The Past Has No Rewrites: What the Mueller Saga Teaches Us About Forgiveness

Photo by Jørgen Håland on Unsplash

The Mueller report came out last week, and according to the four-page summary written by the Attorney General, Mueller’s team found no evidence of collusion between the Russian government and Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential campaign. While I’m disappointed, I’m not surprised. This is the outcome I expected.

There will likely be no impeachment proceedings which means we’ll be saying President Donald Trump until 2020 at the earliest. While he is a terrible, low-down, no good President, he is also as much a product of our history as is Barack Obama. If nothing else, the news that there was no collusion reinforces one of life’s bitter truths.

The past cannot be altered, undone or rewritten.

As challenging as this truth is to hold for our nation, I find it even more overwhelming when it comes to my personal life. The promise of healing, holds within it the hope that the damage of the past can be undone or reversed to some degree. At least it has for me, so accepting my past and its effects on me proves difficult. So difficult in fact, that I believe I’ve partitioned myself into separate personas.

I know this because I’ve spent much of the last month attempting to access my repressed rage and grief. They feel separate and distinct from me, as if there is another person holding them for me. Oftentimes, when I’m trying to focus on my emotions, I close my eyes and imagine falling into myself; breaking through layers of awareness until I approach the deepest levels of my being. I fall until I land in a dark void. I stand to my feet and suddenly see the face of my nine-year-old self looking back at me.

Yes…I’ve always loved the camera 🙂

As I approach him, I can both feel the tension that consumes his small frame. Years spent clenching his teeth and bracing for the next blow have taken their toll.

I draw closer and notice clenched fists hovering on either side of his body. His arms slightly bent at each elbow. This child is ready for a fight. Just as I step within reach of him, he jerks his head to the sky and a guttural scream explodes from his miniature body. Hot tears stream down his face as he continues to scream and shake.

I’m not startled by this display because I intuitively know what he means. He is communicating that life is not fair. His innocence has been compromised and his hope euthanized. He is emitting the deep holler present within everyone who has ever been a victim. As intuitively as I know the meaning of his behavior, I also know that I’m supposed to draw him into a deep embrace and sit with him in his pain…in my pain.

As his screams are enveloped by darkness, I consider moving even closer toward him, but…

I don’t.
I won’t.
Honestly I can’t.

Doing that would mean forgiving the past and though I’ve been trying since I was ten, I’m still not ready. Forgiveness, as a concept has often alluded my understanding.

Does forgiving someone mean you don’t want them to suffer blow-back for their actions? Do you stop feeling angry or hurt? Is forgiveness a myth we’ve bought into or another religious saying without practical value like “let go and let God”?

Amidst these questions, I have found one definition of forgiveness that speaks to me. “Forgiveness is the process of letting go of the hope that the past will be different.” As I hold that definition, I feel what the rich young ruler must have felt when Jesus told him to sell everything and give it to the poor.

“I can’t even have hope that my past could’ve, would’ve or should’ve been different? Now you’re asking too much.”

I know people who believe that everything they’ve been through is being used for their betterment, and I’d like to be one of those people, but I’m not. Every time I feel the residue of physical abuse, I wish the past were different. When I’m being pulled into the inescapable darkness of depression, I wish the past were different. Each moment I’m barraged with doubt about my value, I wish the past were different.

Perhaps even moreso, I wish I could replace all that has been taken from me. I do more than wish though. I often try to fill in the gaps myself. As Lin Manuel Miranda sang in Hamilton, “I’m not satisfied…I have never been satisfied.”

For years I’ve always sought the next experience, job or relationship thinking it will bring the fulfillment, excitement or freedom I seek. I’ve spent so much time looking into the future that I’ve missed the beauty in front of me. Even more damning, I’ve exerted too much energy trying to fill the gaps with things external to me, when I’ve always had exactly what I needed within me.

The truth is that I can’t control + z my past. Nothing can be undone; no moment rewritten. My options are to swallow the lie, or embrace forgiveness. It feels like completely relinquishing the hope of a different past is the final act in my struggle to forgo control. As acceptance of what has been washes over me, I reach forward and pull my younger self into a deep embrace. He is still screaming while hot tears run down his cheeks, and I don’t try to stop him.

Photo by Cristian Palmer on Unsplash

If the past is to remain unaltered, so must his screams. So must MY screams, for he is the imagery I’ve created to distance myself from all I’ve repressed. As I lose my grip on this false reality, I feel myself falling again. This time I fall through the darkness, past the void and into the icy, yet refreshing, waters of the river of God. As I flow in this holy baptismal, I become weightless and my movements turn fluid. Like this coursing river, I too am present in this moment. Always connected to where I’ve been and where I will be, but responding to what is current. This is the nature of God, I Am.

The 2020 election is around the corner and it looks as though we’ll be stuck with President Twitter Fingers for the next 21 months. Even after that election, we will be grappling with the effects of this administration. Our past is what it is, so we can embrace the lie that the next election will change everything and negate the damage of her predecessor or we can face the uncomfortable truth. As our politicians have shown us, lies are often more palatable than the truth.

I’m not qualified to tell you that you should let go of the hope that your past will be different. I don’t know where you’ve been or how your journey has shaped you. No one gets to make this decision but you. Letting go will not mean you suddenly stop hurting. It won’t mean you feel warm and fuzzy feelings for the one who violated you. It sure as hell won’t mean you are done being affected by your trauma.

I can’t tell you what it will mean for you. What it has meant for me, is that I’m lifting the siege on myself and embracing aspects of my identity I’ve long kept hidden. In this embrace, I experience a kind of release. The weight of expectation is slowly lifting. As I settle into the river of God, I’m free to be. That is enough in and of itself.

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