Table Manners – A Tale of Forgiveness
Forgiveness offers everything I want.
What could you want forgiveness cannot give? Do you want peace? Forgiveness offers it. Do you want happiness, a quiet mind, a certainty of purpose, and a sense of worth and beauty that transcends the world? Do you want care and safety, and the warmth of sure protection always? Do you want a quietness that cannot be disturbed, a gentleness that never can be hurt, a deep abiding comfort, and a rest so perfect it can never be upset? All this forgiveness offers you, and more.
A Course in Miracles. Workbook, p. 217 [i]
As a child growing up, I loved my Grammy’s bi-annual visits each year – a week at Christmas and another in the summer. She was a pretty, petite woman, with brunette hair, a button nose, and crinkling blue eyes. Grammy always dressed formally, even in the summer, in conservative suits and tailored dresses. Behaving like a lady and gentleman was very important to Grammy so she always took it upon herself to go over proper table manners with my brother John and me when she visited.
“It’s important to chew with your mouth closed Johnny. Janet, dear, never speak with your mouth full. Be careful not to slurp your food, it’s undignified" she’d say in her gentle tinkling voice.
“Can I have some more milk Grammy?”
“May I have some more milk,” She’d correct. “Yes, you may.”
I never minded her corrections because I felt she loved me and was helping me learn how act like a grown up, which I thought was pretty cool. It was like we were playing tea-party together.
It was a whole different story when my father would correct my manners. I didn’t like his disapproving glare and sharp tone of voice.
“Eat with your mouth closed!” he’d snap, and I’d shrink down in my chair feeling guilty and anxious.
I remember a couple of occasions when he became so annoyed with my brother, he flung out his left hand and backhanded my brother across the face. This was the 1960’s and physical reprimands were still very much the norm. My mother’s face turned ashen. “Jerry, please...” she said quietly.
I sat stock still afraid to breathe with tears welling in my eyes. I didn’t want to draw his attention to me. Adding to my anxiety was the belief that as the oldest child, it was my job to protect my brother, but I was afraid and didn't know what I could do.
Twenty years later, after speaking with a therapist about an unrelated issue, I recalled that feeling of responsibility and guilt from childhood. I still felt terrible that I never spoke up to my dad or tried to defend my brother. I spontaneously decided to call him and apologize. Surprisingly, my brother was completely confused by my call.
“What are you talking about?” he asked. “I don’t remember any of that.”
“You don’t remember that Dad sometimes struck you in the mouth with the back of his hand?” I asked incredulously.
“No,” he said.
“Remember? He wore his wedding ring on his left hand and a couple of times it struck your lip and broke the skin causing it to bleed!” I said in a quivering voice as I fought back tears.
“I’m sorry, Janet but I don’t remember any of that. I don’t think it must have affected me very much. I’m sorry it’s affected you so deeply, and I appreciate you for caring, but why would you need to apologize for Dad’s behavior anyway? You were just a kid too. There’s nothing you could have done.”
It was amazing to me that my brother and I had such different memories. An important seed was planted in my mind that day about the nature of perception. One that wouldn’t fully bear fruit for many years to come.
Fifty years later I lay on a massage table during a very stressful time in my life. My youngest son was still in the hospital with a severe leg injury that would ultimately take him eighteen months to recover from. Exhausted from many long hours at the hospital, I found my mind wondering into these old memories of my grandmother and my father. I guess my mind needed a break from the current situation. And several weeks before, my husband had said something to me that had gotten me wondering why other people’s table manners — or lack thereof — distressed me so much. He thought I might be suffering from misophonia — a rare condition where certain sounds like slurping, chewing, tapping, and clicking can elicit intense feelings of rage or panic. While I never experienced rage or panic, I did experience discomfort and I wanted to get to bottom of this strange anxiety so I could change my experience.
