The first step in my healing is...forgiveness
The morning after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was in bed buried beneath blankets with no immediate plans to emerge. There were plenty of Cinnamon Pop Tarts in the kitchen pantry and a paid-up subscription to Netflix to keep the kids at bay – at least for a few hours.
But, around 10 o’clock, my mama called and asked if she and her prayer partner could come over. Now, a request from my mother is not really a request. It is a courtesy call, so I knew that I needed to get up and get ready with the quickness.
I hadn’t combed my hair or taken a shower. I covered up the hole in my baggy sweatpants with an overstretched college T’shirt, put on my head rag (yes, “rag”), practiced a force smile and then braced myself for a visit.
My mom, a devout Christian who repeats my name at least 1,000 times in a sentence, and Mrs. Janice, a petite brown who has what we call “cat eyes,” walked in and greeted me with long hugs and sad eyes. Mrs. Janice was joined by her husband and we all gathered in the den.
After we ran out of the exchanged pleasantries, Mrs. Janice said to my husband, “I need to speak to Marie privately, if you don’t mind.”
I was a little taken aback, but we both obliged. She, my mother and I went downstairs and sat on the sofa in my guest bedroom, the one that still needs a bed.
I felt like a kid who had been taken to the principal’s office. I didn’t know if I had won a spelling bee or been caught with a pocket full of school supplies.
With her worn, black bible sitting in her lap, Mrs. Janice turned to me and said, “If you are going to fight breast cancer you have to make sure that you have released any unforgiveness.”
My first thought was, “Oh, I’m good. I don’t have any unforgiveness.” Besides, I love Jesus, I love my neighbors, I am pretty much Pollyanna.
She was adamant. She told me to close my eyes and reflect. She sat back on the tan sofa that I had bought at one of those twice-a-year bargain carousels, crossed her arms and said, “I’m just gonna wait right here.”
I closed my eyes and, at first, I only saw darkness and the inside of my lids where I was rolling my eyes. Then...I began to see flashes of faces and incidents. It was there, the unforgiveness, and its depths were vast. Just like the cancer in my body, it was tucked away in some dark place growing and feeding on my strength and so it had to go.
In the silence, sandwiched in between my mama and her prayer partner, I thought of the many words that, through the years, had crushed me, outcomes that had disappointed me, times I was overlooked and underappreciated, occasions when I was violated and misunderstood.
Words like “ugly,” “Nigger,” “nappy-headed,” “stupid,” and “just a girl” bubbled to the service and I had to retaste their bitterness all over again.
I was nearly crushed to dust. I wanted to end the movie unfolding in my head and run away, but I knew that if I got up and headed for the door, mama and her prayer partner would likely tackle me like a couple of linebackers. I also knew that holding on to it was the last thing I needed to do.
Forgiveness wasn’t for those faces from my past (and present). It was me. I had drunk the poison of unforgiveness for years and years and my soul had begun to swell like a tick about to burst. I had to let it go.
Forgiving, at that moment, didn’t mean that I would totally trust certain ones into my life and heart. It meant acknowledging that the wounds were there and that I wouldn’t let them heal. I would often revisit them and would just pick, pick, pick at them until they were diseased.
I had made unforgiveness into a security blanket to keep me walled away from those who had hurt me. But, that blanket was filled with asbestos and was mummifying me into a bitter, broken soul.
I also had to forgive myself. One of the first things I did when I heard my diagnosis was to blame myself for not taking care of my body and for letting life run me into the ground when all I had to do was say no.
After I came to terms with those faces in my head – including mine, I imagined a pool of water and a wide cloth coming into view. I heard the sound of dripping as the cloth dipped into the pool to wash away the offenses I had kept written on my heart. I imagined that that cloth was wiping away the memory of them and making room for my freedom and healing.
The poison of forgiveness can no longer have me.
After I opened my eyes, the prayer partner said, “You good?”
“I’m good,” I said with a smile.
We then went upstairs and she and my mama proceeded to take out their holy oil and pray one of those mother-of-the-church-with-white-stockings-orthopedic-shoes-and-doily-on-her-head prayers. After that, I felt like I could go to the doctor, get my test again and it would come back cancer-free.
Not even a week later, I got a call from someone who had caused a part of my light to dim as a child. When we spoke, I didn’t feel anxious or angry. My heart actually broke for him that he was such a wounded person to have hurt me the way he did. The conversation was pleasant and afterwards, I felt lighter. I couldn’t help but smile. That was step one to my road to healing.