Healing Outside the Spotlight
Ah, Jian Ghomeshi. Ah, New York Review of Books.
Quite the little buzz they’ve got going this week.
I can’t figure out what either of them was thinking by publishing Ghomeshi’s self-serving essay, which, if you feel like, you can read here.
It did get me thinking about redemption, which I believe in, and reconciliation and forgiveness, which are not the same things.
I’ve learned I can forgive people just about anything, although it can be damn hard work. I forgive in order to cut the bonds that keep me tethered to someone who has harmed me. Cut ’em loose. Let ’em go. Out of my head. Out of my dreams.
Reconciliation is something else. To reconcile, to re-enter a relationship with someone who has harmed me means there must be true and lasting change. That’s where redemption comes in. Now, my dictionary defines redemption thusly:
the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.”God’s plans for the redemption of his world”
the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.
Now, not being God, I’ll concentrate on the second definition. Of what are we trying to regain possession when we’ve harmed someone? I posit it’s peace of mind and heart, it’s the ability to walk down the street without ducking into doorways to avoid our victims; it’s a life without shame and self-justification. No big fat egos. They get in the way. Clearing the debt seems self-explanatory, although the nature of that debt depends, I think, on our willingness to take responsibility for our actions and to be honest about it.
If I may I’ll tell you two stories.
The first: A number of years ago I was in a meeting for people like me who are trying to stay away from booze and drugs one day at a time. The meeting was in a dangerous part of a big city, but it was open 24 hours a day and therefore a good place to know about if you ever needed help at, say, 2am. The friend who took me introduced me to the man who took care of the place. I’ll call him Dan. Dan was in his forties, perhaps, slim with thinning brown hair and an easy smile. He checked people for weapons at the door, cleaned up what needed cleaning up (which was sometimes vomit and other bodily fluids), kept the bathrooms tidy and the coffee pot full. He talked to people. He welcomed them. He listened.
After the meeting, during which a young man slumped over in his chair and fell asleep/nodded out on my shoulder, Dan, my friend and I went out for yet more coffee. I liked Dan a lot. He was kind, and attentive, truly interested in other, and asked insightful questions. He offered great advice and made fine jokes. He left after a while, and my friend told me Dan’s story, which he had permission to do.
Dan had been a Big Wheel, a Big Cheese, a Master of the Universe, a Wall Street Wonder, until drugs and booze got him into a lot of trouble. He did some really awful things, some of which were not unlike what Mr. Ghomeshi is accused of doing. He fell hard. But he had a moment of clarity one night when he saw himself as the wretch he truly was. He had an epiphany (which might well be the first definition of redemption). So, he decided to change who he was. He got sober. He made amends. This means he went to each person he’d harmed, and acknowledged exactly what he’d done and did everything he could to repair that damage. It was painful, but that didn’t stop him. Some people re-entered friendship with him, some didn’t, but he was no longer afraid to bump into anyone on the street.
But Dan knew himself. He knew that if he went back to his old life, he would eventually return to his old behavior, and so he decided not to do that. He didn’t have as much money as he’d once had, but he had a good bit. This worried him. Money was a problem for Dan. It fed his ego and he didn’t want to feed his ego any longer. Some of his money went to people he needed to repay for various things, some of it went to relatives who needed it, some of it went to charities and people in need. Whatever. It all went, except for the small payment he took for being the custodian of the building in which those meetings took place. He lived in one room. He had hundreds of friends. He was well-respected. He was loved. He did meaningful work and made a difference in the lives of many. He was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met and, by the time I met him, one of the freest and happiest. A simple life.
Story two — In London, I met a man who had spent twelve years in prison for killing a jewelry store owner during a drug-fueled robbery. He had been out of prison for a while. He had learned to weld inside. Now he had a good job as a welder, paying good money. Here’s what he did with his money: he went to a lawyer and asked him to contact the woman he’d widowed. He now gives most of his money to her and her two sons, and will support them as long as he lives. It is, he says, his amends. It is his main purpose in life, he says, since he is responsible.
I have enormous respect for both these men. It’s difficult to face oneself. I know. I’ve had to do it myself, although thankfully nothing that extreme. Still, I know how difficult it is to humbly go to someone (especially a person one doesn’t particularly like! Snort.), admit what one has done, and try to make it better.
Maybe redemption can be accomplished in the bright glare of international publicity, but I haven’t seen much evidence of that.
A friend of mine said recently, talking about a certain comedian who is trying to make a comeback after he disgraced himself, that rather than making rape jokes at a surprise pop up appearance, he’d be better off hanging out with someone like President Jimmy Carter for a few years. He’d learn more building houses for those in need, or feeding them, or any of the other million things that need doing in this world — just doing them, one day at a time, out of the ego-distorting spotlight.
Truly inspiring on making amends and remembering to be humble. Ego has no place in making amends and that does seem to be a problem for some people, especially those who think they are “celebrities”.
Thanks for the comment, Joan. It’s a tough one, but it doesn’t have to be. Those of us who have surrendered are very lucky, I think. No more fighting.
I love and admire what and how you write, Lauren. Smooth and even, like the way I would pet a cat, if I liked cats. Tell Bailey.
Thanks, Michael. You’re very kind.
Lauren, I read the NYRB article and feel the same way you do. Love your essay on this subject, and I think you capture the spirit of this well with your line about “willingness to take responsibility for our actions and to be honest about it.”
Interesting that you believe in forgiveness. I do, too, but only when the perpetrator of the offence has asked for forgiveness and offers amends. Otherwise, I don’t. I think that people hope that forgiving a perpetrator will somehow shed them of the awful, lasting effects of trauma. There is no evidence that it does. What does work is therapy, such as EMDR and CBT. They do actually work, and very well.
So what do we do with the perpetrators, if not forgive them? In Gomeshi’s case, my impulse is public spanking not hard enough to cause lasting damage but to humiliate him. I also support standing him in stocks stark naked for three weeks to give people time to come into town and throw soft rotten fruit at his ugly face. Since we won’t do that, such a pity, let’s just continue to speak of him with disgust in perpetuity and scorn those who support him.
Notice that the editor who brought this turd out of the toilet is an old man. He’s nearly dead, I hope. If he’s not nearly dead, he should retire. To all the other men, especially straight White men, who are reading this: pull your socks up. Pick a side. Prepare for the consequences of your choices, because there will be consequences.
Thanks for your comment, Nora. I don’t disagree with you at all. Please note that I made a distinction between forgiveness (which is something I do independent of the perpetrator) and reconciliation. Forgiveness requires no action from the perpetrator, reconciliation requires an enormous effort from the perpetrator and a great change in behavior. Perhaps I didn’t explain it properly. Nadia Bolz-Weber explains it beautifully — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhmRkUtPra8