Yesterday I said goodbye -- for the second time -- to Shaw Island. There's so much I could say about our time there; it's a truly magical place -- I even wrote (but never published) a book about it. But what I see now, from the perspective of years, is that my daughters were not the only ones who grew up there. I grew up there, too. I learned my own strength, and I learned to set aside a lot of preconceptions about the world and its people.
Perhaps most importantly I learned a lot about faith and how it is lived out in practice -- and I learned a lesson that small communities, the good ones, at least, often teach: I learned to see through "We-glasses" instead of "I-glasses."
It seems to me that the most important lesson we can learn, the most important quality we must strive for, is to become more compassionate beings; to be able to look beyond our own needs -- to be first, to be right, to be comfortable, to be happy -- to appreciate the needs of others for the same; to appreciate the ways in which others strive for the same ends, and to find a way to work together for the common good.
I'm not there yet -- Lent, with its time of thoughtfulness and self-reflection, never fails to remind me that however far I've come I still have a ways to go. But I will always be grateful to Shaw, and to the very special people of Shaw, for humbling me and opening my eyes to the path that lies before me.
So you made a mistake: dropped and broke your favorite camera, tripped and broke your ankle on opening night, accidentally insulted a loved one, backed your car into a tree -- the possibilities for accidental failure in this life appear to be infinite.
And now that dreadful inner voice kicks in, bellowing its incessant refrain -- you're an idiot, you're stupid, you always do this, your life will never get better than this, it's all your fault, this relationship will never heal...
How can we forgive ourselves without falling onto that other path, the one traveled by bullies and heartless demagogues; the one where everything I do is right and all who disagree are wrong and should be throttled? How do we find that middle way between self-recrimination and self-congratulation?
The first step, of course, is to admit that we screwed up; to accept responsibility for our distractedness, for our unconscious behaviors, for all the ways we move through life unfocused, in a cloud.
And then we absolutely MUST forgive ourselves for whatever it is we've done. Forgiving yourself is very good practice -- and a necessary evil -- if we are ever in hope of becoming compassionate beings. If you find this hard to do -- and many do -- think of that part of yourself that was sleepwalking when it happened as a very young child. Let the child know what they did was wrong, then hug them and hold them close and reassure them that you know they'll be working hard not to do it again. If you believe in them, it will give them courage to try again -- it's really only non-acceptance that puts us on the path to demagoguery; that leads us into "I always screw up anyway; why bother?"
But there's another step that will bring us even closer to compassion: once you've forgiven yourself, take some time to be mindful of all the other humans who are screwing up and berating themselves. That is, of course, the rest of us: we're everywhere, and all of us haunted by the same disgusted inner voices. Imagine us all forgiving ourselves, encouraging ourselves to be kinder and more conscious: it's a gift that will give back in more ways than we can ever know.
When I was cranky, as a kid, my mom would say I was being "a cabbage patch," clearly a saying leftover from her own mother's days growing up on a poor farm in Virginia.
And then, when my own daughters were growing up, they had those dreadful Cabbage Patch dolls, with their flat faces and their plaintive cries ("Ooh - wanh - anh, Ooh - wanh - anh, Ooh - wanh - anh -OOO).
So it was a surprise to discover as an adult how beautiful a cabbage patch can actually be. Makes me think of all the times my preconceived negative notions were shot to hell when I took the time to become familiar with the thing (or activity, or person, or category of people) I was so certain I would hate.