The Place Past Forgiveness

In my late teens, I forgave the people who abused me. I can remember the day clearly, as though it was last week, instead of some twenty years ago. The sky was a remarkable blue color, the color of a ring I often wear, with a single cloud in the sky.

I remember looking up because even though the sky was clear and it was a beautiful day, it felt like I was working every muscle in my body to put one foot in front of the other, that I had to remind myself to actually breathe because my body felt so heavy.

I had been in therapy for years and years at this point and my therapists and doctors were solely focused on getting me to a point where I would be able to be a functioning human, a feat of superhuman capabilities, no doubt. While I remember the word ‘forgiveness’ coming up occasionally, it wasn’t something I was concerned with, nor was anyone caring for me concerned with it, either. Anger and vengeance, those were topics I was familiar with. And who could blame me or anyone else? These people had basically destroyed me and no one would dare argue that level of evil deserved forgiveness.

That blue day, the sky the color of blue topaz day, with its single cloud changed everything for me. I had the epiphany that they could no longer physically hurt me. The secret was out and they could no longer touch me. The physical power was now mine. I was now an adult and it was my decision to continue to live in anger or in peace. The emotional power was now mine, too.

It felt as though a bag of physical bricks fell off of my shoulders. Even though they no longer had access to me or my body, I let them continue to hurt me through my festering resentment and anger.

What people don’t tell you about forgiveness is that it is a power that only you have. It doesn’t mean that you have forgotten or that it’s okay, it just means that someone else’s actions have no control over your emotions and actions. You, and you alone, are more powerful than the person who hurt you, if only by the mere fact that you hold the key to forgiveness.

I recently have started going back to church because I started to have anger towards my abusers that I had not had since that blue day. The anger came back because no matter how healthy I am, physically or emotionally, their actions have wrecked my body. For a few weeks, I wondered if I was struggling to forgive, but then I realized I was struggling with new anger, and the anger was appropriate and the length of time it would stay was in my control.

I really want to throw a tantrum some days, just throw myself down onto the ground, roll around and scream that it’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have to do all of this bullshit and the people that hurt me just went on with their lives. I don’t do it, but when I’m sick, sitting in the doctor’s office, I close my eyes and picture myself acting like a toddler and it makes me laugh. Because, really, who doesn’t want to throw a tantrum once and awhile?

A few months ago, after I had moved past my anger and onto acceptance, while kneeling in church to pray, the service came to the Litany of Healing. The Litany of Healing is a part of the service in the Episcopal church where we pray for those that need healing. Most of the time, I pray for those that I know are sick, family and friends. That day was different. I was the sickest I had ever been with a kidney and bladder infection and I also needed healing.

Dear Lord, please help them find peace. Their redemption is not my responsibility, but I wish them peace.

All of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe. Instead of praying for myself and my sickest point, I was praying for the people who caused the sickness. Why in the hell was I praying for the people who put me in this situation to begin with? I forgave them and that’s all I can give. The tears started to stream down my face, mainly because I was so unnerved.

After the service, I went to the bathroom and wiped my face. When I came out of the bathroom, the Rector was waiting for me. I told him why I was upset and he studied me for a moment. “Maybe they need your prayers, Audrey.”

I’ve been sitting with this for a few months. I knew my birthday was coming up and the anxiety would start the closer it got, so I stopped questioning my thoughts and just sat with it, expecting no explanation.

The last two months, my birthday started creeping up and I felt different than I have in years. I had no anxiety about it until three weeks ago. I had started the day out
meditating, and I found myself praying for them again. I do not understand why I keep praying for them to find peace, I want to scream. I think maybe it’s finally happening, maybe I’m finally cracking up and losing my mind. Or maybe it was something else entirely that I had not thought about: the place past forgiveness.

We’re so focused on forgiveness, acceptance, revenge and karma, no one talks about what happens next. I had a very wise person tell me that day when you’ve genuinely forgiven someone, you can pray for them to have peace. This is the place where forgiveness isn’t just a word, it’s an act.

I normally don’t celebrate my birthday, but that day I decided I was going to do something this year. Choosing the life I want to live, with the love of my life and children, close family and a very small circle of trusted friends is absolutely something to celebrate. I did this. I walked through the flames of hell that are actually people in this world and made it to a very simple and beautiful life that I created with the people I love. The demons will remain, of course, but I celebrate knowing that my choices are stronger than the demons.

