My new book, which I anticipate will be published in the spring of 2021, deals with the challenge of loving difficult people. It’s called Even So, which comes from this final poem by Raymond Carver:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
“Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver
Put a pin in that for me, okay?
Let’s go back to the challenge of loving difficult people… it’s easy to love delightful people who never do any harm to others, but it can be agonizing to love those who do harm. Still, I think that’s what the anima mundi (the world soul) calls us to do.
And I’m not talking about forgiveness or justice here… those are different things. A different blog.
People are messy, contradictory, broken. People lash out. They say and do deeply regrettable things. Sometimes they do terrible things. In their brokenness, they refuse to see the pain they cause, they blame others, become prideful and defensive.
Please. I AM people.
I should tell you that I count among my friends some who have actually killed other people. Felons. Ex-cons. Some of whom have let me down and disappointed me. Even ripped me off. I’ve also survived a violent sexual assault and a mentally ill and abusive mother. By which I mean, I’m not speaking from naivete.
Consider this: Years ago I was in London, England. I met a young man who, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, committed a robbery in which he killed a man. He served 12 years in prison. Learned to weld, and also learned that he would never be able to deny that a part of him was someone who had killed. When he was released he found a well-paying job, contacted a lawyer and arranged to have the lion’s share of his wages, for the rest of his life, go to the care of the family he had deprived of a father and husband. Was that enough? Some will say yes, others no, but he felt it was the right thing to do and I hope it made a difference in the lives of others. But damn… I think that’s standing up to one’s own life. Might be easy to love a man like that.
But what if he hadn’t taken responsibility? What if he had gone on to do other awful things? Would I still feel love for him? I don’t know.
Recently it has come to my attention a couple of friends have done some crappy things. Yup. They sure did. I don’t know whether they will be able, as my British friend was able, to humbly take responsibility for the harms they have caused and devote themselves to making amends. No idea.
But this is what I do know: I too have done awful things. Okay, I haven’t killed anyone, but that may simply have been a question of circumstances. Who knows? I mean, I like to think of myself as a good person, but don’t we all? I’ve lied. Been cruel. Hurt people. Been a real bitch. I threatened someone with a knife, once.
The world is not either/or, as my friend Sr. Rita says, the world is both/and.
We are everything we experience — part of us resides in everything we see as ‘other’. This means that the very person I refuse to love is a part of myself I refuse to love.
So, what do we do? We can, as is the fashion, eviscerate people on social media. That might be a nasty kind of fun, but like any kind of gossip, it does leave a vile hangover, doesn’t it?
Or, we can hold that person close. There is a school of thought that says if someone has done wrong, the way to heal both the person and the wrong they’ve done is not to banish them from the community but to hold them ACCOUNTABLE, within the strong, loving arms of that community.
It’s easy to banish. Much harder to maintain a relationship.
To be clear, sometimes loving means loving from a distance. I’ve had to build a moat between me and certain dangerous people, but that doesn’t mean I can’t, even while maintaining robust boundaries, continue to send love, healing, and cleansing, to those people.
Look, all I’m saying is that if people judged me by my worst deeds I suspect I would have been cast beyond the pale. I am so grateful for those who didn’t enable me, or skip over the wrongs I’ve done, but also didn’t tell me I was unloveable, that I was, in effect… “Other”.
That pin I asked you to put in? It’s about that poem. Even so. Even so. I was a mess. I was broken. I didn’t get the things I’d hoped for. I was flawed. I did wrong. Much wrong. I was disappointed in so many ways, but even so, even so… I feel beloved on this earth because of people who loved me into being better and held my hand as I took responsibility for the things I’d done.
Has anyone else had this experience? Tell me.