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Joyce Dudley, Please Forgive Me

Years ago, in Junior High School, I hung out with a special group of friends. The summer between 7th and 8th grades, everyone in my group went away on vacation. My only friend was Joyce Dudley, who had just moved into my neighborhood. Joyce and I spent the summer together. I smelled collared greens for the first time hanging out at her house. She tasted babka for the first time hanging out at mine. We watched TV, practiced the latest dance steps, went to the beach, and talked about boys.

 

When 8th grade started in the fall, Miss Beck, our English teacher, asked the class to write one of those "What I Did During my Summer Vacation" stories. When we were done, we had to read them out loud. My story was about what an awful summer I had-how I had been abandoned by all my friends and how most of the time I was bored, lonely and alone.

 

Joyce, who was in my class, left the room crying. Not once in my story did I mention collared greens, babka, or the beach. Was I deluded, schizophrenic, mean? Perhaps I wanted the approval of my old friends. Perhaps I wanted sympathy. But, from a 40-year later perspective, I made a deliberate choice to focus on the pain of abandonment rather than the joy of newfound friendship. In the moment I made that choice, I dissociated or split off any other possible perception of what that summer was like.


There's quite a bit of psychological research about state-dependent memory. Simply put, when we're happy, we're more likely to remember happy events; when unhappy, we're more likely to remember unhappy events. It's as though each physiological state carries with it an entire reality.


Have you ever been really, really upset about something and for whatever reasons changed your mind? Once you changed your mind, did you wonder how you could have been so upset? A Course in Miracles  teaches that we have two basic emotional states, love and fear. In a state of love, fear does not exist. In a state of fear, love does not exist. Love and fear, as defined by the Course, are two discreet states. Fear encompasses anger, depression, worry, tension, anxiety, and dis-spiritedness. Love is risk-taking, daring, adventure, certainty, calm, peace. It is our state of mind, love or fear that determines our experiences in this world.
 

There's a Jewish joke about a group of men who meet in a cafe every day to play cards. Inevitably they talk about politics and the state of the world and also inevitably, they become depressed. One day one of the men announces, "I'm an optimist." One of the other men says, "If you're an optimist, how come you look so worried?" The first man replies, "You think it's easy being an optimist?" The decision to be an optimist or pessimist, to love or to fear, is based on our unexamined assumptions of whom and what we are.

 

We perceive our lives based on these assumptions. This forms the basis for the story of our lives. Some legal psychology research was conducted to find out how jurors reach a verdict. The researchers determined that jurors make up a story about what happened and then decide how the evidence fits into their story. Healing involves looking at the stories we make up about ourselves. Are these stories useful? Are they based on love or fear? Are they making us the victim of circumstance or the determiner of our experience? If we are honest with ourselves we can see that our stories have the same basic themes. Someone is always doing something to rob me of my peace of mind. In this story line, we are the victims.

 

It takes a lot of courage to examine our stories and to rewrite them. This is how we become the determiner for our experience. This is how we heal. I never had a chance to ask Joyce Dudley to forgive me or thank her for helping to make my summer fun. All these years, I've been carrying around the guilt of having my victim story hurt her. So, Joyce Dudley, wherever you are, please forgive me.


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Reflection - Healing unintentional hurts

Can you think of anyone in your life whom you may have hurt unintentionally? When you think of this person, what does your heart feel like? The following forgiveness exercise can help relieve any feelings of guilt you may still be carrying. Sit in a comfortable chair and close your eyes. Imagine that you were breathing in and out of your heart. Visualize the person who came to mind earlier. With eyes still closed, and still focusing on your breath, talk to that person.

 

Repeat the following: Dear _____________. I made a mistake when I hurt you. It was not intentional. I was not thinking about the consequences of my actions. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?


Listen with your inner ear for a response. Now imagine that as you exhale a beam of lights extends form your heart and connects to the heart of the person you're visualizing. With every breath, see this beam of light becoming stronger and more solid. See it turning into a bridge. See the person smiling. Tell her that you will always be connected. Thank her for having been in your life. Pay attention to your heart? Does it feel lighter?

 

Thoughts communicate. Rest assured that somehow this person knows that you are thinking of her with love. Rest assured that your request for forgiveness has been received and that you have, in fact, been forgiven.


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