Recently, I was scanning a letter I wrote for typos, and I paused at the sight of my own name: Erica.
It’s a nice name, and I’m glad it was given to me, but as I gazed at it I could think of only one thing—how it was used to torture me.
When I was eight, my family moved to England, to a small village outside of Nottingham called Attenborough. Had I been an adult, this charming and picturesque burg would have satisfied a lot of travel fantasies, including living in an ancient house populated by ghosts, collecting eggs from the warm underbellies of privately owned chickens, and having a quince bush in my yard.
Being a mere eight, however, I was thrown into the company of 40 other children in a two room school, none of whom seemed to have traveled as far as London. My very American self was an affront to them, and they let me know about it loud and clear, but calling me “Erica America” with enthusiastic cruelty.
Now, this may not sound like much of an insult to you, and in the grand scheme of things it isn’t, but it’s all in the delivery, and these kids had dug deep to come up with the most hurtful insult they could. Awash in their malice, those words hurt as badly as if they had just called me “American Lice”, which they would ultimately do, but not for another year or so.
These children are, obviously, no longer children now. But somewhere in their psyches remains the experience of having been hateful, as all the things each of of do remain in each of our psyches whether we remember them or not.
Perversely, I feel bad about this. That my presence should have created such an energy.
Also, I would have imagined that those old mean words were powerless over me now, but clearly I am mistaken. If the first thing that comes to my mind when I see my own name is a 35 year old insult, there’s still something going on.
So now, I will release it.
Dear children of Attenborough, I forgive you. With all my heart and soul, I wish you blessings and light.
There are others whom I need to forgive as well.
To the neighborhood kids who threw worms at me at the bus stop in Medfield, I forgive you.
To the boys whole stole the first love letter I ever wrote from the boy I wrote it to, and read it to all the other boys in the gym locker room, humiliating us both, I forgive you.
To the girls in seventh grade who laughed at me because my clothes were homemade or from Sears, I forgive you.
To the boy with whom I shared my first kiss, who subsequently tried to rape me, I forgive you.
To my best friend from high school, who randomly stopped taking my calls and started spreading horrible rumors about me causing me to lose my first job and several other friends as well, I forgive you.
To my ex-boyfriend, who introduced me to cocaine and threw my bird out the window and cheated on me because I “deserved it”, who took all my money and laughed when we were evicted from my apartment, who let me go to jail for him and who threatened to kill me, I forgive you.
To my dad, who was never as interested in me as he was in himself, I forgive you.
And to me, for allowing myself to be victimized and used, I forgive you.
For all of us I wish blessings and light with all my heart. To anybody I may have hurt, on purpose or inadvertently, I wish you blessings and light. I wish that we all be released from the shackles of the past, and from the human weakness which caused our destructive stumbling.
In yoga we learn that only the present moment is reality, though the present moment is of course (unless you are enlightened, which I am not), always infused to some degree by samskaras—impressions from the past.
But forgiveness allows us to begin to let go of the past so that we can stop living there. By letting go, we bring ourselves into now. Now is where our ghosts don’t haunt us, where we have freedom and power, where we are able to breathe.
Imagine you are in a car, speeding down the highway. You are loaded to the gills with stuff; suitcases tied to the roof, bags of clothes stuffed into every crevice of the interior, garbage all over the floors, bikes strapped on to your bumper. Without warning, everything begins to come loose. The suitcases fly off, the bikes become dislodged, crashing to the side of the road. You roll the windows down and your clothes and all the empty cups and cans and food wrappers fly out, everything disintegrating once it hits the open air. The wind whips your hair around your face and you inhale deeply. The smell of corn stalks and newly cut grass wash over you. Your car travels faster, and you can see out the back clearly now, your view is unobstructed. You feel that you can go wherever it is you desire and your face opens into a broad smile.
That is what forgiveness feels like. And I’m going on a road trip today.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise