Forgiving but not Forgetting

“Forgive and forget,” this was a common phrase I would hear growing up. That, in order to truly know that you have forgiven another person, you need to have forgotten the anger and the crime committed against you. Most importantly, it was the thing good people did. I wanted to be a good person.

Eventually, I realized that sometimes you just have to forgive even if you can’t totally forget. Or, better yet, that forgetting is a gift and a grace from God. There were days when I prayed so hard, I thought my heart would stop from all my longing, “Lord, please let me forget. Please wipe away my memory. Please let me move on with life without this memory.”

The brain is such a curious thing. As I was with friends yesterday, they mentioned one time we went on a trip. I happily recalled the trip, and yet had a feeling that I was forgetting something, an inconsistency in the memory. One friend pointed out that so-and-so was also on that trip– someone whom I had cut out of my life.

I was more amazed by the fact that the memory seemed intact. I still remembered the food, the smells, the seating arrangement. But with this person completely cut out of the memory. All that was left was this strange feeling that there was someone else in that day trip.

The brain really has funny ways of helping us cope.

In any case, when this was brought up, I could laugh it off. In the past, I would feel so bad for days about remembering anything related to that person. I remain perplexed with how my memory had re-written itself yesterday. There are so many ways that our selves try to cope with the difficulties of life and of traumatic situations that maybe it will take a whole person’s lifetime just to have a glimpse of what the human mind is truly like. Perhaps, my prayer was answered in a slow, incremental process of retaining the essential happy memories.

I have a long way to go, but at least for the past two years, I’ve learned so much about what forgiveness is like and how we can easily enclose and choke ourselves when we choose not to forgive. I had to move on because of the realization that life will pass me by, and that wonderful opportunities will go unnoticed simply because I am too caught up in the thought of retribution.

I can’t say that I’ve completely forgiven– to the point that I can befriend that person again. I’m not sure if that’s part of the equation even… I don’t want it to be.

For now, it’s enough that I don’t want to harm those who have hurt me. Eventually, I might actually get around to actually hoping for their authentic happiness.

So if you ask me– forgiving is possible without forgetting. I think that’s part of the point, otherwise we fall into the same trap again.

 

 

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Processing through Distancing

Everyone goes through some kind of trouble or emotional tragedy in the course of their lives. Some might even be carrying the burden of having to deal with emotional scars all through their life, uncertain with how to process the trauma or, alternatively distract themselves from confronting the actual issue.

On my end, I’ve found that it’s easier to see the problem by creating distance, and perhaps finding other people who have the same problem. Rather than going into analyzing my own actions and creating standards for myself, comparing the experience of other people helps a lot because it levels expectations on myself as well.

Sometimes, it turns out that what I perceived to be a problem is actually not a problem at all. An MBTI reading said that my type (INFJ) tends to isolate themselves, and feel isolated, because the perceived issues are not easily understandable to other people, even though I might feel very deeply about it.

I realized that not taking myself seriously was one way to ease the burden of feeling isolated. It also helped at lot to simply ask others what was on my mind when I wasn’t sure, rather than being afraid to upset them with my question. Other times, that exercise also made me wonder if I ever really took myself seriously anymore.

Lately, I’ve been wondering how much of these anxieties are imagined. I felt like being busy and a workaholic was one way to keep the feelings at bay; I’ve slowly been unraveling all these insecurities which I never quite processed… and things are making sense, thankfully. At the end of all that processing though, I still need a goal or a possible direction. I think that’s what I need to work on now; the feeling that my wants and needs are just as significant as other people’s.

How do you make work purposeful, without making it the entire purpose of your life?

Reading Out Loud

When asked if I was willing to take on a teaching assignment, I thought that it was the best offer I had been given in a while. I said YES immediately, looking forward to this class, because it was a topic close to my heart (Literature) and with a group of students that I had taught before. They were insightful, curious, but most of all, not readily resistant to new ideas. It was a perfect semester ahead of me– full of ideas and curious questions and great reads.

It was not until the later meetings that a colleague suggested that I should change my approach. Though I was surprised at first by the suggestion, it greatly changed the quality of insights that students would share with the class.

Her advice was to read with the class, and to read passages out loud.

By this, it also meant that it had to be ME who read these passages, rather than what I’d gotten used to, which is to ask students to read the passage.

One thing that I realized was that students will definitely read the text and that it usually wakes them up… but that I can always expect some awkwardness and hesitance with some words. This time around, I had to take on that awkward situation and read the material in the way that I thought it should be read.

At first, while I was hesitant, I eventually grew to appreciate this approach to literature. The quality of insights changed, and became more introspective. I’d like to think that it was not only because other insights would be shared, but perhaps because putting sound and feeling into the words on paper also changed its meaning. It could have also been because there was time to think since there was less nervousness about being asked to read out loud (or maybe that’s just the introvert in me making this excuse).

Teaching Literature this past semester has taught me that there is so much more to teaching in this discipline than I expected. Initially, a good storyline and well-developed characters would be the sure way that I would keep reading a book. In recent years, I realized that another element to literature is terseness, or the exactness of words to convey an idea or experience. That’s where I find the excellent writers set apart– in the amount of editing to find the exact words for extremely complex human thoughts and experiences (or perhaps even for extremely simple ones).

