Last week I went to a Marianne Williamson event with my housemate, Mermaid, and another housemate, Sussex. Since Mermaid’s Prius’ backseat (and trunk) were still stocking-stuffer stacked to the brim with the numerous treasures she’s procured to resell at the next antique market, Sussex and I agree to share the passenger seat. I’m on top. This is both illegal and uncomfortable. By the time we get through almost 90 minutes of rush hour traffic, my coccyx needs a chiropractor and Sussex’s knees are numb. Nonetheless, it’s all worth it.
There, we meet our friend, Tango (though he prefers to go by the sexier Africa007), who is also from the UK (born in Nigeria). Normally, Tango likes to sit at the back of the theatre “to be able to see everyone asking questions at the end of the service without having to turn around,” but because I’m all about stretching our comfort zones (plus I have a question I already know I want to ask and want to be able to check out spiritually enlightened, or at least spiritually searching, men), I suggest sitting nearer the front.
Sussex is a big Williamson fan and supports the plan, “Oh yes! Let’s sit at the front!”
How can one argue with her cute as ever Brit accent and Kate Middleton (with curly hair) resemblance? The front row is occupied, but we nudge our way across the second row to the middle, and I immediately turn around to check everyone out. Unfortunately, I can’t see anyone because a blinding stage light is shining our way. See, this is what happens when one has ulterior non-altruistic plans.
The talk is about making mistakes, forgiveness and making amends, or at least that’s what it’s about for me. Williamson basically says to be our godly selves and, when we make a mistake that was made without the intention of love, make amends if possible and, if not possible, at least go back in our minds with the intention of making amends, so that we can forgive ourselves (and others). Kind of like when Jesus (or God) said forgive our trespasses and those of others. Or maybe this is just in a popular prayer, but you get the idea.
So when we atone for our mistakes—whether by apologizing to someone, making it right in some other way, or by consciously learning from it so as not to repeat it—forgiveness is in order, and we can stop beating ourselves up. We might also reduce our own suffering by not judging others for the mistakes they make.
Interestingly, and in accordance with the Universe, the question I come prepared for is directly related to the topic at hand. I already know the answer (all the answers are within us, we simply need reminders sometimes), but I want confirmation. When Williamson’s talk is over and the floor is opened to audience questions, I shoot my arm up straight away.
“So, the other day I made a mistake, and a loving friend called me out on it, and I was open to that and—because of that conversation—I was able to atone and relieve my own suffering. How do we know when to call a friend out? When is it loving and when is it ego?”
Ms. Williamson confirms my intuition with, “Intuition. You’ll know in your heart if it’s time to speak up, in a loving way of course, and when to stay quiet. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to be quiet. Not everyone is ready to hear you or the truth.”
My mistake, briefly stated, is as follows: I was leaving a restaurant with Tango/Africa007, and a fat man in his maybe mid-30s, asked me for “money to buy a sandwich,” and I looked at his shit locker (redneck slang for ‘excessively large protruding belly’) and decided he could live the whole winter off this storage locker. I wasn’t mean, but I wasn’t generous (as in, I didn’t give him any money). Of course, I felt guilty right away. In the car, Tango and I discussed it.
I justified, “He looks mentally alert and capable of work, and he’s certainly not starving.”
Tango retorted, “Are you God to judge who is deserving or not? And who isn’t deserving? He might be mentally ill.”
Fairly chastised, I replied, “You’re right. That’s true. I usually give money to the limbless and stank.” Indeed I save my dollar bills for such. I continued, “But there are so many everywhere, I won’t be able to feed myself if I give every time I’m asked.” Though so far I have.
“Of course. Give when you feel good about it, just don’t judge.”
My mind (or maybe my heart) has a hard time with this. I would feel bad if I said “no.” This is the first time I’ve declined. It feels awful. That’s not to say I haven’t judged other home-lacking persons: the youthful with new shoes and skateboards, for example. The ones I determine are capable of contribution. Still, am I God? Williamson says we are all God. God is within us. Okay, but since I haven’t (yet?) manifested The Gerry to marry me, I’m not quite all powerful or on that holy plane (yet).
However, I couldn’t find Fat Man near the Subway sammich place the next day and Exhale (yoga centre) was having a 50% off sale, so I bought every box of organic granola bars they had left am atoning by giving them out until my guilt dissipateds(or I run out—then it’ll be back to the one buck bills).
