Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Being an adult

I went to see my rabbi yesterday. I have been thinking of going for a while, but with everything that happened in the last week or so, this was a particularly good time to go.

High Holidays are coming up. The annual time of reflection and renewal. The time when we ask forgiveness of those we have wronged in the past year, and, most relevantly to me this year, the time when, on the eve of Yom Kippur, in the year's holiest (and one of the shortest) services Kol Nidrei we absolve those who have wronged us, but have not asked forgiveness, of any punishment on our behalf. This is so relevant to me this year because the person I am concerned about forgiving is my MIL.

I have alluded to, but haven't written about her here. Details are not relevant. Suffice it to say that while her and I have never really gotten along since Monkey was born, the hurt she caused us when A died is head and shoulders above anything she has done before. It was bad enough that afterwards it took me months to allow Monkey to stay overnight with them, and it is bad enough that when I think about any possible new baby, the only thing I block on is letting her into the room with that baby. And yet I know that come September 21st, I am supposed to forgive.

This, Rabbi R. said, is why honoring your mother and your father is the hardest commandment. I haven't heard that before. And it makes a lot of sense. But it doesn't make it any easier. It was a long conversation, and at one point I said,
"so basically what you are saying is that I am supposed to be an adult."
"But it's hard, and I don't want to."
"Yes, and yes, but you have to. That is the work of this month."

Rabbi R. also said that I am misunderstanding what forgiveness has to mean in this context. Five years ago, when this question first arose for me, I came to define it as being allowed to remember and to protect myself against possible future hurt, but not holding emotional attachment to past hurts. I think I have been mostly successful with this formulation over the past five years. And yet, for a while now, I knew it wasn't going to cut it this year. Not holding an emotional attachment to the hurt my MIL has delivered this year felt like a betrayal. Of my son, of my family, of myself. It still does. Rabbi R. has a new formulation for me now-- forgiving in the context of Yom Kippur, she says, can mean understanding that this person is never going to change and freeing yourself from the emotional attachment to that concept. Or, you know, being an adult.

I find myself, right this minute, resentful of having to do this work. Of having to do all this additional emotional work because this woman is who she is. I am tired and I am cranky. And I. don't. want. to. But already I know that I have to, and that I will. I don't yet know how, but I do know that I have to find the way.

You know, being an adult is not all it was cracked up to be.


niobe said...

I don't have anything useful to say about your MIL. Because, apparently, I haven't managed to reach anything approaching adulthood myself and (even without any details) resent her wildly on your behalf.

But I always thought (it looks like completely incorrectly) that the rule was that you didn't have to forgive those who weren't sorry for what they had done. Does this mean I have to forgive Sarah, my ex-best friend too?

Lori said...

Forgiveness is hard sometimes. And other times it is really, really hard. We had a similar issue with my FIL after Molly and Joseph died, and I know my husband has not, in fact, forgiven him. But, he also does not hold any emotional attachment to the past offense, so maybe that is something.

This has always intrigued me: The French theologian Christian Duqoc says that forgiveness is, "an invitation to the imagination." It is not "forgetfulness of the past"; rather, it is "the risk of a future other than the one imposed by the past or by memory."

Maybe part of your effort to forgive this year, could be to simply imagine that the future could be different than the past makes you believe it will be?

Being an adult really stinks sometimes. Especially when other adults do not behave like adults themselves.

Julia said...

Niobe, thank you for your righteous indignation. As for Sarah, I think it might fall in the same category as my MIL this year. Or you can just say that if you were supposed to do that, it was many Yom Kippurs ago, and now is too late... love me some loopholes :)

Lori, I remember you writing about Duqoc before and found it fascinating. I actually think this is what I was doing in the past. But I think Rabbi R's point is that this year this is a completely different ball game. She thinks I am actually invested in the idea that the future can be different, and that this year I get to make piece with the idea that it won't. That she will always act this horribly. And that I get to stop being invested in her acting any differently. Eh...

Lori said...

Yes, I can see that. In fact, even as I wrote it I realized that it was kind of the opposite of what your Rabbi was asking of you. Instead, it seems the goal this year is to make peace with the idea that it won't ever be any different. But, that's a tough pill to swallow, because it seems like that makes it that much harder to anticipate how to interact with her in the future. I mean, if you can't imagine her behaving in anyway but awful, why on earth would you ever want Monkey, or any future children, around her? That's a toughie!

S. said...

One of the things I find tough about the forgiveness work of Elul is that sense of a timetable that isn't MY timetable. I think I handle it different ways different years. Some years I just blow it off. Some years I kind of think of it as a time to do checklists of my relationships.

It's been a few years since I had a really thorny interpersonal thing like you're talking about with your MIL--but I lived a long time with an issue with my sister that was all about forgiveness at its heart. And I don't think I ever managed forgiveness, just eventually found some other emotional layers I could build in the relationship to distance myself from the hurt she caused while rebuilding the relationship.

Part of what came out of that is just an acceptance that I can only trust her within the limits of her abilities. Which means being honest with myself about what she's capable of, vs. what I might want from her.

Dunno if any of that helps.

Beth: said...

Oh how this resonates with me ... There is ongoing, wrenching, horrible stress with my ex -- the father of my two young children.

I choose to be an adult. He does not. He will not change: I do not expect him to. I do my damnedest to protect my children from him -- as far as I am allowed to do so by law, that is. Which isn't far enough. I can't change that either. So I do my very best to provide my children and myself with the love, security, joy, and compassion-filled life that we all deserve.

Beruriah said...

Upon reading this , I immediately said, "Sh*t. I have to do this too" with my fil and grandfather-in-law and my Sarah. So that tells you how unhelpful my thoughts will be. Niobe brings out that most difficult and unfair part of it: What to do when the person isn't, and won't ever be sorry or ready to change themselves? And in the context of my inlaws and your mil, when they are likely to keep hurting us? And when the things they've done seem so egregious it just seems unfair to think....I have nothing more to say except I'm off to fashion an email to our rabbi.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Rabbi R. has a new formulation for me now-- forgiving in the context of Yom Kippur, she says, can mean understanding that this person is never going to change and freeing yourself from the emotional attachment to that concept.

Ah, your rabbi might have just given me the key for re-entering this time of year through some other door than the one I've been using -- just pretending that it doesn't exist.

Bon said...

just wanted to say how moved - to both thought and emotion - i was by this.

like Niobe, i'm perfectly happy to resent your MIL wildly on your behalf...

but i get the whole adult thing you're talking about. i've struggled all my life with what forgiveness means, with how to weigh it against loyalty.

i like what your rabbi had to say. i'll keep thinking on it, and hope that the seed of the idea is as fruitful for you too, in the coming month.

Aurelia said...

Can I just say that this discussion is fascinating, and I'm thinking I'm glad I don't have a timetable where I'm supposed to forgive anyone?

Confess my own sins, yes, forgive myself for my failings, yes, but on my own time.

Your Rabbi is probably right, but still, ouch.

Julia said...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind and thoughtful words. Phantom, you made me chuckle. And don't think I didn't consider going with that door this year.