Great literature has a way of creating connections between otherwise unrelated concepts, emphasizing one word or phrase so that the subtext becomes even louder. All together, these communicate a distinctly human trait– that human beings can  and will want more than what the animal self can be complacent with.

Since the second semester, I had also been telling students to read their paper out loud when they’re in the process of editing it. I find myself needing to follow the same advice, even if at times my arrogance can sometimes get ahead of me and say that I have learned to write much better (of course not, no one is exempt from proof-reading).

Reading out loud is such a simple advice to follow, but how it’s changed the way I see and think about things!

 

How to write off friends

In college, I got writing papers down to a science.

Even if I didn’t feel like writing, I could somehow manage a five-page research paper that could get me a higher-than-average score. I also managed to make some extra income by writing blog posts about paid ads… which lasted just enough for me to buy my long-coveted PSP.

On the other hand, all that writing also required focus– the kind that meant turning down parties or time with friends outside of class.

It didn’t feel so bad then to choose work over friends. I knew that they would understand. In any case, if they didn’t understand, I felt no greater need to keep them as friends– they were always free to go, always free to return. I couldn’t absorb the idea of friendship meaning giving up my own priorities, or me demanding that they give up theirs.

It wasn’t until I graduated and began working that I had to re-think how I kept my friendships intact. Much of it began as an indebtedness, while others were necessary for work to remain smooth. At this point, it was unquestionable to me that there were times when I needed to give up work in order to maintain some friendships.

You know how some things become so commonplace, that you don’t give it much thought anymore?

That’s what happened to me in the next couple of years. My work became my life, and my friendships, or what I understood to be friendships, defined me. Unimaginable to me today, but at the time I couldn’t see a future where I was without specific friends in my life. I slowly became a workaholic– but the kind that used it to maintain friendships. Not being able to perform well on a task or turning down a favor meant severing a good friendship.

It wasn’t until last year that I had regained my sense of self, by acknowledging that I had reached my limit. It’s an unnerving feeling to look at yourself in the mirror and not recognize the person. But even more unnerving was how I would say it didn’t matter, because there was so much more work that needed to be done and needed doing.

My family knew how much work meant to me. They left me alone when they saw me at my desk on weekends, and were enthusiastic enough to watch Youtube videos I indulged in when I actually took breaks.

Recently, my sister told me how work defined me. She figured I was that kind of person who thought about work more than anyone else did.

So what changed?

For one, I realized that it wasn’t like I worked at a competitive, multi-national corporation. I was in the academe, and the pay was going to be pretty much the same as everyone at my ranking. So what was making me work weekends, if I’ve pretty much delivered what was expected of me and of everyone else?

I started losing friends. Well, maybe not losing more than it was that they realized I had changed, and perhaps that I actually got angry for once. I learned to walk away from the demands and the blackmail, and realized that they needed me more than I needed them. I learned that friends whom you practically gave most your life over wouldn’t think twice about dropping you when you start setting boundaries for yourself.

I needed to learn to pick my friends better. And, more often than not, they were friends for a cause and an end. While I couldn’t absorb that kind of shallow friendship in the past, my older self has learned to be grateful that friendship can and should be compartmentalized. I don’t mean this in order to enable you to use people (although I’ve also read up about people who are very good at doing this), but so that you can keep yourself healthy and intact in relationships. Friends should not demand access to your inner world, or that you trust them– that sort of thing happens over time, and with communication.

While I’m sure that I’ve had my own lack in being a good friend, I know that life is passing quickly with my poor choices. Ever since I’ve been having some “spring cleaning” in my relationships, I’ve learned to appreciate my individuality better. And, though I never thought it could happen before, I actually found friends who have the same eccentricities that I do.

Writing off friendships doesn’t have to be the worst thing in the world. Sometimes, it frees you and clears your blindness to experience better friendships.

The Future

We had class yesterday. North America in the 19th century. Transcendentalism, frontier and the pioneer spirit.

I live in Manila. I am a college instructor. Lately, shifts in our educational system have made teaching more demanding, shifting more pressure for professors to document the learning curve….

Exams have to be measurable, do-able, reasonable. Work progress, predictable. No homework on weekends. Be mindful of students with special needs. Meanwhile, I also need to keep researching and studying as well.

In college, I was taught to think outside of the box. That, if I wanted to soar or at least make sense of this existence, I needed to expect problems before they happened. Teachers could flunk me on the basis of being asleep in class… never mind if I had to stay up late to complete assignments. Asking why my grade was low was such a difficult thing to do because I needed to figure this out on my own.

As a teacher now, I need to remember that I simply facilitate the discussion. There are no wrong answers… or maybe there are… just don’t make them feel horrible about it. Classroom discipline is needed, and this is my weak point. I forget that most of the time, students are not as interested to learn as they are to get the highest grade with the least effort.

I was trained to assume that nothing worthwhile ever comes easily. This meant, taking the brunt from the boss to staying quiet because it would be rude to speak up. You get to speak when you have established yourself somehow, or at least have a good backer.