I woke up yesterday, on my 39th birthday, let my husband and precious boys sing happy birthday to me and ate unicorn cake for breakfast. Yesterday was bittersweet. I deserve every bit of happiness I have but it’s easy to grieve what could have been. I’ve accepted it’s okay to feel anger and sadness for all of the things that were taken from me. I’ve also accepted that praying for the people who hurt me is where I want to be. It’s uncharted territory and I have the tools to navigate through it.

My birthday has always been an easy litmus test for me to check where I am emotionally and in my life. It’s also an easy one to pass.

 

Autism and the Fall Lineup on Television

The fall lineup of television has three shows depicting a character with Autism as a central theme: The Good Doctor on ABC, Young Sheldon on CBS, and Atypical on Netflix. (Yes, I know they never mention if Sheldon has Asperger’s, but I think we can all agree he does).

In the last 48 hours, I’ve watched all three, and two of them as a family. Our youngest is now Young Sheldon’s biggest fan. He was already a fan of the Big Bang Theory, but he was sucked into watching a child who loves bow-ties as much as he does navigate his life at the same age he is. There is a scene in the pilot episode where Sheldon points out a woman’s mustache to her and I cringed. I’ve lived through several of those scenarios with our youngest, scenarios that no matter how many times you live through it, they are still mortifying.

Atypical does a fantastic job reflecting navigating the teenage years. Because it does deal with the subject of dating and sex, my husband and I decided our youngest is not ready to watch it, but we will watch it with our oldest.

We sat down to watch The Good Doctor last night, and it turned out that our oldest had already watched the show without us but gushed about how much he loved it. Then, he sat down and watched it for the second time with us, eyes glued to the television the entire time. When I tucked our youngest in for bed last night, he said, “Dr. Murphy’s Autism is what saved that little boy’s life.” He was referencing the main character, Dr. Shaun Murphy, a pediatric cardiology resident who is Autistic, saving a young boy’s life by recognizing signs that the other surgeons couldn’t see. “One day you will wake up and realize that your ability to think differently is a gift,” I said, as I kissed his forehead.

I had to fight tears as I watched The Good Doctor. There are several scenes where the hospital administration is arguing whether or not someone with autism has a place on their surgical team. It was heartbreaking, infuriating, and a real concern of mothers of children on the spectrum who wonder if others will hold their children’s diagnosis against them. We know they have exceptional abilities, but do others? When all you focus on is what makes them different, how can you see what makes them exceptional?

What all three of these shows get right is showing the nuanced family reactions. The struggles of the siblings, the parents trying to do what’s right by their kids or by trying to ignore their child’s behavior, the people that shun them, and the people in their life that can see their potential and keep pushing them forward. All three also show that these children/young men have a level of perseverance that most adults lack. The ability to keep showing up and pursuing their obsessions serve these characters well in the long run, even when it seems everyone around them is actively working against them.

I never thought about representation on television in regards to my children as they are both white, middle-class boys. When I thought about representation on television, I thought about female superheroes, African-American families with positive stories, shows with minority storylines. My children could watch any television show and see themselves reflected on what they were watching.

Or so I thought.

They might be able to see people who look like them, but no one who acts like them. In retrospect, I wonder if watching other kids who look like them, but are neuro-typical made them feel even more like an outsider than they already did. My kids don’t play sports like the kids on sitcoms or gravitate towards typical young male interests. The only shows they’ve seen with characters who have similar behaviors to them are adult characters, such as Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory.

Most of us have childhood heroes that can be traced back to television. But even superheroes aren’t reality, and superheroes are a creative escape (which are also needed, don’t get me wrong). When kids on the spectrum feel as though they are the only ones navigating a neuro-typical world, it’s comforting to know that there are options of television shows who are including characters with Autism. Not only does this help them feel less excluded, these shows are also breaking down preconceived notions about Autism, opening doors for future inclusivity.

 

 

When Children Speak, Listen Carefully

 

Our children go to public school. Where we live, this is an anomaly. Families like ours, white and middle income families, don’t send their children to public school.

I have watched mothers pull their children on a playground from playing with ours once they notice our children’s uniform tops. I have listened to mothers whisper loudly ‘those are public school kids’ when my children walk by them.

