Permission to forgive

In a recent interview, musician Jen Cloher reflected on how giving proper, loving time to her parents changed the course of her life. She spoke about ‘the shift in what’s important in life’ after the death of her parents – of how the need to prove herself or succeed has taken a back seat, and how she now looks at life as all sorts of things that she needs to have around her.

As I struggle to shift a cloud of fog that has been hovering over me lately, Jen’s words reminded me of those of Pico Iyer – words that had inspired me to write about the healing power of solitude. In talking about how people take such pains with what they put inside their mouths, and so few pains about what they’re putting inside their minds, Pico Iyer has also reflected on being able to see our better selves, how our better selves are right there in front of us, yet we choose otherwise:

You know the things you should do to rise out of a slump. Read a book instead of mindlessly scroll the internet. Cook instead of get takeaway. You know the better option and yet for some reason, the weight of the day or whatever, you can’t! And yet you know that if you do it, you’re going to be much happier, you’re going to feel much better about yourself, you’re going to get much more clarity. But there is a tendency, for me personally, to choose not to.

I’ve been particularly hard on myself this past week. I know all too well, have experienced that shift, as Jen describes, on what’s important in life. I know all of the things that I need to have around me, to feel better about myself, to look after myself, so that I have that clarity to take the right steps forward, steps that are true to who I am, that don’t waste time, that recognise the precious nature of each day. Yet I can’t rise out of my slump. My fog just won’t shift.

B.J. Miller is a palliative care physician. After an accident at college that left him without both of his legs and part of one arm, B.J. Miller had to learn how to recompose his own sense of self. There is a lot that his reflections are teaching me, and there is so much that I want to write about and share. But today, these words are reaching out to me the most:

And I, of all people, know that time is precious. Don’t squander it doing things you don’t care about. Don’t give it away too cheaply, blah, blah, blah. Spend less time at work, more time with family… I have no excuse to forget that. Zip. And yet, I find myself incredibly and increasingly busy, sometimes out on limbs doing things that I don’t necessarily want to do or even believe in, on some level. And there is real moral distress in that. I think that is part of how we burn out, is you have these lessons, but we find ourselves still unable to actualise some of these lessons… I’ve got to constantly retool myself and rejigger how I spend my time.

B.J. Miller describes this retooling and rejigging as a constant trimming of sails, and that:

… even if I can’t honour every minute of every day in this most precious way, well, ultimately, it’s just another thing I get to forgive in myself and to keep trying tomorrow.

It’s a beautiful thing, to be able to give ourselves permission to forgive, to know that we tried the best we could today, and that is enough. To give ourselves permission to understand that our journey is never really complete, and that is ok.