Don't make a right
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My friend Amy gave me a plant this week - or in Valley terms she ‘regifted it.” It was given to her by someone who loves her. But Amy isn’t good with plants. She’s open about that. They die in her care. So then she has a dilemma: Does she hold onto the plant -aware of its almost certain death - in a form of loyalty to someone she loves? Or does she give the plant away to avoid an involuntary plant slaughter?
I like Amy. I like her plant, But I also like the philosophy: When something doesn't fit, it’s ok not to double down. It’s alright to let stuff go. And of late, that’s been useful to remember.
I had something taken from me recently. No need to clutch those pearls with me in solidarity. It wasn't a kidney, or a child, or a house. It was a work thing. An idea.
It’s all fixable within the realms of legal eagles and people who handle contracts and the like. And I expect it was done more through lack of thought, with a sprinkling of desperation, rather than any actual malice. But it was a wrong, and it hurt nonetheless.
Now, you'd think one wrong would have been enough. But of course, I picked up another. Only this wrong was one of my own doing. Because I couldn’t stop overthinking the initial wrong.
Why did they do that? What were they thinking? I thought I knew those people. Am I an idiot?
On and on and on.
I was sure I said X. I was sure I did Y. But surely if I did X and Y then they would never have done Z.
It annoyed me during the day. It interfered with my sleep at night.
I mean did they think I just wouldn’t notice? Did they think at all? What would I do in their situation? What should I do in my situation now? I wouldn’t screw someone over. I know I wouldn’t do that.
I have to tell you, it’s completely exhausting dwelling on something that’s pissing you off. Honestly, it’s like taking on a part-time job.
Maybe I shouldn’t be mellow? Maybe I should go nuclear? Can I even be bothered doing anything at all? Because whatever the result, it won’t solve homelessness, or war, or any of the other gigantic wrongs that currently exist on this same planet. But what they did was wrong. It was undeniably wrong.
My head was droning on and on and on in such a fashion as I was checking in on my newly acquired plant to see how it was doing. I noticed the plant had sprouted a wee bit of fresh green life. It was so unexpected, and it looked kind of weird - like when someone has been sunburnt and then you see a white bit. It caught me by surprise and I laughed. And I stopped in my tracks and sat down, suddenly so acutely aware of my own ridiculousness.
Years ago I met a man called Peter. We were both telling stories in Ireland for The Moth. My story was about believing my son was drowning in the ocean, when it turned out he was really just waving to tell me how happy he was. Peter’s story was about how he had been wrongly convicted of murder.
At first, he was sentenced to death and was placed in solitary on death row. Then, when the death sentence was repealed in Ireland, he challenged his case and was proven to be completely innocent. It was a fit-up. Lazy policing. They had stolen years of his life. They had wronged him.
But to look at Peter, you’d never know that. He was a twinkly-eyed, quietly spoken, older gentleman, gentle and funny and kind. Part wizard, part Irish version of Santa.
At the work’s dinner, we sat opposite each other at the table in a much too fancy restaurant. (Fancy in the sense that it was one of those restaurants where the food is meh, but the waiting staff act like the diners are meant to be grateful to be in their company.)
I’m guessing Peter and I weren’t up to the standards of the restaurant’s regular clientele: Me because I go to restaurants to eat rather than to be seen, and Peter because he was a big guy who looked like Santa wearing a fishing jersey.
One of the waiters - whom it’s possible may have partaken in some kind of energy powder - came over to the table to pick something up. But when Peter asked for a spot of vanilla ice cream, the waiter put the plate back on the table and talked to Peter like he was nothing.
For Peter, the comment was water off a duck’s back. But I’m afraid my inner Cumbernauld came out, and I may have said to the waiter, “Who the Hell are you to talk like that to anybody? Anybody? Especially someone who is seated in your restaurant. Where’s your self-respect?”
And afterward, I may have talked to the manager. And there may have been other stuff that happened after that. But that’s a story for another day.
The point is, that once I had known of the great wrong that had happened to Peter, I couldn’t bear that he would be disrespected so - especially by some wee twerp in designer garb who was way too fond of the nose candy.
But all the time, Peter was calm. Smiling wryly, he had thanked me for my ‘kindness’ and for being his ‘protector.’
I asked him how, considering everything that had happened to him, he was not eaten up with rage.
And across the table in the stupidly-pretentious restaurant, he told me this story.
When he was eventually freed, and the miscarriage of justice announced, he stood outside the courtroom and came face to face with the detective who had fitted him up. The detective blustered out a stuttering apology and Peter replied that he forgave him.
The detective was so relieved and brightly smiling reached to shake Peter’s hand. Peter looked at the hand and did not move. Then looked straight at the man and said very calmly, ‘You misunderstand me. I forgive you.’
Now I'm not going to lie. Up until that point when anyone talked about forgiveness, I would switch off. It always just seemed a bit of a flowery patterned excuse for not facing challenges. But when a guy who has had years of his life literally stolen, sitting across the table talks about the importance of it, I found myself all ears.
Quietly, Peter explained that forgiveness was the art of letting go. When he said to the detective that he forgave him, what he was saying was “Our connection in this matter is over. I am free of you. You will not haunt my thoughts. The repercussions of your choices are yours alone to hold. You have no position of importance in my life. I have let you go.”
I was uncharacteristically speechless.
Bad things happen. Sometimes intentionally. Sometimes unintentionally. You do what you can to get yourself righted and you forgive the perpetrator. Not for them, but for you. Forgiveness does not say what was done was fine. It says I accept what happened has happened, and now I move on.
Forgiveness is choosing to live your life in the way you wish to live it, and not half-living as a person who was wronged.
I got it.
Smiling, Peter added that forgiveness was often very underrated.
As we left the restaurant that night, I smiled across to the waiter and mouthed, “I forgive you.” I think he may have thought I was saying “Fuck you” but either way it kinda worked.
And Peter lived true to his word. He and his wife Sunny (who had also been horrifically wronged) set up a place of sanctuary in Ireland. They surrounded themselves in Nature and welcomed wronged and traumatized people to a place where they might find a way to forgive.
And when Peter died, it was in his own time. Surrounded by Nature and the many many people who loved and respected him.
So this week I sat in my front room, holding a plant in a pot given to me by my friend, Amy, and I thought about Peter and his love for plants and animals. I wondered if he’d smile compassionately at my utter ridiculousness, holding a lovely wee plant with such an expression of rage on my face. Maybe he’d laugh and call me the protector.
I got a bit tearful thinking about him. If he could find a way to forgive that, surely I could forgive others’ clumsy misdemeanors.
None of us get to control the first wrong. None. But we don’t have to pick up the second. Wounds heal when they’re tended to with proper care, not when they’re constantly being picked at. And no multiples of wrong ever club together to make a right.
This story will play out and one day it will be just a memory. In some ways, it almost already is. Those who hurt me have their path and I will have mine. Life is much too short and much too beautiful to let go to waste.
I put my new plant outside for a wee spot of sun. If it makes it through this dodgy place and gets flowers, I’ll take pictures and send them to Amy to say thank you.
If you want to know more about Peter, you can find out here.
Till next week
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Learn more about Lynn’s Story work at YouTellYours.com