Forgiving is God’s Business
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CLOTHING: BALIAWEAR STYLING: ALVINA LAM PHOTOGRAPHY: VALERIA BELLOT MODEL: REBEKAH VAUGHAN
When the pandemic was declared by the who, I was living in north Bogotá, Colombia in a small studio where I had created a little, thriving garden in the balcony, a beautiful tiny jungle for my cat. I had found a space where I felt I could live for the rest of my life. I imagined myself as an old lady there. I had spent over a year decorating and completing it, and it was finally ready. Oh, I loved it more than any other place I’ve had. Around June or July, after 14 years of a very painful marriage, my brother began to say he wanted to separate. It wasn’t the first time he said something like that, though, this time my parents and I were committed to help him end a very toxic relationship once and for all. He was very weak, and we were scared for him. During more than 6 months, we spoke over the phone between 3 and 7 times a day with him, who was living in Florida. It was almost always the four of us, over a WhatsApp group call. I also -secretly- got in touch with his best friend and we kept sharing information about him to be able to always give him the right advice. When December came around, it was obvious he wasn’t strong enough to leave his wife. He was terrified of being alone. The vaccines weren’t yet an option, hence my parents couldn’t fly, so I started thinking about how to collect some money to be able to travel to Florida and force him to leave her, but then he said he’d pay for the ticket. He begged me to stay with him for a while and said he’d pay for the whole move and would take care of me for a year while I helped him out in his new life and looked for a job without any stress. Indeed, a very good plan for both. I’ve been coming back and forth to the US my whole life, so it’s always been an easy decision to make the move. Even though it stresses me, packing and starting over comes very easily to me. On January first, I canceled my rental agreement, I tried selling as much as I could and gave away the rest. My brother bought the plane ticket and three weeks later I said goodbye to the guy I was dating and boarded a plane with Mandela (my cat) and 4 pieces of luggage. I spent the first 2 weeks at a hotel while my brother got a new apartment and then we moved together. That first day I organized his kitchen. We were both quite busy and didn’t really talk much. Then came the following day, and everything changed. I’ll say this: You plan everything. Every single detail. You think you’ve got it all covered. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship, but I immediately recognized the way he started treating me as abuse. The next day was the same thing, so I spoke to my parents and when the night came, I told him I was ready to leave if he would continue treating me that way. I hadn’t left my whole life to come to Florida to become his punching bag. He apologized, begged me to stay and offered to gift me some used t-shirts from his alma mater. He didn’t speak to me like that again, but his behavior became equally humiliating and painful. I knew I was bothering him by just being there and very soon I realized I had made a terrible mistake. I’ve fallen and stood up again, but I had never felt so lost and unstable in my whole life. Even though he said it many times while my parents were listening, he then denied having said he’d pay for everything. I knew I wasn’t crazy. My parents had been paying for everything while he sorted out his divorce, and the agreement was he’d would pay them later on, but then he said he wouldn’t. And he didn’t. I don’t come from money, I didn’t have any savings, and this affected my parent’s budget. I had to stay away from him for a while, and needed to be able to think with clarity, so my college best friend and her partner invited me and Mandela to stay with them in Philadelphia for two weeks. When I came back, I moved into an apartment a very generous woman lent me in exchange for Spanish classes. I kept looking for a job but couldn’t find one I really liked and didn’t get the only one I wanted. After almost 8 months in Florida, as I had kept my Colombian job remotely, and spending dollars while producing pesos became unsustainable, I decided to pack my clothes and go back to Colombia, to my parents’ house in the countryside, an hour away from the capital.
I had a part time job plus a freelance contract when I got to South America. I had a plan: I would live with my parents for a few months while saving as much money as possible, and at the end of the year I’d look for a place in the city and would buy all the basic things a home requires. When the contract fell through, it hit me: I had given away my whole life to help my brother, because it felt like the right thing to do. I never really had a relationship with him. We’ve been fighting since I can remember. Bad. Really bad. But over a year prior to my trip, we had gotten close and had been enjoying a new and loving relationship. I had been working on “forgiving” him since my last two months in the US, because those closest to me keep saying I have to forgive in order to heal. But when I lost the freelance contract, again I was aware of the fact that I had lost my stability because of him. I hated him, yet again. I blamed him for everything. I thought It wasn’t fair that I was worried about having a job in order to save and be able to have my own home again, if I had had all that before. How can I forgive him, if I still blame him? How can I forgive him, if he still hasn’t admitted that he wronged me? How can I forgive him, if I still feel so much anger and hurt? I understand he’s hurt, deeply hurt. I understand he’s not acting as himself… But how can I forgive him? My mother is a very religious person, and her advice is always related to the Bible. She said forgiveness is a way of acknowledging you’ve been hurt. She says I have to forgive to let go. But I can’t. I’m not ready. Even though I sometimes somewhat pretend to be, I’m really not a spiritual person, but I decided to do some research… The Online Etymology Dictionary defines forgive -a verb- as the old English forgiefan: give, grant, allow; remit (a debt), pardon (an offense). And it talks about a sense of “(giving) up desire or power to punish”. I also found a review of David Konstan’s book, Before Forgiveness: The Origin of a Moral Idea, by Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, for the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, which talks about “The modern notion of interpersonal forgiveness, …quite important today in religion, law, politics, and psychotherapy, was altogether absent from the classical world, both Greek and Roman. What is more, it seems to have not been fully developed in the Bible, ancient Judaism, or early Christianity either, where the focus was more on God’s forgiveness than on human, interpersonal forgiveness. …the birth of the modern concept of forgiveness should be traced back just to the past three or four centuries”. I also went to Wikipedia (I know… I know…) and found out that in Judaism, you’re encouraged to forgive if the person that caused harm sincerely and honestly apologizes. Then, because Allah values forgiveness, Islam also recommends forgiveness. However, it also allows revenge to the extent harm done… Finally, Buddhism understands forgiveness as a practice that prevents harmful thoughts from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being, because it believes that feelings of hatred and ill-will have a lasting effect on karma. Either way, I don’t believe in gods. I don’t believe in anything, so whatever any religion says about forgiveness, it doesn’t touch my heart. I believe, eventually -once I’m ready- I’ll be able to remember this lapsus without feeling hate or pain. But I’m not there yet. My therapist says you can’t force forgiveness upon yourself, she says the negative feelings will become smaller and smaller until they disappear. And I’m waiting, because right now I’m not strong enough to forgive my brother. Right now, I still judge and blame him. I’m still angry, I’m very angry. I can’t believe he still hasn’t said he’s sorry for what went down. And I can’t believe he blames me. I can’t forgive him, because, right now, I wish I’d never have to see his face again and I cringe at the thought of his voice. The pain has begun to disappear, though, not the anger. Not at all. Right now, I’m trying to figure out why this happened. But, then again, believing things happen for a reason requires believing in something… So, I started to try and figure out what I learned from all this, and there’s a very clear lesson: We’ve got nothing under control. Nothing.

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