It wasn’t until I was driving in my dad’s car a few weeks ago that I realized how much I could have used a little Oprah in my life these past few years. Dad came to babysit while I went to an unemployment meeting and I happily took his car (equipped with satellite radio) my messy mini van and I needed some time apart! And oh I how loved the satellite radio. Poor Griffin, who was tagging along for the meeting (I was hoping an antsy baby would speed up the process at the unemployment office ) had to endure me belting out one broadway song after another on the way there!
However, after a painful meeting hearing that “there isn’t much they can do from me” from a young 20 something woman, I was in no mood for show tunes on the way home. In a horrible, disheartened and over all angry mood I searched the radio for something that fit the bitterness that had taken over my mind. And then I heard it, the calm, logical, caring voice of Oprah as she led her life class on forgiveness. That voice of reason and compassion was exactly what I needed to get me out of my angry funk as I drove home.
I always liked Oprah when she was on the air. I admired her spirit and integrity as she approached guests and offered support. Call me crazy but when I heard her talking on the radio, sitting there in my place of self-pity, it was like hearing an old friend. In this life class she was using clips from old shows and stories from guests to examine the difficult task of forgiveness. I listened because it was her, and since true forgiveness is hard I was interested to hear what she had to say. But I wasn’t listening because in that moment in the car I thought my issue was a lack of forgiveness. It is funny how advice and guidance find you when you need it.
Oprah’s first guest was a woman who was married for several years to man who turned out to be gay. When he came out to her, she exploded, he in turn sued for alimony and most of her riches. She of course, stayed angry. They both came on the Oprah show, she still harboring lots of anger. Oprah explains that during the show she kept thinking that she was in over her head. That this anger that was festering in this woman seemed to be untouchable. Years later the guest came back on the show – with her ex husband, to discuss her journey to forgiveness. She explained that it came to her after she realized that all the anger she was directing at her ex husnabd did nothing to hinder his life, only her own.
Next, Oprah talked to an expert of some kind on forgiveness, maybe an author, a psychiatrists? I don’t remember the particulars as I was driving, and busy self-reflecting as I listened. She talked about how it was in that interview that she changed her entire view on what forgiveness means in a tangible sense. Her guest explained to her that “forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could be any different from what it is.” And in her “Oprah way”, she repeated the statement over and over again, changing a word or two each time to help us understand.
“Forgiveness is letting go of the chance that the past will change.”
“Forgiveness is accepting the fact that the past cannot be anything other than what it was.”
“Forgiveness is understanding that the past will not change.”
As she spoke, I got to thinking. Why am I mad? What about this unemployment meeting got me so fired up? Here it is, I was mad that I had to go there at all. I was mad that this young woman didn’t know what to say, or how to help me change careers. But I was really mad that I lost my job. Losing my job is in the past. It cannot change. Until I can forgive my district, the decision makers that decided to shrink staff to save money , I was still going to be angry. My anger wasn’t going to change what happened months ago. And so, as I drove I forgave them. Not because they asked for forgiveness, and like Oprah’s first guest – not because my anger was bringing my district down – but because it was bringing me down. I didn’t forgive them for their peace of mind – but for mine. What is done is done, there are no “take backs”, I must forgive.
Hearing Oprah repeat this statement, now another mantra for me, led me to think about all the other things that I have gone through in the past few years. Have I forgiven myself for choices I had made, things I did or didn’t do? Have I forgiven people close to me for saying things that may have hurt, doing things that I disagreed with? While it is unfair to blame her, in the early stages of my grief I was mad at my mom for dyeing. Have I forgiven her for leaving me?
I think when life gets hard it is easy to be angry. I think it is easy to play the blame game, to look for scapegoats. Sometimes others are to blame. Sometimes things happen that deserve anger. I think it is fair to say that I have gone through some of those things. But anger is cantankerous, left alone it could fester. You have to address its cause.
What a freeing feeling it was to drive along, listening to the ebb and flow of Oprah’s easy conversations on forgiveness and examine what it was in my life that needed my forgiving. I felt a release, as corny as it may sound, of a weight that I had been carrying around since the bubble that protected my world a few years ago started getting holes. I was holding on to those hard times not always as badges of honor for a battle hard-won but sometimes as excuses to play the victim for all the unfair things that I have had to endure. As I thought of each one I heard Oprah repeat, “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past can be any different from what it is.” And as I heard her say those words in my head, I let go.
So thank you Oprah! I needed to hear this. I needed to be reminded that my anger does nothing except hinder me, I needed to be told to let go.