I've been merrily humming along in my life for the past few months with very few emotional bumps, except, of course, the high of giving birth to and bonding with my new baby son. So it was a bit like getting broadsided when a dear friend, my same age, cornered me at church and asked for help with her 15-year-old daughter (who I had taught for 3 years in Young Women). When she first asked, my heart sank and alarms went off as I prayed, "O, God, don't let her be pregnant! Not her! Not her!"
I breathed a sigh of relief when she said the daughter was just acting out because of some family problems. And then she told me the family problems and my heart sank again (but not as low). The dad has had an affair and been ex-communicated from the church ( he is still coming to church, thank goodness), but the parents have decided to stay together and the daughter is furious at her dad doesn't respect him at all anymore. "She's also mad at me for staying with him," the mom explained further, "and she's just saying and doing things that hurt us and herself. I thought maybe you'd understand and you could just talk to her--she adores you."
Understand? Sister, I am SOOOO feelin' ya. This little incident sent me into a tailspin for about 36 hours (I mean a tailspin in my mind--I continued to function normally and care for my family). It was like those jokester cans of peanuts or whatever, where you open the lid and the snakes go flying everywhere. I thought I had forgiven AND forgotten and healed up all the deep emotional scars from my parents' breakup nearly 18 years ago. But alas--with the right stimulus, the scars can feel like yesterday's cuts. Like the Tanita Tikaram song says, it all came back today (please click on this link and read the lyrics--they are beautiful).
Which begs the question: if the hurt and anger can feel so fresh, have I really forgiven? When I asked myself this, I felt pretty certain that the answer is yes. So the next question is, then why haven't I forgotten? In my understanding of the atonement of Christ (captured eloquently here, and here, and here), he "swallows up" not just the suffering for our own sins, but for the hurt and pain we experience sometimes as a result of someone else's sin. How can the hurt be so ingrained in my "muscle memory" that I cry about this incident as if it had happened in my own family all over again?
[ASIDE--I thought the answer might be this--as explained by Dr. Phil on his show the very next week:
"She will never, ever, ever get over it unless and until she fully and completely believes that you understand what it did to her when you did it. Unless and until she knows that you get it--that you totally understand what it did to her self-esteem, to her heart, to her dreams, to her focus of what life was going to be" (Dr. Phil 11/02).
Part of my problem, I know, is that my mom really doesn't "get it," but now that I am a mom I understand why--if you hurt your kids and then actually thought about it, it would probably kill you. Seriously. One day she will know it and feel it, and she will finally understand why her children have made certain choices---understand that it is a long, long chain of poor choices and emotional damage. But I like my own personal answer even better. Keep reading.]
I took this Young Woman out on a drive after I got my own family settled that Sunday night. We just talked about life in general, and then our families, and then I told her I know how it feels and if it gets to be too much, my ears and my arms and my home and my heart are always open for her. I also told her that this is a time when she can learn to stand on her own two feet as far as what she believes in and how she wants her life to be. One thing we can all learn from stuff like this is that, no matter what we tell ourselves in moments of weakness, our poor choices always hurt the ones we love.
So I got home and was pondering the questions in the previous paragraph, brushing my teeth with tears in my eyes. Then I looked in the mirror and the answer came to me: You haven't forgotten because you needed to remember for this moment. You needed the experience to keep your heart soft and to be empathetic in a moment of need. And then it all tied together with the movie I watched at Temple Square last weekend. When Joseph Smith stands at looking out the tiny window of the Liberty Jail and wonders why he is there, why his wife and family and people are suffering alone on the outside and he is struggling on the inside, why he feels forsaken, he gets THIS answer: these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.
And you know what? They have. That, my friends, is what the remembrance is for.