I spent Thanksgiving with some family friends of mine in Ithaca, N.Y. While I was there I sat next to a woman who it turns out met me years ago when my family lived in North Carolina. Talking to her brought up a very particular memory that I would just as soon forget.
Around the time this woman met me, when I was 8 years old or so, my family went to a group meditation regularly on Sunday nights. Usually the kids would go outside and play in the front yard while the adults meditated. During one meditation my brother, three years my senior, said something or did something that set me off. I was so angry at him I sat on his back and started pounding his head into the grass. As soon as my outburst finished I felt so ashamed and so embarrassed I sat in the front seat of our minivan for the rest of the evening. All I could do was cry and berate myself for lashing out. I felt so horrible I didn’t even go into the house for dinner.
I’ve rationalized the event many times – it was years ago, I learned my lesson, I won’t do it again, etc. – but the burning pit of shame stayed with me until now, 17 years later. Meeting this woman I still felt a burning pit of guilt/shame/embarrassment.
I think many people feel the same way about something they’ve done. I think most of us, if not all, have some moments and some memories we’re not proud of. Things we wish we could go back in time and change. For me at least, tied into the guilt/shame/embarrassment is love. My inner dialogue goes something like this: “I’m a bad girl, I did a bad thing and now no one can ever love me. How could they? What I did was horrendous.”
The truth is what I did was not so horrendous, not so horrible. And even if it was, that doesn’t mean I’m any less deserving of love. I know this isn’t the popular point of view but I firmly believe even pedophiles, rapists, mass murderers, etc. deserve love. No I don’t think they should go unpunished, I don’t condone behavior that harms others, but that doesn’t mean those people are any less deserving of love. And nor am I.
What I’m learning is to forgive myself for everything I’ve done in the past I don’t like. To look at what I’ve done and do more than say, “Well, I know better now.” To look at what I’ve done and say, “That wasn’t your best moment but I love you anyway.” That’s what unconditional love is. Love no matter what I do or say or think or feel. I also know God’s love for me will never diminish. There is nothing I can do that will make God love me any less. And I’m moving to a place where I too feel the same way. Where I know there is no act I can commit that’s so horrendous I don’t deserve to be loved. A place where I love myself deeply and completely no matter what.
I have the same wish for others. Because truly, making mistakes doesn’t mean you deserve love any less.
I dream of a world where we can look into the depths of our pasts with love and compassion. Where we forgive ourselves for everything we perceive to be “bad.” Where we let the past go because we know we deserve unconditional love no matter what. I dream of a world where we not only love ourselves unconditionally but those around us. Where live in a world filled with love and light and hope. A world where love is boundless and plentiful.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.