Forgive, Forget, Let It Go. These words have had real significance for me of late and would likely have had a greater effect if I adhered to them earlier in life. In the work I did with leaders and teams, I shared these words in the context of change and how we humans need to transition emotionally through change. Whenever we experience a significant change in life, we go through three phases of psychological transition: ending, a time of confusion, uncertainty, and anticipation, and then new beginnings. What I’ve worked on with so many is the importance of ending what was in order to work through towards a new beginning. One needs to identify what was lost for them personally as a result of the change. This is where the three ideas in the title come in. Can I, as a result of the changes I am going through, forgive, forget. and/or let go?
In the past year and a half, I’ve been dealing with a lot of unexpected and dramatic changes. I went from independence to dependence. From walking, biking, building and helping others, to being cared for and trying to be patient while I’m waiting for someone to move me, get me something I need, or adjust me. All the while I’m seeing everyone else around me living normal lives as I expected to. I spend most days at home and getting out only when someone can drive me somewhere. Walks are taken in my power chair on paved roads. I have a full time helper to get me bathed, toileted, and dressed. I’m lifted up in a sling to move from bed to chair. I need help eating, too. And on more than one occassion, I wake Mary Ann up at night so she can adjust my Bipap mask or move my arm. Alright, I’ll stop here, you get the picture. Suffice it to say I’ve experienced a lot of personal loss. It now becomes time to put into personal practice what I taught countless others – how to deal with change.
Getting back to the process of change and transition, I just shared all of my endings. I’ve identified my losses. And of the three concepts I started with, let me start with forgive.
I am a child of Holocaust survivors. Embracing my Jewish identity was very important growing up, more for my mother than myself ( my father died when I was eight years old). She sent me to yeshiva for my elementary years. When I got to high school, she wanted me to go to a Jewish high school. I drew the line and went to public high school. I felt it was time I joined the real world. I met a diverse group of friends and became a hippie of the times. Judaism didn’t play a big part of my life except for holidays I couldn’t avoid such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover. It wasn’t until I went to college that I made a commitment to attend high holy day services wherever I lived as a comfort to myself.
Being Jewish has been an important anchor for me. In Yeshiva, I learned and lived much about its values and how they relate to real life. During the ’70s, there was a big interest in Eastern religion. I was invited to attend a couple of sessions with a spiritual leader. I did and decided that being Jewish gave me what I needed for spirituality, values and guidance.
After meeting Mary Ann, an Italian Catholic, I knew I was going to have some things to work through. First, how do I get my mother not to have a heart attack when I tell her Mary Ann is not Jewish? When I got over that, we lived together, got married and we started our family. When it came to religious practices, we celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, Easter and Passover. Max and Lucy started school at a local Catholic school. I allayed my frustrations by going into the school and teaching the other kids about the Jewish holidays.
After moving, we looked for a congregation that was Reform, welcoming, and especially accessible to Mary Ann and the kids. Through a friend, we were introduced to B’nai Tikvah. It was small and accessible. It was where Mary Ann independently decided to convert, where we b’nai mitzvah’d two of our kids, it’s where I became temple President. All of this was because I embraced Judaism as my spiritual heritage and compass.
Then I was diagnosed and I started questioning why God has afflicted me. Even atheists can live to 100. What had I done to receive God’s wrath? Was I not religious enough? Did I not live my faith and its values? Did I not devote time and effort to the congregation? Mary Ann was angry too, so much so that she didn’t want to go back to temple.
I thought about it for a long time and finally decided I needed my faith and my community more than ever. I kind of forgave God and reflected on how Judaism can get me through this.
I needed something to hang on to. Abandoning faith would leave me lost in dealing with my new life. I decided to forgive God, and keep the values and tenets of Judaism. I still go to services, am still involved in temple affairs, still keep close to my community. I will say forgiveness was a big deal for me because I was angry and saddened to have been abandoned by God. But I also know that bad things happen to good people and blame is no answer.
Lets discuss forgetting. There are many things I had to forget in the course of life in order for me to move forward. The passing of my father when I was young, the lost opportunity of going to college upstate NY because we couldn’t afford it, being laid off and being passed over for promotion. I have a tendency to dwell on matters way longer than expected. Because of that, I found I held myself back from clear thinking and forward movement. Now, I need to forget how my body worked before, the projects I did before that I can’t now, the spontaneous walks or outings I enjoyed in my past life.
Let It Go is most important for me. As mentioned, I struggled with holding on to emotions longer than I should. I taught my client groups that letting go was critical to moving forward in times of dramatic changes. But I also know that people tend towards the negative side of situations and it becomes difficult to let go. Why is that? Its because our brains detect those situations as threats to our egos, to our emotions and to our survival. It’s a strong, automatic response. I used to have my clients complete a “Goodbye ” card where they would write one thing they were willing to let go of right then, then tear up the paper, throw it in trash, and say goodbye. Sometimes symbolic gestures do work for some. I try to do this mentally these days. I have to let go of my old lifestyle and live my current limitations. I need to let go how I look with my resperator mask on, looking like Snuffalapugus with a tube hanging down in front of me. I have to let go and allow others to feed me when I can’t do it myself . And I have to let go of things that are truly unimportant yet drains my energy and distracts me from the here and now. If there is one skill I would encourage is to learn how to truly let go. More to come…