Wings of Forgiveness

I looked to the sky one day and there they were – large, white birds with black accents on their wings, flying overhead. It took me a few moments to identify them. Pelicans. I found it unusual because I didn’t expect to see Pelicans flying over my yard. In fact, I had not seen Pelicans in this part of the state of Colorado before. I couldn’t help but follow them and watch. They landed on a nearby pond, enjoying the afternoon there, swimming around and fishing. They showed up again the following morning and again the next afternoon. I was fascinated.

A few days later, I mentioned the Pelicans to my best friend, Raina. “Pelicans?” She asked. She looked doubtful. “I don’t think we have those around here.”

“I’m telling you, I keep seeing Pelicans,” I insisted.

“That’s odd,” Raina replied. “There has to be some meaning behind seeing those. You don’t just see Pelicans every day.”

Allow me a moment to explain my best friend. Raina is incredibly insightful and more in tune with the universe and her surroundings than anyone I know. She is a gifted horse woman; I tease her about being “the Horse Whisperer” because every horse magically bends to her will. To take it a step further, I am continually impressed at her unwavering spirituality. When the rest of the world is falling apart, she is steadfast. She is dialed in to meanings, like animal behavior and bird sightings, unlike anyone else.

Raina left the room for a moment then re-emerged with a book in her hands. The book was about the spiritual meaning of animals and what seeing these creatures represents to you and your world at the time you see them. It is an ideology that is Native American in origin. I was intrigued. If the Pelican sightings meant something, I wanted to know what. I had been searching to answer a myriad of things since my husband passed away, so I was looking forward to the insight. Or so I thought. I wasn’t prepared for what she told me.

Raina started to read the pelican description from the book. “Pelicans represent forgiveness. Pelicans signify a situation that you need to come to terms with…” She continued reading, but I didn’t hear another word because my mind was racing, and I felt sick to my stomach. Forgiveness. That was the one thing I wasn’t ready to grasp at that moment in time. Quite frankly, I had been struggling with forgiveness.

As I drove home that day, I got within a few miles of my house and there they were again. Pelicans. Dozens of Pelicans. They were flying all around me, and I felt as though the walls of my car were closing in. I was being swarmed by Pelicans, and I was starting to hate them and their message of forgiveness. They were showing themselves to me because I needed to incorporate forgiveness in my life or I wouldn’t be able to move forward. But how do you forgive the unforgivable?

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There were a lot of things in my life that this applied to. I was struggling to forgive the young man that had killed my husband, an impaired driver that lost control of his car and hit my husband head on. I was filled with resentment, frustration, and overwhelming sadness for his irresponsible behavior and actions on that fateful day. I was also worrying about the sentencing and the justice system, thinking that the justice I wanted would not be served. To say that my world was upside down at that time was an understatement. I was traumatized by the situation and unable or willing to accept that my husband was truly gone.

Sadly, I had also been dealing with “Pigeons” since the night my husband died, and it had taken a serious toll on my health and overall well-being. For those of you not familiar with “Pigeons,” they are defined here as creatures that fly in, crap everywhere, make a huge mess while trying to nest in your space, wreak total havoc on everything and everyone around them, and are extremely complicated to eradicate. Any horse owner will tell you that pigeons are a nightmare if they set up shop in your barn. Once they are in, they are nearly impossible to get rid of and cause a type of frustration that is beyond measure. Sadly, there are people that behave like pigeons; everybody knows one and every family has a few. Pigeons appear in our lives in many forms.

But I digress. How does one find forgiveness when the actions of others are truly deemed unforgivable, especially those that are narcissistic in nature and take place within hours and days of your spouse passing away? Dealing with these “pigeons” is an overwhelming burden that breaks you mentally and physically when their wants and expectations are unfairly placed upon you when you’re trying to grieve, understand, and accept an insurmountable loss that is beyond comprehension.

Grief is a difficult journey, and I have learned that forgiveness does go hand in hand with it. But let me be clear – I am not going to sit here and preach the old “forgive and forget” adage. Not even remotely! If you are looking for that kind of writing about “forgiveness,” what I have to say here probably isn’t for you and we will have to agree to disagree.

My thoughts on forgiveness are quite different. Quite frankly, if you have a grudge against somebody, go ahead and hold it if you want to. It is yours, after all. I say this because there are circumstances where a grudge is warranted and can be healthy, specifically if forgiveness is simply going to open a door that allows the same abusive behavior to take place repeatedly without any change. I don’t see the point in forgiving someone if they aren’t sorry, and in my particular experience, the “pigeons” hassling me after my husband’s passing are repeat offenders and they are not sorry for their behavior. I have learned the hard way that not everyone has remorse for their actions. Furthermore, there are some doors that are meant to be closed and it can be healthier if this occurs and it stays that way.  Why allow the “pigeons” back in if you finally have their crap cleaned up?