Everyone has an opinion now, and curtailing that chance to speak– in any way — is offensive and a disregard of an individual’s rights.

They are very particular about rights; I hear nothing about taking responsibility.

I became a teacher, dreaming of a Manila that would be more intellectual. A place where conversation could take place without anyone getting hurt or dying. Where emotions could be safely kept in order so that the other can be heard better. I believed that teaching would be the best way to reach young minds, and was eager to share what I knew about the world so far.

I dreamt of Emerson, the pioneers, the spirit that pushed a civilization forward while they pushed others aside. They achieved their goal of changing the world, including mine. They became part of my ruined country’s history, they are still the gods to us, and that land is still where many Filipinos hope to find better futures.

After class yesterday, a student expressed her disappointment with her drink. She asked if I felt the same sometimes when the drink I bought did not meet my expectations or feel worth its cost.

I thought that it was such a petty problem. And I found myself hoping that they could weather greater problems than a sub-par beverage someday.

 

 

2018 Resolutions (again)

2017 was a rollercoaster kind of year.

There were so many disruptions, unexpected changes, political events… to an extent, it almost appeared absurd that many of these things were even happening. I’m not going to dwell on these things in this post, however.

While there were many instances for me to just give up and accept defeat, there were also insights and opportunities that gave me the privilege to enjoy life and what else it had to offer. Perhaps because of the resolutions I made for 2017, I had subconsciously decided to focus on my own challenges and duties than on what is going on in the internet world or what the media would report. There was just so much that needed to be done, that it became clear that there really was nothing that I could do— as much as I hoped that I could— for these events outside and far away from me.

All I had was my community, my immediate circles, and myself to deal with.

In hindsight, that’s actually a lot of influence right there. I don’t mean social media influence either, but actual interaction. The need to be in the moment and to absorb what can and cannot be done with my limited time.

Because of the challenges that 2017 presented to me, I realise that 2018 should be about focusing on what needs to be done… to rebuild boundaries and to challenge myself to say no and accept that I will be criticized for my new behaviour.

I think I got a taste of what this challenge would mean, just this past week. It takes a while for people to get used to a “new you”, when they’ve been used to a version of you that they didn’t really need to get to know or to take care of… someone who was fun to be with and agreed to everything that needed to be done. Most especially, someone who used to change themselves readily to fit into any given situation.

Now that I’m learning to say “no”, or to offer some resistance to things I actually don’t want to do, it’s been more obvious that people are surprised by this behaviour.

While it’s made more relationships a little rocky, compared to before, I’ve seen that it also brought out the people who are truly friends. By this, I mean the people who respect me as I am, rather than how I make them feel all the time. People who share common interests but also common values with me.

I’ve also realised how many friendships I had made and kept out of necessity. It’s eye-opening for me that I’d give so much of my time and effort for this level of friendship, too.  I’m not saying that gave more, either (I never thought it should be a competition of affection) but that I sincerely did believe that I valued them as individuals. For that reason, though, a lot of times I did give up my own individuality.

I think 2017 had to teach me about expectations. Both mine and others’ expectations of me. There is no doubt that everyone has expectations, but it’s not very often that people know what they actually want… they’re more likely to criticize or comment on things that did not meet their expectation.

This 2018, I begin my resolutions again… keep at trying to be a better version of me even if I don’t appease everyone all the time. At the same time, know when I need help and have to ask for it.

 

The Magic of Cleaning

2017 is coming to a close, and we’re back to that time of the year when everyone has to re-assess the things that they’ve been doing and where they wanna go in preparation for the coming new year.

Along with these preparations, I’ve downloaded the manga version of Marie Kondo’s (Konmari) “The Art of Tidying Up” and finished reading the whole thing overnight. The next day, I felt this urge to begin reviewing the things in my room, and how much I needed to clean up. This was also the day before I was heading out to Japan with my family and preparations for the trip had pre-occupied my mind more than anything. The cleaning was a welcome break from strategising and managing tempers.

In college, I didn’t really see cleaning as something therapeutic. It wasn’t until grad school that I realised how relaxing it was (sans the scrubbing and sorting and dust bunnies, of course). Reading Konmari’s method has given me an even deeper perspective on how to tidy up, and as she claims no one has gone back after they tried her method of cleaning.

A lot of it has to do with her approach to integrate the act of cleaning with why we keep things. Through her method, you can also imagine why she usually allots two weeks for the whole cleaning-up process (of course, it also depends on how much cleaning needs to get done). From the easiest category (papers, everyday items) to the toughest (things of sentimental value), one must reflect on the significance of the  item in their present life and if it should be part of the future that they want for themselves. It sounds like a tall order, but once you get into the system, you’ll find yourself losing track of time. In my case, it felt like a presentation of my past year, and previous years— how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed. And, on the funnier side, how some things about me have remained the same.

In the end, all that cleaning taught me how to embrace both good and bad parts of myself, while staying hopeful for the road ahead. Funny how cleaning can be such an eye-opener!

Cheers to a productive, positive and focused 2018! 🙂