Just to show how human (Read: Perfectly imperfect) I am, I’ll give you another story. This is kind of like a public confessional. My BFF at home would tell me that I don’t have to do this and that I am allowed privacy, but I’m hoping my sharing of selfishness and the suffering it causes will inspire thoughtful kindness in others (and hold me to a higher standard as well).
So, the other night Mermaid and I go to a friend’s house for dinner. Azer, as we’ll call him for his Iranian descent, is a Zen-masterful friend I met whilst riding my bike on the Santa Monica boardwalk last year. (He’s one of two fellows, the other being Tango, who have stuck around for ‘just’ friendship.) He’s also a damn fine cook. So we go for dinner and it’s amazing. We overeat and listen to YouTube videos of Pavarotti in concert then discuss spirituality and how Azer had given away all his possessions and left his big business a few years ago. All he’s kept are the few things of sentimental value: some original paintings and an Iranian rug he’s had for 25 years.
Mermaid gushes over the rug. “Oh, I love it! I love that rug!”
Before we take our leave, Azer gives me a buzzing electrical device that’s supposed to send pulsing jolts of electrical current into my body (wherever I place the little stick pads that are attached to wires that are attached to said buzzing electrical device) and heal me of my ailments. (I’m still sporting a hip issue, which Louise Hay indicates is a fear of moving forward with major decisions. I’m moving, I’m moving, damn it.) Anyway, the unit is probably expensive, but he insists on giving it to me.
Mermaid has taught me that rejecting a gift is like rejecting love; it can leave the giver feeling bad. She’s not a taker. She’s as much a giver as anyone I’ve met. She gives extra food to the homeless and teaches inner city kids about finance. She’s an angel to be sure. I accept the gift.
As we’re leaving, Mermaid reiterates how she loves the rug, and Azer says, “Maybe it’ll be yours.”
And I pipe up and say to Azer, “Or you could take it with you.” (What a catty, bitchy thing to say!) My rational is that it is one of the few possessions Azer has kept, and he might be thinking of giving it away just to please Mermaid, but at his own feeling of loss. This is totally my projection. I feel bad for not buying Fat Man a sammich, so I’d feel bad NOT giving Mermaid the rug ay-sap.
I have a fitful sleep and approach Mermaid the next morning with a dire expression. “I need to talk to you.”
She immediately tears up (she is tender and prone to empathetic tears), “Oh, no, what did I do? Is this going to make me cry?” She’s already leaking.
“No, it’s me. I’m the one who needs to apologize.” I explain my thought process about the rug and finish with, “So if it makes him feel good to give you the rug and it makes you feel good to receive it, then I am happy, too.”
She’s relieved. “I don’t even care about the rug.” She hadn’t thought twice about my comment.
I reply, “I know, but I didn’t want you thinking it was that I didn’t want you to have it, I just didn’t want him giving something away that is special to him just so you’ll like him. It’s hard to explain.” What I really mean is, “I’m giving you half my Smurf collection in the hopes you’ll be my friend,” but she’s not in my sixth grade mindset—or classroom. (Note: Giving away Smurfs doesn’t guarantee best friends forever.)
Inspired by all this atoning, I call up some past clients who I haven’t spoken to in years and who I feel guilty about every time I see them because of the way they look at me, which I imagine is because I didn’t handle a situation very professionally all those many years ago and have been too chicken to apologize all this time. I’ll spare the details but suffice it to say, they were surprised to hear from me (calling out of the blue from California to Canada) and shared with me some details about what was going on for them at the time. Stuff that had nothing to do with me. In fact, they hadn’t thought I was unprofessional at all; they were simply reminded of that shitty time in their lives whenever they saw me. (Though, I was unprofessional, by my standards.)
I apologize to anyone else who I have offended, hurt, judged, neglected, or withheld loving action from. If there’s a pain in your heart, I invite you to contact me to discuss it. I realize that all this sharing and apologizing and loving is really good for the soul, and that’s the best gift one can give (or receive). Remind me to refrain from being bitchy just to get the elation of giving loving apologies. Also, please do call me out when I am bitchy. Thank you in advance.
What have I (re)learned?
The fastest way to feeling better is forgiveness of ourselves and of others.
Apologizing is scary as fuck sometimes but so worth it.
Love is the answer.