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A rift that separates often becomes toxic, as the distance begins to feel ever greater with the passage of time. Especially when the one on the other side is someone with whom there have been grievous and damaging mistakes, abuses and abasements, betrayals and heartbreak (but even when something as simple as a misunderstanding has gone awry), the grass certainly doesn’t look greener on that other side.  Instead, the other can grow in epic proportions into a monster living in a fiery pit, as our pain is projected onto the blank screen, which that distance erects.  There is no room at all for the potential of growth, remorse, or even the weakness of the other. No allowance is made for humanity.

In many instances, dehumanization fills in the invisible spaces in our imaginations. It is always easier to dehumanize another when they are unreal to you, when you can’t see their day to day struggle, their fears and their hopes, their loves and their losses. We do it with personal enemies. We do it with global ones too.

But it can also be so very hard to open that passageway, to remove the debris in our lives that may have resulted from the betrayal or the assault. Not only our pain, but our fear, often gets in the way. The what-ifs. The buts. The not wanting to cross that bridge because we fear that to do so means that the passageway can then also be breached by the other, allowing  them back across into our world that feels safer without them in it.  We don’t want to make it that easy, as if to do so would be to say that our pain wasn’t legitimate, or their action not egregious.

So we keep them at bay, increasing both distance and time, erecting a wall upon which we can continue to project what has really gotten inside of us… though we don’t at all realize that the image we see is in a mirror. You see, Pain can be pretty ugly. Grief can look monstrous.

If we are lucky, though, something breaks the wall down.The rigid/righteous structure we have erected to contain ourselves over here and the other over there can no longer hold the complexity of life.  If it has gone on for a very long time, though, often the thing that finally breaks it doesn’t feel so lucky to us at the time. We are often crushed by it. The toxins, overwhelming our lives, may turn us bitter and angry, cynical and hard, often leaving us feeling isolated and alone. The pain, allowed to fester, may cause a physical or emotional break. Or we fail ourselves grievously and can’t reconcile the labeled atrocity with who we know ourselves to be.

Sometimes it takes a lifetime, a lifetime of seeing in that same mirror our own attempts to do/be good but failing, or of witnessing the ones we love deeply – a son or a daughter, perhaps – ultimately failing to be perfect too, perhaps hurting deeply someone they love or acting deplorably out of their fear. Gradually something in us begins to soften, we grow wiser, more tender, able to see with compassion… not only the other, but also ourselves. The mirror cracks, the wall crumbles and we stand face to face with our humanity.

(Sometimes it persists across generations, the scar we see in that mirror no longer reminiscent at all of the original wound.)

There is a dilapidated bridge in our community. Once a free passageway from the town to . the lakeside beach, there occurred, sometime within the 50 years or so, a feud that has evolved over the perspectives that either side has of the other. The bridge now leads eventually to an overgrown path that ends at a chain link fence, a wall, barring access.  Few use the path anymore and as a result, perhaps, a strange kind of healing has occurred. Just on the other side of  the winding creek there is a wetland where the skunk cabbage explodes in the spring and bog turtles incubate eggs.

One can only hope that forgiveness sometimes looks like this too. That in our evasion, or our unwillingness to tred on that particular soil, something has time to soften, and a tender birthing, a green sprout, springs up from the muck.



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