By this time, I was an avid student of A Course in Miracles. One of the defining principles of the Course has to do with true forgiveness. This type of forgiveness stimulates a pervasive realization that perception is not truth, it is merely the feedback system of our own unconscious beliefs. And, these beliefs block our awareness of what is true. The Course teaches that forgiveness is the key to healing all of our pain and suffering. A fundamental shift in awareness occurs when we allow our thoughts to move out of misperception — or, thoughts and beliefs that foster fear, into true perception — thoughts and beliefs that foster love. We can do this when we seek a higher level of conscious awareness within us called the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives in our superconscious mind entirely untouched by our memories, thoughts, and beliefs. It’s exists outside of our story and knows only the truth of our perfect, divine nature.
As my mind recalled these childhood memories of my grandmother teaching me table manners, I felt light and happy. I experienced once again the feeling of being loved and cared for. As I moved further into the feeling of love, I felt her presence flow into in the room with me. Face down on the table, eyes still closed, I saw her smiling face shining at me and felt her love glowing and flowing all around me. I was also aware of my love flowing out and connecting with her in one perpetual, eternal current. We were one and this oneness was eternal and unlimited. It was a beautiful moment! One that led me into a sudden insight that the story I remembered of Grammy teaching me table manners had never truly had anything to do with what was real between us. The experience of her love in that moment was even stronger than it had been for me as a child even though she wasn't physically present and had passed away nearly thirty years before. I no longer simply believed in the idea "only love is real," I experienced first-hand that only love is real. I also realized that I was able to recognize her love as a child only because I didn’t block it with perceptual distortions in my own mind.
An enormous sense gratitude washed over me as I remembered the truth. What a relief it was to let go of the story and allow myself to directly experience limitless, unconditional love unbounded by the perception of time, space, and apparent circumstances.
I wanted to apply this lesson to my relationship with my father. It was easy with my Grammy because the little time I had spent with her growing up had been quite positive. I knew it would require more of me to extend the lesson to my relationship with my dad. And as a student of the Course, I knew I had to start with forgiveness.
The Holy Spirit responded quickly to my intention. In the space of a heartbeat, I saw that as a child, my father had interpreted his mother’s instruction quite differently than I had. The mother-son relationship was a fraught with more tension, and more karmic issues stood between them than stood between my grandmother and me. Over time, my father’s perception of his experiences with his mother wove a veil of misperception that blocked his awareness of unconditional love. Clearly, this was also the case with my dad and me. And, just like a movie cuts from one scene to another, I once again felt my heart open and expand. Instantly, I knew the only true thing between my father and me was that we loved one another deeply. All of our mistaken thoughts, unhappy feelings, and distorted beliefs about one another were just mistakes in our mind that distracted our attention from the immutable reality of eternal love.
I felt my father’s love flow into the room alongside my grandmother’s. He surrounded and comforted me like a soft, warm blanket. Both Grammy and my father were smiling at me with faces shinning like the sun. My father was so happy that I recognized him and remembered the truth about his love. Every hurt, every disappointment, every painful memory of my relationship with my father melted away and I laughed with delight.
This was a pivotal moment in my life. I now enjoy remembering my father and feel close to him. Knowing that the only thing that has ever been true is that my father loves me and I love him has altered how I see all relationships. The Course is right when it says “forgiveness is the key to happiness.” All of our questions, regardless of the different forms they take, have the same answer. We are love and only love is real. Everything else is meaningless.
Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God. [i]
Forgiveness offers everything I want.
What could you want forgiveness cannot give? Do you want peace? Forgiveness offers it. Do you want happiness, a quiet mind, a certainty of purpose, and a sense of worth and beauty that transcends the world? Do you want care and safety, and the warmth of sure protection always? Do you want a quietness that cannot be disturbed, a gentleness that never can be hurt, a deep abiding comfort, and a rest so perfect it can never be upset? All this forgiveness offers you, and more. [ii]
[i] A Course in Miracles. Text, p. x
[ii] A Course in Miracles. Workbook, p. 217
If you’d like to learn more about the defining principles of A Course in Miracles and how they can help you heal your life, I invite you to sign-up for my upcoming ACIM class on forgiveness, starting April 7th.