If you haven't heard of my birthday curse, you may not know me very well. I hate birthdays, but not because they indicate me getting older. I hate them because I have a bad history of crap happening on my birthday. My husband thought it was ridiculously superstitious when we got married, but has since decided that perhaps I am right. Today, I was supposed to do a race with him. But the birthday curse struck again. I had a crash.
Let me describe what happened. I was about half finished with the bike and my swim had gone better than any swim had ever gone before in my life. I was pretty happy, after struggling with asthma all season. I felt well within my limits and had my inhaler, but was watching my breathing to make sure I was OK. Then I came across two racers who were riding right together, which is completely illegal. I noticed the motorcycle with the race officials coming up behind them. I suspected they were being written up for this. A turn was coming up and I figured I could easily pass them before it.
I called out "On your left" to indicate to them not to move left while I passed. They were taking up most of the middle of the road, and I would have been fine if the male counterpart who was all the way to the right, hadn't decided I was calling out to him that he should turn left. He crashed directly into me. I flew over the handlebars and landed hard. There was some blood. I was in pain, obviously, but was still pretty stunned. The guy rode off as the race officials stopped to help me. My bike wheel was ruined (almost $1000 to replace it) and I was in bad shape. I had a big hematoma on my right arm, road rash everywhere, and several fingernail tips were shredded, which is where the dripping blood was coming from.
It took me about 10 minutes to realize that I was going to have to give up on finishing the race. I was shaking uncontrollably and an ambulance came to take me back to my car. They checked me out, told me to go to a hospital or my doctor, and tried to bandage me up. I was SO angry, and SO sad. This was my last race of the season, and I had so much wanted it to go well. Not only had I not gotten that, but I was going to have pay a bunch of money to fix the bike that I love and have ridden for 6 years now. Plus I was in pain and shaking uncontrollably.
I packed up my bike to take it to the shop in hopes that it would get fixed as soon as possible. As I drove, I was filled with anger. That guy should have been forced to abandon the race, just like I was. He should be forced to pay for my bike to be repaired. And for my race fee. And for my hospital bills. And for my pain.
But of course, he couldn't pay for my pain. He couldn't do anything to take it away at all. That's the way that life is. We humans hurt each other in ways that we cannot take back or make up. I hate that about life. I really do!
I knew that I would be better off if I could let the anger go. But I was also angry that it was my birthday and it was turning out badly. Again. I drove and thought about a conversation I had with a friend this week whom I admire for changing. I thought about myself. Had I changed? I thought about the fact that about 10 years ago, I had an experience that made me realize that I had no idea how to forgive. I had spent my whole life learning how to understand other people, so that if they did something stupid or hurt me, I could understand why. I thought that was forgiveness and discovered that it wasn't.
I have spent a good deal of emotional work since then to learn how to forgive and I can say with confidence that I have forgiven exactly one time in my life. It was a really momentous occasion. I forgave someone who had asked for forgiveness and who was sorry, but it took months for me to give up the pain that I felt and accept the plea. I felt strongly that this was a gift to me, not a gift to the other person. I felt so clean and strong afterward, and it didn't like something I could have given to myself.
As I drove home this morning after the race, I felt the same feeling of clean wash over me. The anger disappeared. The physical pain was still there. But the rest was abruptly gone. I realized that I had the capacity to pay for my bike repair myself. I had already paid for my race fee. It wouldn't be easy to do that, but I could do it. This man whom I do not know and have never met except in this crash had not asked for my forgiveness, but I was giving it anyway, and it was a powerful experience.
I thought of the one time in my life that I felt that I could not be forgiven. I know that other people have told me again and again how illogical it is that I blame myself for my daughter Mercy's death, but I know that in my subconscious I do. I have nightmares often about killing the people that I love, not the murder itself, but the realization of what I have done, and the knowledge that I am waiting for the consequences of being taken to jail and humiliated, revealed not to be the good person I think that I am. I spent a lot of time in the last years trying to forgive myself and I'm not sure that I've ever managed it. The most I could do was just accept it and move on.
But today, the realization that *I* could forgive someone who was, as far as I know, undeserving of it, that I could forgive someone because I had the reserves (financial and emotional ) to do so, was overwhelming to me. I am such a small person emotionally. The fact that I have only really been able to give forgiveness twice in my life seems to me to prove that. But if I could forgive this, then how much easier it must be for someone who has greater emotional reserves than mine to forgive me for something I feel terrible about and have carried guilt about for years. It might not just be possible; it seemed likely.
This man who ruined my race cannot give it back to me, just like I cannot give my daughter back her life. That is the mortal world we live in. But I can have forgiveness. That's not the same as moving on. It's not the same as understanding. It's not the same as letting go. Those are all useful things to do. But forgiveness is something else entirely, and for me, the most difficult forgiveness to give is the one to myself.
I did not get the great race I wanted to give myself as a gift for my birthday today, but maybe I've been given a greater gift than I had ever thought to ask for.