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Annie Turner

Annie Turner
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

THE OCTOPUS OF FORGIVENESS

I came to a rather startling but useful conclusion about forgiveness the other day. Here's the background to it, the scenario, as it were. My stepmom died early in November of last year--a vibrant, very bright, gregarious, and deeply contentious and difficult woman, who outlived my father by twelve years. We had definitely had our run-ins over the years, and my emotional stance with her was rather like a fencer at the start of the match: face mask on, encased in my white padded coat, and foil raised in preparation for some thrust and parry. I was never entirely at my ease with her, nor was trust a real part of our relationship, even though there were parts of me which were fond of her and appreciated her uniqueness.

Since she broke the will my dad and she had made, willing away the major portion of the land around the house(which is actually in a rather dilapidated shape, being built in 1756), I've struggled with what I saw as an unjust distribution of the property. Despite the feelings of myself and my two brothers, it was clear that this new will would be made, and things would be changed and not in line with what my father had intended.

After the Memorial Service (where many very funny stories were told, many highlighting my stepmom's eccentricities and independence) and a gathering at the old family homestead the following day, it became clear to me that I was not done with grief and anger. I had a venting session, witnessed by my dear husband and understanding grown son, where I cried a bit, dribbled, blew my nose, and let fly some curse words about the injustice. I think what it really was about was the loss of the family homestead--the feeling that my side of the family had simply disappeared. I mourned that.

But God is in the tears and the curse words I've found. Just as God is in the Reiki nap I take each day (the pumzika Fr. Jim speaks of from East Africa--a nap, not a Reiki nap!). I prayed to be forgiven and I prayed, in rather sweaty and desperate fashion, to be able to forgive my stepmother, knowing that this anger was not doing any of us any good at all. The image that came to my mind was of an octopus, all eight arms clamped onto my head. The knowing I got was, "All you have to do is remove one of those arms, Annie." Wow, I thought, relief pouring through me; You mean I don't have to forgive EVERYTHING all at ONCE? "No," was the answer.

So I began the hard work of forgiveness. I thought about forgiving my stepmom the breaking of the will (nope, too hard for these tottering beginning steps...); for being so difficult (nope, too much for now); then I thought, "Ok, I'll just work on forgiving her always asking me when I came to visit, what would I like to take home from the house." This was a neurotic dance that happened regularly, with me refusing to take anything, and my stepmom insisting angrily that I take something. So--gradually, carefully, I pulled off one octopus arm from my head, and forgave her those occasions of asking, manipulating, and then being angry. I'll just get this ONE sticky arm off my head!

Obviously, I can't do this on my own. I am way too stubborn, hot-headed, with a deep trench filled with old grief and resentment. God knows what a sceptic tank of resentment I am. But in this time of prayer--of my asking and sending out forgiveness for just this ONE aspect of our relationship--I could feel one row of suckers reluctantly letting go, and one octopus arm sprang free from my head, leaving only seven more to work on. Whew.

I can't tell you how good this felt. Clearly, we're not done yet; clearly, I have a long way to go, but just a little of that old resentment, just a bit of that old anger has left me, flung off into the ether of God's forgiveness.