On forgiving one’s mother

April 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

My mother has written to me, out of the blue, a flippant, lighthearted message, as if nothing has ever happened, that she was in Poland and did I want the number?

The bronze of it appalled me. How does her mind work? Does she imagine that one may betray someone and then go back and continue the old acquaintance as if nothing has happened? Is it because she thinks that betrayal isn’t a big deal – no more than a lapse in table manners? Or does she think that a mother may do anything and children have no right to take offense?

Would an admission of wrong have changed anything, asked Matilda who has never admitted a wrong in her life, and gave an example of an acquaintance who’d cut off his sister totally, which devastated her but apparently cost him nothing: he had apparently made the simple calculation that his sister was worth more to him gone from his life forever.

Oh, yes, I replied, an admission of guilt would have made a difference.  The Catholic church, which has thought about contrition and forgiveness perhaps longest of all organizations on earth, recommends that a reconciliation have four parts: an admission of guilt, an apology, an atonement, and a promise of improvement. Properly conducted, such an apology places a moral onus on the offended party to accept: not to accept would seem vicious. A properly apologizing person – whether a mother or a total stranger – has the power (right?) to compel forgiveness.

Perhaps to change the uncomfortable topic, Matilda turned her thoughts to the nearby subject of her relationship with her son.

The topic is much on her mind, she has interviewed many men about their relationships with their mothers and she concluded there was reason to hope: none was as close to his mother as her son was to her. Ah, no, I exclaimed, on the contrary!  Precisely therein lies the danger: my relationship with my mother had been very close, too: the closer they are the more dangerous any break.

It is inevitable that your relationship with your son will cool dramatically, I continued.  Soon, he will no longer need you; the laws of nature will require him to move on; any spare time he gives you going forward will come from his good will and nothing else.  What is more:  it will be begrudged him by others. In that calculus all your past sacrifices mean nothing — as a child walker means nothing to an adult.  Hence, god forbid you should ever cross him — we already know you do not understand the importance of apology and I can tell you your son will not accept an argument that you and he are not friends and that your relationship with him exempts you from ordinary decency.  He will expect an apology, an atonement, and a solemn promise of improvement.

At the very least.

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