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6527212 September 29, 2008

Do a Conroy

New Word of the Day: con·roy [kon-roh-ee]: A coping mechanism characterized by a unique blend of forgiveness and creativity that enables one to simultaneously hate and love negative experiences, and utilize them in a tangible, positive way despite occasional lapses into unavoidable despair.

If you don’t have anything to forgive or to be forgiven for, you’re either under the age of twelve, have suffered a tragic memory loss, or lack an intellectual or emotional circuit or two. If so, you just may be the lucky one. Forgiveness is tricky. There are all kinds of long-standing cultural and philosophical messages on the topic. On the one hand, we’re supposed to forgive and forget. On the other, we’re instructed to forgive without forgetting. We’re expected to escape our painful emotions once the forgiveness deed is done, yet we’re often reminded that there are some experiences we will never fully overcome. We’re advised to find a special place for those lasting gems in the present. We’ve heard that we must take responsibility for our part in the scenario under scrutiny. Moving forward, we should miraculously communicate on a new level with those washed clean by our forgiveness. Oh, we’re also supposed to be grateful when someone informs us of their willingness to forgive.

So why does forgiveness sometimes feel like a dig?

“I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you for all the horrific, horrible injustices that you’ve done to me (you horrific, horrible scumbag, you).”

That’s my cue to drop a tear, smile, and say, “Thank you. Thank you,” while I sit and wonder what I did that was so horrific. I’m expected to take responsibility for being horrible? “Horrific is a strong word. Can you define that?”

Geez! Now I’ve got to forgive you for believing I’m a horrible, horrific person when I was simply doing the best I could at being myself.

How confusing! It may seem superficial but it’s gnawing and painful, especially when it involves those we love. It’s an emotional quagmire that can choke, stunt, and blind us if we’re not careful. The vast scenarios of forgiveness are deep and scattered. Sometimes they make sense and sometimes they don’t. Some describe their miraculous ability to forgive as heaven sent. For others, it seems that an intense focus on forgiveness involves a bit of narcissism—the world and all conversations center on their lives, their emotions, their needs. The forgiveness topic becomes yet another tool for digging out their self pity, and for discussing what they are owed and what they need. They seem to take comfort in begging forgiveness or in the act, whether it’s theirs or mine. Does watching me wallow in pain provide a fix for these people? Does studying my squirming guts provide some sort of validation that they are loved and worth my deepest emotions? That isn’t the machinations of forgiveness, my friend. That is narcissism dressed in the garb of absolution. It’s another crafty, insidious form of abuse in my opinion.

Sometimes I’d like to do a Dr. Phil and yell, “Get over it!” I’ve certainly said it to myself. Then I was accused of not dealing with the pain, and avoiding conflict, the discomfort of the needed conversation, and the remorse, etc.

My current role model for forgiveness is Pat Conroy, one of my favorite writers. Mr. Conroy does not shy away from his grief and rage. He recognizes its usefulness and beauty in the larger picture of his life. He found a way to love it for exactly what it is; he is grateful for it. He is the namesake and a poster child for the new definition of conroy. Pulling a conroy is an option found outside Dr. Phil’s get over it box.

I wish I could give the gift of conroy to a few folks out there. I wish they could enjoy both the pain and pleasure of the human condition, and understand how these can intertwine to create a life that is much richer and full bodied than one resulting from silver spoons, unfailing parents, perfect dialogue, ponytails in bows, and laughing boys with frogs in their pockets in the perfect yards of perfect homes on perfect streets. I’d rather have a hundred losing seasons than one long, stretched out perfect day. If you could reconstruct your life to be exactly what you wanted, who would you be? Would you be a smile in a snapshot, a one-dimensional paper doll that can be all things to all people? What would fill you up?

There are no paper doll wishes for Pat Conroy and me. We want to tear out our guts until we see every piece and side. We want to spread them over the perfection in our lives to fully comprehend the contrast, see the dips and falls and edges, and increase the surface area. We want to feel every emotion and understand how we might use them. Sure, we want forgiveness. We don’t want to hurt anyone. We don’t need anyone to watch us spread it all out; we just need that for ourselves. It is both a curse and a blessing, the crowning dichotomy of my life.

To some this may sound like torture. It may even sound like another form of narcissism. But it’s important to understand the complexity of the human spirit. My goals are multi-layered; it’s all a balance, a dance, and a playing out of all the compartments in my mind. Like Shrek and onions, I have layers. Surely I’m not the only one who can experience multiple emotions, run after multiple goals, think multiple thoughts, and believe and dissect multiple concepts at once? That is my definition of life, and when mine is over, I want to be sure that I‘ve experienced all that my human nature is capable of.

I was born the year of Pat Conroy’s losing season. He doesn’t know about me and the similarities we share. However, when he finds himself inside those losing moments, days, and seasons that haunt him still, I hope he’ll sense that I am here, waiting for his next book, the next set of words he finds to define himself. His ability to forgive, forget, remember, and create inspires me to do the same. I hope to shake his hand one day. In the meantime, I will continue to sort, dig, evolve, and create what I can from my own seasons of loss.

I will do a conroy.

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