Just the other day I gave myself an extraordinary gift. I forgave someone who had hurt me. I had considered this person a genuine friend. We had shared some powerful experiences and had worked together, with shared values to do what we could to protect and restore nature and our environment. She had been one of the very few I reached out to when the media shaming and accusations seized my life.
Then, she abandoned me, turned and fled. There were only a few of those close betrayals that hurt beyond belief and she was one. I felt used and discarded.
I had not heard from her in over a year when she left a voice message asking if I would meet with her. My first response was to reject her because I wanted to hurt her back. It took me several days to remember that was not how or who I wanted to be.
The morning we were to meet I allowed myself to feel the hurt and the desire to make her hurt in return. But as I sat with it, I realized that she had been in a difficult position. The media was going after everyone closely associated with me, especially those who were working on environmental, clean energy or climate change issues. The primary media attackers were pro-fossil fuel climate deniers and it had been an agenda-driven assault. I could see the humanness of her fear-based abandonment. But that didn’t mean it hurt any less.
She was a few minutes late getting to the restaurant and I had a fleeting, insecure thought that perhaps she had stood me up just to rub salt in the wound. Then I caught myself — I knew she wouldn’t do that. Next I thought, “Perhaps I should stand her up to show how angry and hurt I am?!” Then I remembered who I was.
Our meeting was awkward – pain, guilt and embarrassment bubbling under the surface. I was surprisingly nervous. We spoke of safe, peripheral things and allowed no dangerous silences between sentences, exclaiming about the tastiness of the food.
Then I centered myself. I leaned back a little and looked across the table, seeing not an enemy who had hurt me, but a sister, someone I’d cared about, who in a tough spot had made a very human decision that she was now ashamed of.
I started to speak, trying, unsuccessfully, to blink back painfully vulnerable tears. I said:
You know there were a few abandonments that hurt the most and you were one of them. But I’ve been thinking and though I’m not saying it was OK, I do understand it given the professional issues we were working on, the toxic media environment and all the fear-based political maneuvering advice you were likely being given. I am not sure that at that time if our roles had been reversed I wouldn’t have done the same thing. But I am sure that this version of me sitting across from you wouldn’t.
With that her tears flowed. She said, “Thank you for saying that,” and explained she had acted out of fear, felt terrible about it and certainly wasn’t proud of how she’d handled it.
We hugged as we parted and she thanked me for “taking a risk.”
I am thanking her for taking the risk to reach out, to make an opening to allow me to express my hurt and to face the chance that I might have acted on my desire to cause her pain return. That took real courage.
I was moved, a little unsettled, for the entire rest of the day. I felt a release, a strength and warmness of heart. It is one of the most pure, real-time examples of the power of forgiveness I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know how it felt to her, though I hope it was good; amazingly, the gift in my forgiveness was for me!
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