Just like we have to learn how to look both ways before we cross the street in order to survive, we also have to learn self forgiveness. I want to pretend that’s not true, but life has taught me otherwise.
There are the little things we need to forgive like my greed at an open mic reading, or the fact that I wasn’t born tall enough to play basketball, or much worse, the fact that I never put the time into building the necessary muscle and skill to play point guard — the one position my 5’4” frame would have allowed me to play.
And then there are the big things: the moments we lost control, the instants fear, anger, stupidity or a simple misunderstanding drove us to do something we didn’t think we’d ever be capable of doing, and yet we did. Maybe someone got hurt. Maybe someone died. This weekend I heard veterans read amazing poems and essays. I heard them speak about never forgiving themselves, some for the past and some for the present. Their pain is real and it needs to be honored. They feel cut off from humanity, but the problem with humanity is that no one gets out of this life unscathed. We all have done things. Most of those acts would have put us in jail if they had been witnessed.
Religions recognize the need to atone, and many build acts surrounding forgiveness into their rituals. Today, for example, is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. But for those of us for whom religion has lost its meaning, what do we do? We can borrow from the faith traditions, and the traditions of Yom Kippur make a great start.
We can also pray. Addressing God or even believing in God isn’t necessary. You can pray to no one and have faith in the words and the change of heart and mind you wish to create, or you can pray to the Universe or a goddess. Under the category of Self Forgiveness, consider repeating the following prayer day after day, if necessary. Say it until you cry. Say it until you no longer need to cry when speaking it.
A Prayer for Forgiveness
I beg forgiveness
For all I created that I never wanted to create
For all I thought I wanted that bled into my fingers once I grabbed it
For all I did
For all that happened and all I saw
For all the times I did nothing when I should have acted
I beg forgiveness.
I beg understanding
That this is all going to make sense to me
And guide me to help myself and others
So that I can reach out to those I hurt, if that’s possible
And if that’s not possible, so I can touch other people
And atone and heal and repair.
I beg love
Wrenching it out of the dirt with my bare hands if necessary
I beg love
Flinging my plea into bright sky, into the people I hurt, into my own heart
I beg love
I accept love
I breathe love
I become love
I act out of love
And so it is. Amen.*
– by Diane Silver
* Using “amen” to end a prayer is not a religious act. I like the word because it denotes prayer to me. “Amen” means only “so be it.” If you find it difficult to say “amen” to end a prayer, use the much more secular “so be it.”
IMAGE: From Luca Zanon via Unsplash.