When my husband and I made the decision to enroll our oldest in public school, we made an informed decision. We attended open houses of private and public schools and we talked to the staff of the schools. And yet, the driving force of enrolling our children at a public school was diversity; it reflected the racial makeup of our city.

Once I enrolled our second child in this same school, I had an acquaintance physically recoil when I told her where our children were. Then, I had another one tell me that she couldn’t send her child there, because she wanted the best education for her child (as if I didn’t).

But after it was obvious our children were going to public school and it was a decision that was sticking around, the nastiness really started.

“You’re really going to let your kids go to school with black kids?” (I heard that a lot)

“I thought public school was just a phase you were going through.”

Most of you have never met me in real life, but if you have read any of my stuff, you can imagine that didn’t go over too well.

Yes, our children go to school with black kids. They also go to school with Indian children. And Hispanic children. And Jewish children. And Chinese children. And you know what? It’s amazing and our children’s lives are richer for it.

A few months ago, I was stuck in traffic with our youngest child. I sat on one block for over an hour and I was frantically trying to figure out how I was going to get everything done that I needed to that night, now that I was running an hour behind. Our youngest talks. And talks. And talks and is never quiet. He was rambling on and on and then he said something that made my head whip around so fast my neck hurt after.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” I asked, my cheeks burning and my eyes seeing white from anger.

His eyes got really big and his eyes started to well up.

“I said I don’t want to be friends with *Student A* anymore because he called my friend *Student B* the n word and he doesn’t think it’s wrong.”

I took a deep breath because I realized he thought I was mad at him. When I explained the cause of my anger, he said to me, “Mom, I just don’t understand why people hate people so much that they don’t even know.”

This conversation has sat on my heart for months. I’ve wanted to write about it, but I didn’t, because there are women I love, who have children that they have to comfort at night and explain to them that they are equal to white children and I’ve never wanted to make their heart ache anymore than it already does. The level of respect I have for these women is unparalleled. Knowing that they cannot protect their children from this and knowing that one day, their children will be made to feel inferior due to the color of their skin or their religion makes my stomach turn. There is no part of this that is okay.

But now? Charlottesville? The hoods are off. What you are seeing cannot be unseen and Freedom of Speech does not equal freedom from consequences. In the wise words of Maya Angelou ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ We are witnessing evil and it cannot go back to hide in the dark.

And so what should be done by those of us with privilege? I believe that some people say things with good intentions because they want to help and don’t know what to say. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Listen to those that are hurting. Educate yourself. Get involved with something, anything that will make a difference.

I write a lot about speaking up about what is wrong. But I don’t write anything just for the sake of writing it. Most of what I do, I don’t put on social media. The hard work is off of social media. Loving your neighbors? Harder than trolling the comments on social media. Showing up at a non-profit to help the homeless and not telling anyone about it? Harder than screaming your opinions on social media. Raising kids? Really damn hard. Much harder than reading the comments on the internet.

And so, while I don’t write updates constantly on social media, I am watching and more importantly, listening. I am raising our children to not exhibit bystander behavior and to call out hate and to listen to other opinions who are not like their own. And I’m pouring all of my extra time and energy into a project I believe will profoundly change our city and the future of our community.

These things are part of a marathon, not a sprint. Advocacy work is exhausting and the level of burn out is high when you are passionate about something. Imagine screaming at the top of your lungs and not stopping until you have no voice. You’re tired. You’re physically exhausted from the mental toll it takes on your body and you have no energy to finish the race. This helps no one on the other side of the finish line. Change never happens overnight, it takes time. Stop screaming at the top of your lungs and preserve some energy for the long run. Because that is what we are looking at — a very long marathon.

Your children are watching, they hear every word you say, they scream at what you scream at, they learn their passions from you, and also your fears and biases from you.

Every year before school starts, we give our children books. I try to match the book to something that would be relevant to life lessons they may learn that year. This year, I gave our oldest the books 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. They suddenly seem more relevant than ever.

I wrestled with what to write on the inside of the jacket. But this is what I ended up with:

It’s time to start questioning everything you know and hear and also what you don’t hear.

Know that doing the right thing is often the much harder choice and the opposite of what everyone you know is doing. Learn to trust your gut and shut out the opinions of those who do not matter, for if they are not fighting by your side, their opinion is just white noise.