptual bag where, when someone gathers enough of them, she or he is entitled to an emotional explosion. That doesn’t do too much good, really. I should know, since I’ve done enough of that stuff.

So, when a Portland city bus killed my son, I was angry that it happened-along with a stew of other feelings-but I didn’t feel any blame toward the bus driver. I’ve driven school busses and I had nightmares about hitting something or someone. I had close calls. It’s impossible not to. During the eruptions of grief, I thought about the bus driver and how awful she must have felt.

Portland is a terrible city to drive in. If anything, I figured the driver was stressed to begin with. Bus drivers should have short shifts and long frequent vacations, but they don’t.

I can’t claim it was her fault-no way. No, it was just what happened. Maybe there was some other reason, more cosmic or transcendent than I can imagine, but I don’t know about that. And in all this, there’s forgiveness.

No blame, no hate. No desire for revenge. No place to put blame. (Time to be honest: if this had happened to him as a soldier, in some misbegotten, imperialist war, I’d be in Washington D.C., looking for those responsible, and determined to rip out their hearts.)

Serenity’s the next word. You all know The Serenity Prayer-“God grant me” Another one of those words I don’t quite understand. I know a lot of people who see serenity as kind of drifting along on a pink cloud, la-la-la, nothing troubles them; their lives are just oh so perfect and serene.

My experience is that they fall off those clouds, and hard. I’ve seen a lot of that in recovery and in spiritual-growth groups-“oh boy, I’ve got the message, oh boy, everything’s just dandy!” Crash.

The closest I can come to serenity is bobbing along like a cork in the ocean. Sometimes I’m totally under water, but most of the time, at least, my head is up. The water can be calm and other times stormy. Yeah–it’s been stormy.

Life, though, has a rhythm. I used to think it was a zigzag line, up-down-up-down, sort of like a lightning flash. But it doesn’t seem to be that way, really. It’s closer to a sine wave-a series of curved lines going up from the middle, and then curving down below the middle, then up again, and so on.

A consistent wave-kind of like the swells in the ocean swells. The down times can get deep, but they don’t last. The up times can get pretty high, but they don’t last, either. What lasts is the rhythm. So I keep bobbing along.

Gratitude? No, no gratitude about it. I feel loss and sadness about my son’s death. Not all the time, but often enough. I’m grateful that I had a son like him, have great memories, but to be grateful for such a god-awful thing would be pure lunacy.

For my feelings, though, I’m grateful-for being able to have them all. Grateful that I was able to not stuff those feelings way down inside, burying them under booze and drugs, only to have them erupt sideways.

If that had happened, I would have ended up doing stupid and self-destructive things.

I’m grafeful for having the kind of friends who have stood by me through all this. We spent an excellent week up at Anacortes, Washington, up on Puget Sound, courtesy of some old friends, Carolyn and Bob Cochran.

They told us we needed some down time. We ate fresh seafood and berries, worked out a new recipe with angel hair pasta and shrimp, discussed politics way into the night, went sightseeing, and laughed and cried about it all.

Friends like that go above and beyond the line of friendship-it used to be we had blood-related families for that. Close friends become a family of choice and provide that support and love.

On our way home, we took the ferry over to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. Halfway across I scattered some of my son’s ashes. I think he’d have dug the place.

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