In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in the world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kruschev sent Kennedy a confidential letter that offered terms that would allow both countries to back down without shame. He wrote, "If you have not lost your self-control, we and you ought now to pull both ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war." Good stuff, right? However, very soon after receiving this note, Kennedy received a second, more public note that had clearly been influenced by Communist hardliners that insisted on terms Kennedy would not be able to accept.
What did his advisers tell him to do?
Ignore the second note.
All is not well on the in-law front. After an initial wash of good-will, we've received several messages full of desires for our wedding and protests regarding Passover at our house. Each time, he and I have come together to draft a response that is honest, respectful and that sets boundaries. This has generally involved much cursing and shouting in private on my part but the responses that we've sent out haven't reflected that. We have asked for space and time to plan the wedding in a way that is joyful and manageable to us. I have explained my struggle to feel good about a second wedding. We have lined out what we are willing to do and invited them to help or do for themselves whatever they need to.
Each time we went back to them to say, "No, but thank you," we've received silence in response, even when it was a genuinely vulnerable email about my struggles.
That hurts a little. It also hurts to think that they don't seem to be considering how their behavior will make me feel, or if they have considered, they don't care.
I'm over here busting my butt to be gracious and accommodating and honest so that we can get through this awkward phase of not really knowing one another because I know that this awkward phase will set a precedent for the rest of our lives together. It's the unfortunate paradox of marriage. Early hurts stick with us for a long time.
So Jacob has done a really nice job of supporting me and keeping the strength of our relationship as a top priority. Part of that has involved trying to explain WHY his parents are behaving like they are. And he's persistent about it. After about seven hundred times of listening to me say, "No, they're doing this because they don't like that some shiksa is marrying their son! They don't like me!" he still patiently explains about their faith and their life story. After about seventy times seven conversations, I finally got it.
I'm not really being very gracious at all.
I'm responding like a defensive teenager who doesn't really believe that she's worth being loved. I am acting grace-less. I am forgetting that God loves me with a love so bright that it washes out any other love like the sun washes out a candle. With that in mind, I can reflect that grace by listening to their life stories and trying to respect their spiritual insecurities. I can ignore the second letter that was influenced by their fears and act as if I've only received the first letter that longed for reconciliation.
Recently, some new friends asked about my divorce and as I launched into the familiar story, I found that I was a little rusty. It was especially patchy when I got to the part about not taking vengeance by revealing his lies to his parents and friends and mistress because I believed that forgiveness would actually heal me in the long-term. I even said, "Wow, I had totally forgotten about this." But it was such a huge part of my identity then. The advice I always give to people in turmoil like a divorce is, "Picture the person you want to be when you have walked out the other end of this storm. Now make your decisions as if you are that person already." It's not reasonable to think that they will feel like that person, but actions can be controlled and eventually, emotions follow.
I need to start seeing myself as a forgiving person again.
I think the added bonus to this is that it might pull every muddled thing in my life into line with it. Because let's face it, my life is in tumult right now. I'm trying to graduate and working as a full-time student. I work at a job 2 days a week. I'm giving any extra time to keeping my church from having to close for lack of funds. I'm navigating a life-changing relationship and trying not to screw up too much. I moved. I am trying to keep a kosher home. I have two close friends and a cousin getting married and three friends having babies and they all need time, celebration and presents. I'm over-weight and trying to figure out how to exercise and diet without being the world's biggest bitch for several weeks because I'm hungry. I want to support my fiance as he struggles with his job. I desperately want to sit down for tea with my friends (or chase their children around parks) more than once every three months. I'm half of a wedding planning team and I'm failing at holding up my end of the work.
I keep saying to Jacob, "This just doesn't feel like my life yet."
Maybe I should take my own advice about picturing the other end of the storm. And this is why I am grateful to my in-laws. By interacting with them, I hit bottom with regards to forgetting my identity. And now I know which way is up.
I want to be a person who is full of grace. I want to be a person who makes safe spaces for the insecurities of others. I want to be a person who makes other people feel welcome in my home and my life. I want to be a person who sacrifices her own wants to take care of other people's underlying needs.
I should start acting like that person now and then when the storm is over, I will actually be that person.
The Christian story appeals to me because it is about sacrifice and forgiveness. It says that because God became a human and accomplished both sacrifice and forgiveness, then I am capable of it also. We are neither angels nor worms but something in between and there is hope in that.
I will be like Nick in the Great Gatsby and remember that not everyone has had the advantages that I have had. Because I want to be a person who does not criticize. I will ignore the second letter.
Grace and peace to you, friends.