Yesterday I finished reading Gordon Livingston's book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now. Having previously read his second book (see my April archived post titled "Most People Die With Their Music Still Inside Them"), I once again enjoyed the wisdom Dr. Livingston shares from his lifetime of experience as a man, father, and psychiatrist. Among his 30 truths are: We are what we do. Any relationship is under control of the person who cares the least. Only bad things happen quickly. Nobody likes to be told what to do. Love is never lost, not even in death.
The last chapter of the book -- Forgiveness is a form of letting go, but they are not the same thing -- offers some insights that are instructive for creating an ethical will. An ethical will can provide a loving way to express forgiveness to people who may have harmed us at some point in our lives as well as give us an opportunity to ask for forgiveness from those we may have harmed. Ideally, forgiveness doesn't have to wait for your ethical will. But, if you've waited, I encourage you to consider what may need forgiving or forgiveness in your life today.
Dr. Livingston says:
"Certainly it is true that understanding who we are depends on paying attention to the history of our lives. This is why any useful psychotherapy included telling this story. Somewhere between ignoring the past and wallowing in it there is a place where we can learn from what has happened to us, including the inevitable mistakes we have made, and integrate this knowledge into our plans for the future. Inevitably, this process requires some exercises in forgiveness -- that is, giving up some grievance to which we are entitled.
Widely confused with forgetting or reconciliation, forgiveness is neither. It is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves. It exists, as does all true healing, at the intersection of love and justice."
He goes on to say that "Coming to terms with our past is inevitably a process of forgiveness, of letting go, the simplest and most difficult of all human endeavors. It is simultaneously an act of will and of surrender. And it often seems impossible until the moment we do it."
In my own case, a troubled relationship with my father -- my tightly-held anger at his abuse and neglect in my childhood -- lasted far too many years of our lives, keeping both of us from healing. Ironically, our relationship taught me forgiveness in the deepest of ways. And, thankfully, I was blessed with the gift of forgiveness before he drifted into dementia in his early 70's. It made it possible for me love him -- to say "I love you" to him -- before the days in which he showed no sign of knowing who I was and why I was there, holding him in my arms as tears flowed from his sky-blue eyes ... and mine.