Yes, People Change: On Humility and Forgiveness

I think the most important thing I’ve learned in my life is that people change– and there’s no pride is clinging to being “right.”

I used to be a very self-righteous person. I used to feel that I was better than some other people because I didn’t have certain habits, because I believed in God and they didn’t, because I was more “together.”

I was so sure of my own “instincts”– and that I would never change my mind.

I used to be one of those “all or nothing,” people, with rigid opinions that never wavered.

I was wrong. And since then, I’ve changed.

Some people may never believe that, but I know it’s true.

I believe God gave me a lesson in humility– to remind me that I am no better than anyone else just because I have a different struggle. And to remind me that I’ve been given advantages as well, which I sometimes forget to acknowledge. To show me how it feels to be judged. And it’s hard, because we still need to draw boundaries and assert ourselves if we are uncomfortable, hurt, or angry. But we can do that without being cruel or condescending.

And that’s what I’ve been working on this year– being honest while also being more rational and less impulsive. To explain to people that sometimes I need time before I can respond– out of respect for both of us.

And I’m doing much better.

It reminds me of “Beaches”– with Hilary and Cece.

Most of the time my personality is more like Cece– I’m loud, I wear ridiculous outfits, I’m a free-spirited creative person with a dream that I can’t surrender to write. Sometimes I can be selfish and at times my temper can be sharp.

But when I’m truly hurting, I’m more like Hilary. I shut down. I don’t say anything. I try to work through the pain on my own. But I’ve learned, that hurts people more than anything I might have said in anger. Silence is often the one thing people can’t forgive.

There are times when cutting off contact is merited– when they won’t accept respect your feelings or accept your boundaries, and there is no other way. When you know that no amount of talking will change things, because you’ve already tried exhaustively and you are fundamentally incompatible.

But those times are rare.  But if someone loves you, that silence on your end is excruciating.

I’m learning to say what I feel when I feel it– and to apologize when it’s merited. Everyone has a limit– some relationships need to end and can’t be reconciled. But it’s always healthier to get your feelings out than to hold them in and let them fester.

I’ve learned to never take it for granted when someone apologizes to you. Because even if you you’re hurt beyond words and not ready to forgive, there are many people who never bother to apologize.

It takes a lot of character to apologize.

Even if the relationship can’t be reconciled, you can still accept their apology and honor their effort.

And I’ve learned that it also hurts us tremendously to withhold forgiveness out of spite. If we don’t release that energy, it becomes corrosive to our own souls at some point. It eats away at us. It makes much more energy to remain angry than to let it go.

I would rather apologize and never be forgiven than remain in perfect righteousness and never be vulnerable.

If I apologize, it’s out of my hands then. If they don’t choose to forgive me or acknowledge it, that is their choice– and it may hurt.

But it will never hurt as much as not taking a chance.

We all fight to overcome a struggle– and for every person, that struggle is different. We don’t know why we have the challenges that were given to us, but we do the best we can with them.

Here’s the thing– people are human. We all struggle with something. For some, it’s addiction. For some, it’s believing in God. For some, it’s intimacy. For some, impulsivity. For some, it’s depression or anxiety. For some, it’s money.  For some, it’s loneliness due to physical illness that makes them feel isolated. For some, it’s being TOO logical.  For some, it’s not knowing what to say even if you want to be supportive.

We all have faults. But I believe that fundamentally, we’re all good. And that we respond to how others treat us. We may go through seasons of bad judgement, but I think we all have the strength to learn and emerge thriving if we are committed to change.

If you live your life by cutting out everyone who challenges you or upsets you, you realize soon that you’re not left with many people. People are in our lives for a reason– to love us, to challenge us, to inspire us to growth by their own achievements.

I no longer believe that there is such a thing as a “bad” person. When people are in pain, they act out– it’s human.

The only answer for pain is love. I pray for them, and myself. And eventually, my heart changes. If I’m lucky, theirs does too.

Because if someone hurts you, it hurts them as well.

And if you can forgive them, you’re giving yourself a gift as well as them.

The gift of peace. The gift of not harboring resentment.

The gift of unconditional love for yourself and others.

These days, I’d rather be humble than “right.”

Not a Quitter Anymore

My biggest regret is that I’ve defined myself by my flaws, and abandoned things I liked doing because it got hard or I failed.

I’ve quit a lot of things.

This stupid Pantene commercial made me cry, and realize that I’ve given myself the easy way out about a lot of things: my hearing, my math disability, or whatever is blocking me at the moment. Rather than persevere, I just quit.

I’ve let my hearing-loss get in my way– but this little girl didn’t. She inspires me.

I loved dance and had good rhythm, but was slow to learn choreography and couldn’t keep up with my class. I quit after second grade.

I began to learn piano in third grade, but was annoyed I couldn’t naturally play with both hands at once. And because of my severe hearing-loss, I had to work much harder to listen to my teacher, concentrate on my playing, and hear the chords. I quit.

