Jeannette Walls is an author who wrote a best-selling book about being raised by horribly neglectful parents who were indifferent to the basic needs of their children. She is releasing a new book soon and was interviewed last week by the New York Times Magazine about her current life in the Virginia countryside where she provides a home and support for her mother in spite of a traumatic upbringing. The NYT interviewer asked Wallis, “How could you forgive your mother for the way you were raised?” Wallis answered, “It’s really not forgiveness in my opinion. It’s acceptance. She’s never going to be the sort of mother who wants to take care of me.” I found myself considering that distinction: is acceptance easier to embrace than forgiveness? Certainly accepting one’s past and the people who are responsible for it is a very different point of view than forgiving the personalities and circumstances of one’s journey.
Hmmmm . . . acceptance vs. forgiveness . . . is one easier to embrace than the other? I began pondering this while peddling madly on the stationary bike at my gym and going absolutely nowhere. This is the moment when I should be offering sage advice on the nuance of one vs. the other. The cloudy skies should part and my brilliant insights should break through the gloom and offer peace and perspective. Hmmmmm . . . ? Here’s what I’ve got: I suspect depending on our specific storyline, each point of view poses challenges but whichever outlook gets us over the hump is the route to take. If you find that forgiving someone is too arduous then focus your attention on acceptance and vice versa. Because in the end holding onto resentment, anger and nurturing the injustices of our past only deprive us of savoring the adventure of our lives. Do we really want to spend the precious opportunities our short life affords us by stewing and blaming? I do not. And I suggest we use whatever means at our disposal to get us to a place of contentment and appreciation in spite of the horrors and quirks of our individual narrative.
Forgiveness or acceptance is always going to be an uphill slog but everything of true value takes hard work. It’s hard to learn to speak a foreign language or play a musical instrument, have a successful marriage or raise happy children. However, if we are willing to keep climbing—like scaling a mountain—there is a breathtaking view awaiting us: that glorious moment when you speak French in a Parisian bistro or flawlessly play that Chopin sonata or watch your child put on a graduation cap and gown. It’s never easy getting to the top of the mountain but once you’re there . . . it’s all downhill!We all have our baggage, and I think the trick is not resisting it but accepting it, understanding that the worst experience has a valuable gift wrapped inside if you’re willing to receive it~ Jeannette Walls New York Times May 24, 2013