Gifts Robin Gave Me, Part 2

A faux Essence Magazine cover I created for Robin a few years ago. She loved it so much, she had it printed and framed in her house. We used it as the cover for the program of her memorial service.[Word count: 653. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

In Part 1, I detailed how Robin’s death worked to free me from shackles I didn’t even know I was wearing. That would have been good enough. But there was one more gift… inside a gift inside a gift, like a Russian nesting doll.

1.

It began as a reunion with an estranged friend while at the hospital. Paris* and I hadn’t had a good conversation in years. After her divorce, she left the church we all co-founded together in a cloud of petty rumors, resentment, and hurt. I didn’t know any better, so I let her drift tacitly away.

But the time of reckoning had come for us both. I was at the hospital because of an unspoken promise to Robin. And Paris had a crippling fear of anything to do with death. While sitting around a hospital bed, we caught up, laughed, prayed, worshipped, and watched Robin’s breath go from shallow to imperceptible.

The memorial was beautiful. No casket. Just portraits of Robin proudly perched on easels. It was harrowing though. Afterward, we were emotionally rubbed raw. Paris asked me for a ride home, so we could enjoy a comfortable silence.

But silence gave way to small talk. I forgot how much I missed my old friend. The small talk got bigger. The big talk got humongous. And years of friendship in limbo gave way to hours of clarifying conversations. Confronting untruths. Dispelling myths. Comparing revelations. Making apologies. And healing wounds.

2.

Among wounds to be healed, Paris brought up my years-old falling out with our friend Morris.* Read “A Prelude to Forgiveness,” and you’ll notice I have a very good grasp on things necessary to forgive someone. The problem is, I just couldn’t do them. Proverbs 18:19 says “an offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.” If we were separated by locked gates, I was as locked in as Moe was locked out.

“So much hurt and preservation
like a tendril ‘round my soul…
Everything in me is tightening
Curling in around this pain.”
Sara Groves, “Like a Lake”

Like the involuntary constriction of muscle during electric shock, I could not stop my hand from curling in around the offense. When I needed help, the friend I trusted like a brother threw me under the bus. So I shut down. And like layers of skin compounding on a keloid scar, in protecting myself I had created something ugly.

“How long can you stay with your heart in the fire?
With hurt locked away? Where nobody wins?”
Crystal Lewis, “Give It To Jesus”

A Swedish proverb says: “Love me when I least deserve it because that is when I really need it.” Paris asked if I could do that for Morris. My usual answer? “Hell no.” But it was like God was hovering over that moment, gently massaging my clinched fist open in a way I couldn’t. The friend I’d come to know as an enemy and a foreigner, turned back into something I recognize. Someone who needed grace and kindness. Someone worthy of compassion.

3.

It was enough miracle to forgive Morris, because despite wanting to, praying to, and trying to, I could not manage to. But immediately, the unexpected came. Tension pulled away from the yoke of my back, as if a backpack had come undone letting all the heaviness slide out. I am as hard on others as I am on myself. But giving myself permission to be easier on him, gave me permission to be easier on me. Forgiving him freed me.

I had no way of knowing all of this treasure was tucked inside Robin’s passing. I had mostly stopped praying before, but in the last couple weeks of Robin’s life, I collected enough faith to ask: “Lord, please let something very good come from this.” I consider that prayer answered.

***

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* NOTE: Names have been changed.
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