I caught myself daydreaming of resentment.
An event from many years ago where I was so egregiously wronged and had to take it without recourse. I was right back in it with full feeling. Shocked even, to see how affected I was by it, truly as if it had just happened. And then to observe how fluidly I could travel from that feeling to another wrong I had endured, and then another. And then it kept me up that night and no matter how much I meditated or relaxed, I was ready to fight. This feeling was familiar and had set up shop in me…a room full of ghosts that didn’t know they were dead.
I tried to think back to what my earliest resentment is and I don’t seem to have many from childhood. I perceive it as an adult phenomenon. Somewhere in time, my belief changed to think my pains deserved justice. And even worse, to believe that justice is possible, that if somehow I play it out enough times, there will be a resolution that will give me peace.
This must be the inadequacy of the criminal justice system. There are certain crimes where an equity can be restored. You said you would pay me for my services and you didn’t so now the courts make you pay. But when pain is inflicted, there is no true help for justice. We invest a lot in making criminals “pay” for their actions, but who are they paying? Read any of Sister Helen Prejean’s counseling with vicitms’ families and there is rarely any relief at the end of the long road to a death sentence. Punishment? Definitely. Deterrence? No conclusive evidence. But justice? If you have lost someone you love, for example, the loss is permanent. There is no equity to be restored no matter how much we try.
Recognizing how many of these unfinished battles I carry with me was profound. The time I find myself spending in conflict with moments that are over and done with, re-living pain, is hard to admit. It was hard to even recognize because it had become part of my day to day.
It became astoundingly clear to me that the only justice truly available to me is in my own forgiveness. The only resetting of the scales will come from releasing my attachment to the people who have wronged me. And to take it to its end and to even love them. To know that no matter how malicious and destructive any person is, they are doing their best given the moments and the life that led them up to that moment.
And then my whole day changed. I could see it in every moment. Every time someone caused me pain in a small way I recognized what my attachment to it was doing to me and I chose to love them instead as best I could. And the world got a lot lighter.
I’m going to go on a Forgiveness Tour of the US next week and leave behind every bit of the past I can along the way. Some of the wounds are braided taught and are going to be a lot of work. There’s a huge part of me that holds on tightly, but it gets paler and paler the more I understand that I’ve been swimming deeply in the waters I want to be dry from.