Monday, July 16, 2012

The Kindness Project: Forgiveness


Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole . It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts.

If you read this blog a lot, you know that my kid sister got married last week. It was a lovely wedding, and for the most part, a wonderful time. What I didn't tell you is that it was the first time I'd seen my aunt and uncle, and one of my cousins, in twenty years.

I'm not going to go into all the details why, but if you know me well, you can probably guess. Anyway, the point is, it was a difficult reunion for me to face. I stressed about it for months before the trip - pretty much ever since I heard the wedding was going to happen.

The last time I saw these people, I was basically a boy. A lot had changed since then, but the same feelings remained. The same feelings many young people feel toward people in positions of authority over them, whether they are their natural parents or not. Sure, I was much more rebellious than most teenagers, but I had plenty of reason to feel the way I felt.

However, justified or not, my feelings and old resentments, were not going to serve the purpose of the trip: to celebrate my sister's union with the person she'd decided to spend her life with. In other words: it wasn't about me.

So I sent my aunt and uncle an email ahead of time, asking them for forgiveness, and implying I forgave them, without mentioning any specific grievances. I didn't expect a reply, and I didn't get one, but what I did get, which was a nice surprise, was a hug from each of them, when I happened to answer the door at the rental house, when they arrived in town the day before the wedding.

We're not best friends again or anything, but we did agree to start writing to each other, and I hope that things will go well. Even if we didn't always see eye to eye back in the day, there's no denying what they did for my sister, so I made sure to thank them for that when I gave my toast after dinner.

Even if forgiveness isn't going to make a huge difference to the people you need to forgive, sometimes forgiving yourself, or even acknowledging that you need to seek forgiveness, can lift a heavy burden from your shoulders. Letting go can be extremely liberating. I highly recommend it.

NOTE: On another kindness related point, Natalie Aguirre is interviewing one of the kindest bloggers I know today on Literary Rambles. Please stop by, and say hello to Lenny Lee!

43 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Matthew, that is wonderful that you took the first step. Forgiveness is one step in the healing process.
Don't forget to forgive yourself as well.

Sarah said...

Oh, Matt--what a wise decision. Like Alex said, if anything was going to happen, someone had to take the first step. It actually doesn't surprise me at all that it was you, but it does demonstrate the power of that decision. I wish I could properly articulate how much I admire you for that, and for explaining it so well in this post! Now--off to say HI to Lenny!

maine character said...

People think giving forgiveness is giving in or something, but it not only takes a lot more strength than being stubborn, but it's actually a gift you give yourself. To let go of old resentments that were dragging around your ankles like chains.

So way to go, dude. I'll try to keep you in mind at the next family reunion. You know, my own little Yoda on my shoulder.

Em-Musing said...

It takes a giant of a man to forgive. I look up to you.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Matt, those situations are so hard. But it sounds like you handled it really well. And I'm sure it made your sister's wedding even more special for her.

My husband reconnected over the last 8 years with a lot of uncles and aunts that were not there for him when he was growing up and very poor. But he's been able to see past that and reconnect and have new happier memories.

Charmaine Clancy said...

I think it's huge you made that step. I would have spent the entire reception pretending to be looking at something important in the opposite direction of these family members... like a plastic pot plant or something. Not because I hold a grudge (my memory is too short for that) but, because I'm a huge coward.
You're kinda brave.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

It takes great strength to ask for forgiveness. Good for you, Matthew.

Jess said...

Letting go can definitely be hard. It's amazing how difficult it is to forgive people for certain things...it's a frustrating process, because sometimes you can't just "decide" to get over things. Sometimes it's a matter of "fake it 'til you make it." Say the words out loud or write them (even if your heart isn't quite there yet) and I've found that's a good start. Congrats.

farawayeyes said...

What a wonderful post. This morning I really needed to hear that. Your 'kindness' is truly appreciated.

In my many years,if I've learned nothing else, I have learned that forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. It doesn't even matter if the other party accepts the forgiveness, once we give it we are free.

Thanks gain.

Adam Heine said...

That is so, so cool, man. It's so awesome to get to watch you work this stuff through. Thanks for sharing it with us.

deathwriter said...

Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to do, but also the most rewarding. There are still a few people in my life that I haven't extended an olive branch. Maybe it's time I did.

L.C. Frost said...

It speaks volumes about you, Matt, that you stood up and made sure the day would be about your sister's happiness. I hope things go well between you and your relatives as you move forward.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Well done you! Not everyone can be strong enough to do that but I am sure that you feel much better for it! Onwards and upwards is the name of the game.

Kristen Wixted said...

What a lovely post. I'm glad you shared it, and I'm glad you got those hugs.

storyqueen said...

Oh, Matthew, such true words!

Kindness does matter.

Shelley

Sarah Ahiers said...

Go you for taking the high road and all that! I swear, family stuff is the hardest stuff to deal with, because no one hurts you more than people you share blood with. Slow and steady, pal. Slow and steady

Rick Daley said...

