What would have to happen before you could love your enemy?
I was asked this question several months ago. Is it possible to get beyond my own resentment against a person to find their humanity, and thereby demonstrate my empathy, sympathy, or even kindness? Could I love my enemy?
Many religions preach the virtue of forgiveness, of practicing peace, of turning the other cheek. I get it – it’s a good thing to do, it’s the right thing to do, it’s what a loving God does, yeah yeah yeah, I get it. But I’m not God and I’m entirely mortal and sometimes I just want to revel in my flawed humanity and be pissed off and judgmental. And, as I have previously written in this blog, sometimes I just want to hate.
But the question remained: can I ever show love for someone I have chosen to hate? Can I rise above the animosity and resentment and reach a level of grace or kindness for someone I absolutely despise?
I had thought no, I can’t demonstrate kindness to my enemy. I thought the best I could do would be to just leave him alone; to not wish him any particular harm; to just see him and his actions another way. I thought that was the best I could do, and I was pretty sure I was right – I could never do more than that. Not creating any “wreckage of the present” by saying or doing things I will regret was the highest level of my ability to show any courtesy, acknowledgment, or respect to my enemy.
I call him my enemy, but that’s a bit of melodrama. He’s just a man. An average, everyday, flawed creature just like me. I’ve called him other names — boy, have I called him names. I’ve called him just about every name in the book. But he’s just a man. Any greater significance assigned to him by me is just a measure of my own obsessive thoughts. My “enemy” is just a man. I used to call him my friend.
The details are unimportant, and the data is simple: a friendship that spanned 20 years was undone by one man’s choice. One man made a choice, and another man was hurt by it. Unremarkable, really – happens a million times a day on this planet. The only thing “remarkable” here is that it involved me – and since I’m the one writing this blog, I can blow it way the hell out of proportion and add all manner of dark and sinister shadows to the story to spin it in my favor, to cast the other man as the villain and provide multiple forms of character assassination, but when you take away the smoke and mirrors, you basically have two men, one choice, and a 20-year friendship that was collateral damage.
It’s probably obvious that I was the one who experienced pain as a result of the choice made – I don’t think anyone reading this blog is surprised by that. In my earlier post, “A Flourish of Hate”, I wrote about the burning wrath that nearly did me in. That deadly sin poisoned my mind and turned my world to black. A “sin”, says my friend Rich, is simply something that takes us away from God, and I saw firsthand that there was no room in my heart for God when I was dwelling in wrath. “A heart cannot be grateful and hateful at the same time”, I heard it said, and I came to know this as the truth.
The flame of that hate was directed at this man who was no longer my friend, but I was the one who was torched by it, who was burned from it, who tasted bitter ashes as a result of it. I finally reached a point where I realized this was happening, and I decided that I was not going to let that one choice burn me anymore. I was given the power to see it another way, and I finally let go and moved on. But the man –while finally seen as being nothing more than the ordinary man that he is– was still banished to the dark corner of my heart, and he was locked there like a political prisoner in a gulag.
Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. Life got up, and life went on, and eventually I reached a place where I no longer thought of the man with venom and fury. I was actually starting to recognize that, while I would not have made the choice he made, I benefitted from his choice. I could see how the man had actually done me a favor. Sunlight entered the dark corner of the heart, and while he was never officially released from the gulag, the door was unlocked and he was free to go.
Today I learned that this man, who was once my friend but is now just a man, has leukemia.
The news shocked me, and much to my surprise, the news saddened me. I had thought that I was beyond all sense of caring for this man, that I was past anything resembling concern for his well-being. I had stopped denying his humanness, but I hadn’t started affirming it. He was just in a sort of limbo, beyond reach, out of sight, out of mind, out of heart.
But the sadness I felt upon hearing the news – my first thought was literally, “Oh no, not that”. And despite the nasty voice (the one belonging to Attila, the demonic little pissant that is my lower self) saying things like “Karma is a bitch, isn’t it?”, the true and prevailing voice – the voice of my Higher Self – was one of sadness, of sympathy. I was friends with this man for 20 years – that either means that there is something good in him, or I’m just a really poor judge of character. I’m a good judge of character, and for 20 years I judged this man as good and decent and worthy of friendship.
Is this what it takes? Does it take a potential death sentence to get through to me that life is far too short to hate? Does it require envisioning the grief of his children mourning their Dad to get me to wake up to the fact that every man is deserving of a second chance? Do I need to be faced with sadness and loss before I am willing to forgive as I am forgiven? What more will it take for me to fully and truly forgive this man?
I don’t want to see this man dead, as I once did. I don’t want him to die a painful, agonizing death, as I once did. I don’t want him to vanish from the earth, as I once did. I have been granted the ability to reduce my hatred. But can it be eliminated entirely? Can I empty my heart of the hatred I have held for this man?
A heart cannot be grateful and hateful at the same time…
Can I love this man as my friend, as I had for two decades? Can I forgive him for being human and making a choice that I would not have made? Can I stop blaming him and wrongly identifying him as the source of the great pain that I felt? Can I recognize that God’s will is being done in both of our lives?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. But the truth is, today I don’t want him to die, and that is progress. I have been shown this far – I can ask to be shown the rest of the way. More will be revealed.
I do know this: it is time for me to lay down the heavy baggage that is hate, and just watch the blinking lights.