I was a great swimmer and diver,  learning to swim when I was six and then taking swimming and diving lessons when my Dad got a membership to a great country club when we moved to Illinois in second grade. I was especially good at diving, and wasn’t afraid of the high dive.

But in fourth grade, I saw a boy I liked flip backwards off a diving board at a neighor’s  Fourth of July party. I was next behind him, and wanted to show off. I miscalculated, and wasn’t far out enough– instead I hit my head on the edge and got quite a nasty goose egg for a bit. i was fine, but traumatized. I was afraid to do any of the dives I had learned. I stopped going on the high dive. I quit.

I was great at gymnastics, built perfectly for it.  I’m petite, with that same square build. It makes me me aerodynamic and able to run fast and hard for a short distance to spring on the vault. My friends and I used to watch gymnastics on TV and practice routines on each other’s front lawns. We learned to do a lot of tumbling on our own. I started taking lessons, and began at level three for the floor and vault exercises.  I remember how sore I was after my classes, and how much I loved the fact that I be in perpetual motion with my entire body. I wasn’t chasing after a ball– I was DOING something. It was a terrific rush.

But I was only strong on the vault and floor, with no training at all on the balance beam or uneven bars. I got sick and missed three classes, and when I returned they were doing evaluations. I had weak arms, and still do. Rather than submit to start over and learn the basics on the uneven bars and balance beam, I quit. That’s one of my biggest regrets– who knows what kind of gymnast I could have been?

(Years later, I took a few private lessons, trying to learn to do a back hand-spring. My instructor was great, but I couldn’t afford to keep up the lessons. She told me I had a “powerful run,” and seemed like a natural.)

I attended cheerleading camps in junior high, and excelled at jumps, basket tosses,  and had a strong voice. But I never tried out at school, because none of the other girls in my grade thought it was cool in fifth or sixth grade. I think I started to try out in seventh grade, but felt sick the first day of try-outs and didn’t do too good. I didn’t come back for the second day. I had great tumbling skills, loved to jump around, and could yell loud.

In high school, I didn’t try out for cheerleading because I hadn’t done it in junior high.  Also, I thought the girls doing it were snots!

Freshman year of high school, a friend tricked me into joining cross-country. I was terrible. I got winded easily, couldn’t keep up with the others, and would be two blocks behind everyone else during practices when we ran through neighborhoods. My coach had me run four laps around or campus quad alone instead, because everyone was annoyed.  I would get lost at meets, or run out of breath and have to stop. I’d come in dead last if I finished at all. Once I had to be driven back to the finish line because I didn’t pay attention to the course tour and had a panic attack when I got lost.

At my first opportunity, I tried out for a play. It was “The Miracle Worker,” and I got cast to share the part of Helen Keller. I ratted up my hair, smudged dirt on my face, made my eyebrows straggly. I was short enough to look like a child– only 4’11,” and half-deaf myself. I won the part, sharing it with a senior. I would play the younger version of Helen. I was ecstatic, and quit cross-country.

THAT, I don’t regret. I loved being on stage, and HATED running. So I quit, and only ran first semester.

I love theatre but have difficulty with memorization– and it’s not my passion. I enjoy being in the ensemble, but don’t want the pressure of a lead role. Some day I may return to community theatre and dabble a bit, but right now my work schedule makes this impossible.

I still hate running. I don’t ever see myself being a “runner.” But it’s something I think could help me feel better, sleep better. I’m going to get out and start running a bit, and just see what happens.

But there are things I DO want to learn.

I want to save up and some day, I want to learn piano again. And learn to play with both hands.

I want to take voice lessons, and learn how to control my singing. I have a strong voice, but no idea what I’m singing or how to control it. I’d like to know what my actual “range” is– I know I’m an alto. I just imitate tones I hear, and would like to grow and learn to hold notes, project, and maybe stretch my range if possible.

I want to take a foreign language again– in college, I took Latin. But since I haven’t used it, it’s gone. Maybe I could take it again, or try something similar but more useful, like German. Something I could speak, and something I could actually hear and pronounce.

I want to learn how to do that damn back hand-spring! I will never have enough money or time to do all these– but I’ll spend my life trying.

I’m not going to be a quitter anymore. I want to finish some things I abandoned, and take on some new challenges.

The only thing I’ve consistently done throughout my life is write. And I even quit that for awhile, but now I’m taking it up again.

So many times, I’ve wanted to quit blogging. But I’ve kept this going a year and a half now. And I love it. It’s my freedom. My release.

Helen Keller has always been a personal hero of mine, since I identify with her severe hearing loss. And look at her– she couldn’t see, OR hear. And rather than give into a world of isolation and hateful silence, she blossomed and became an icon.

Helen Keller learned to read, speak out loud. Even write. She wrote books. She delivered speeches, and got over her insecurities about her voice– I’m sure she had them.

I almost wanted to quit my column because I was getting so burned out on it. I’m not going to let that happen.

I’ll work harder, write smarter.

I’m going to be someone who overcomes.