Great post. It's tough to be a good person all the time, especially in our formative years of adolescence.

We are not measured by the challenges we face in life, but rather by the steps we take to overcome them.

You came out way ahead on this one!

Michael G-G said...

What an inspiring post, Matt. I teared up when you got that hug. Taking that first step is always the most difficult--and good for you for taking it.

Nancy Thompson said...

Great advice, Matt, and, oddly enough, exactly the same lesson I learned & wrote about in my novel. Forgiveness is often a long and arduous road, but there's no denying the peace of mind it offers at the end. Good for you for taking that first step.

Kimberly Gabriel said...

Beautiful, touching post Matt. I love the Kindness Project posts - they are among my favorites to read. Headed over to Lit Rambles now - you're not the first to mention Lenny Lee today ;)

Lydia Kang said...

That was so brave of you. I have trouble letting go of old grievances. I hope that I'll have the same strength and grace that you did.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I haven't seen some of my family in over twenty years. It has nothing to do with forgiveness and everything to do with the fact that dad moved us 2000 miles away from everyone else.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Good on you, Matt. Forgiveness is such a huge thing for the forgiver. The poison of hard feelings can taint every other aspect of our lives and to reach a point where we can let it go and move on on his huge.

I speak from experience.

D.G. Hudson said...

I haven't seen much of my extended family since I moved away decades ago. Some I keep in touch with, some I don't. To grow, sometimes you have to get away from parental influence. My cost: I didn't get to see my siblings grow up, one of my regrets.

Good for you, Matt, it takes a strong person to make the first move. Family can be supportive or they can be a yoke around our necks.

Jemi Fraser said...

Well done. Taking that first step can be so incredibly hard. I'm so impressed that you sent that email - had to be so difficult. I love that you made the day about your sister *hugs*

Bryan Russell said...

Man, that had to be weird. Glad it worked out.

Andrew Leon said...

Even when I let go, I often don't let go. That's when I want one of those memory zapper machines to just get rid of that particular memory.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sometimes the most healing act is the first step. You took it by reaching out to them. And having the right attitude about it--this day wasn't about you and so you did what you had to do to make it good for sister. That's part of forgiveness too. Certainly it was a kindness. It put your heart in the right place to take a deep breath and the next step.

Forgiveness doesn't mean rehashing old hurts and arguments. It's saying despite those hurts, I'm willing to move forward from this time period. Cause really, you can't do anything about what happened before, can you?

Hugs, Matt! I'm proud of what you did and your motivation.

Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

Johanna Garth said...

You did the right thing, acted the part of the mature, responsible, KIND adult that you are.

I'm glad they responded so well and there wasn't a cloud hanging over you at your sister's wedding!

Lisa Gail Green said...

Sadly things like that happen in families way too often. It's hard to forgive, but I admire you for taking the initiative.

Elaine said...

Beautiful post, and the whole concept of the kindness project is so wonderful! My favorite quote on forgiveness is from Anne Lamott: "Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then wating for the rat to die." I have to remind myself of that sometimes...

Jackie said...

Matthew,

You did the right thing for you, your sister and your aunt and uncle.

I hope you feel better. It's amazing how forgiving another person can make you feel better.

Way to go!

Jackie

Claire Hennessy said...

Well done you. It takes a ton of courage to be the first to forgive AND not expect it in return. How lovely for your sister not to have a horrible atmosphere at her wedding, but the person who you would have most helped would be yourself. What an uplifting post.

Carrie Butler said...

Proud of you, Matt. :)

Jay Noel said...

Wonderful post, Matthew.

Letting go of the past can be quite liberating. Glad you had a great time at your sister's wedding. Great pics too.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I agree, forgiveness can be rewarding to all concern. But sometimes avoiding the person, if you can, works too. But it depends on the situation. For you it wouldn't have worked, so you proved to be the bigger man. Good for you, Matt. :D

M said...

That's hard to do and a goodlife lesson. Thanks for blogging about it.

Happy Monday!

lizakane.me said...

I admire your ability to be straightforward with your aunt and uncle, and put aside old issues in order to make your sister's day. And you're right: letting go is EXTREMELY liberating. Thanks for the reminder.

Jericha Senyak said...

Like I really needed another reason to consider you a solid mensch. Good for you, sir. The world needs more folks like you.

Barbara Watson said...

Beautiful and encouraging. Forgiveness frees us of so many burdens.

Traci Kenworth said...

How wonderful!! Hugs!!

LTM said...

oh, wow, Matt. I only know a tiny bit about this, but this post made me sort of misty. It sounds stupid to say I'm proud of you, but I am. It's hard and it takes guts to do what you did. Especially when you know the recipient probably won't answer back or acknowledge anything. ((hugs)) to you. You're awesome, btw. :o) <3

Michele Shaw said...

Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. And people do change over time so it's always worth a try to at least get to a level of civility, and who knows, maybe a relationship. Either way, I hope it's a burden lifted from your life. Thanks for sharing.