So how do you find forgiveness? For me, I had to find the type of forgiveness that would allow me to accept the situation “as is” and move forward in peace.  Forgiveness was (and still is) a difficult journey that has required a lot of introspection. I wholeheartedly admit that I tend to be very hard on myself. I beat myself up internally for my flaws and imperfections. I acknowledge that I am my own worst critic, and I do tend to allow the negativity of others to have space in my head sometimes. Unfortunately, other people know this and take advantage of it. Acknowledging this about myself has allowed me to move forward in a positive manner with respect to my feelings about the “pigeons” that were wreaking havoc in my life amidst the tragedy of my husband’s passing. 

While I cannot, and likely never will, forgive the “pigeons” themselves for their inappropriate behavior, I do forgive myself for not setting boundaries with them and standing up for myself sooner. I thought I was being a good person by showing them kindness and tolerating unacceptable behavior that was a norm for them. Instead, I was enabling them, something I didn’t realize at the time but can see clearly now. Looking back, I should have set boundaries with them years ago instead of allowing myself to be bullied for years on end. I was continually criticized, put down, disrespected, made fun of to my face and behind my back, and belittled. While this sounds like some bad childhood trauma, it wasn’t. I was an adult, and I allowed this to happen. I often look back and wish that I had been a stronger person. However, it was easier at the time to try to blend in with the wall paper than it was to defend myself and set firm boundaries that didn’t allow this to happen. It was too uncomfortable to set boundaries, so instead, I endured things I never should have and paid a high price for it with my health and sanity later.

Sadly, there were times I used to resent my husband for not defending me. Looking back, I realize he was in a difficult position – defending me would mean setting boundaries that made him uncomfortable, and let’s face it – it would mean starting an endless battle that couldn’t be won on dysfunctional ground.  For him, it was easier to try to make a joke and diffuse the situation, a talent my husband had in spades that I can only dream of possessing.  I used to be angry with him for not defending me and trying to play everything off as a joke, but looking back, I understand why he did it. Most importantly, I forgive him. I understand and respect his desire to “keep the peace,” even though it often came at my expense.

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As for finding forgiveness for the young man that killed my husband, that has been extremely difficult too. He expressed remorse in court, and I do think he was sincere. He is also serving time in prison. And while many people may not feel the sentence he received is just, I was steadfast in my resolve to see to it that justice was served. I did my best, as did the amazing people in the office of the district attorney. I am forever grateful for their tireless effort and their kind, caring support throughout the legal process. Justice does not come easy, and I have a new-found respect for the job these people perform every day.  I know it is something I could not do.

For what it is worth, I have learned and accepted that there is the justice you want in your heart and your mind, and there is the justice the court can give you. They are not one and the same. As soon as you can accept the justice the court can offer, you can move forward. It sounds simplistic, but it isn’t. It’s actually a very big step emotionally. The endless hours I spent focusing on justice would now have to be filled with something else. The judge that resided over the case told me this would happen, and he was right.

As I was contemplating forgiveness, my mind kept coming back to one question. I found myself asking if my husband would forgive the young man that ended his life and if he would be accepting of the sentence he received. That question went through my mind repeatedly and robbed me of countless hours of much needed sleep. I thought repeatedly about the remorseful words spoken in court and the sorrow showed by the young man. I also thought about the many mistakes I have made in my life. They are plentiful. I acknowledge I am not a perfect person, nor will I ever be. And as amazing as my husband was, he wasn’t perfect either. No one is.

A few months after the sentencing, I was taking a much-needed walk with my camera at a small lake near my house. I was thinking about forgiveness; I was contemplating my husband and the court case, questioning his acceptance of the verdict and sentencing and wondering if he would have forgiveness.  I was searching my mind for answers when my thoughts were interrupted by a pair of white birds with black winged tips swooping down to land in the water in front of me.

Instinctively, I picked up my camera and started snapping away, not caring what type of birds I was photographing. The birds reminded me of a pair of figure skaters on ice, their wings moving in sync as they glided onto the surface of the smooth water. A few moments later, I realized what I had just taken pictures of – Pelicans. I was photographing Pelicans! Tears filled my eyes as I watched the birds swimming in the water. I knew then I had my answer from my husband, sent from above on the wings of Pelicans – forgiveness, acceptance, and perhaps even peace.

I have learned that forgiveness is a rather powerful entity. I have forgiven myself for a lot of past mistakes. I’m also trying to be less critical and harsh on myself. What can I say? Old habits are hard to break. I have learned to forgive myself for feeling broken, having moments of weakness, and being too trusting of people with less than honorable intentions. I like to think that there is good in everyone, and that is a principle I still try to embrace, although reality has punched me and my naivety in the face with that one more than once. All creatures exist for a reason, even pigeons. I forgive myself for not setting boundaries in the past, and I am working on being strong enough to set boundaries now when they are needed.

I am learning to forgive myself, and as crazy as it sounds, the pelicans are leading the way. Now when I see the pelicans, they are a sight of beauty and peace for me. They also serve as a reminder that forgiveness starts from within.

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