SHAME & FORGIVENESS
JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group
18 November 2021
Yesterday I went to the library to pick up my renewed library card. The last time I stepped foot in the library was more than two years ago. Once the pandemic started, I didn’t go anywhere that wasn’t considered a necessity. And the library was one of those places that I’d considered to be nonessential. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stop reading books for myself or to my children. I read what I had on hand and bought more. But walking back into those front doors reminded me of the beauty of that building. I thought about how many stories were held in those four walls. I thought about the Dewey Decimal System. And I thought about how much I had grown since the last time I was there.
After listening to author and advocate Tarana Burke speak on a podcast, I knew I wanted to borrow her latest memoir, Unbound. I picked up my renewed card. I walked to the computer and typed her name in the search bar. And I learned that the book was already being borrowed. A bit bummed, I noticed there was another book available under her name, You Are Your Best Thing. Using the Dewey Decimal System, I located the book and went on my merry way.
I’ve only read three stories in the anthology, but I must admit I’m already moved. I love reading people’s stories. The best way to learn about something I don’t understand is by listening. And when I read, I can see myself in the story. I take away the bias in my thinking. I’m able to understand. I’m able to empathize. This book is a collection of black experiences. There are stories filled with shame and vulnerability. There are stories filled with hope and resilience.
The story that Tanya Denise Fields shares can be summarized by her quote, “I have learned to let go of things that do not serve me. Shame does not serve me. Claiming what I have decided is mine does.”
But how do we let go? How do we let go of shame? How do we let go of fear? How do we let go of the pain? How do claim what we want?
As The Shame Doctor, John Dunia says, “For me the idea of letting go is not always easy to understand. Shame isn’t just something we can drop. I like to suggest to people that forgiving themselves for ever having shameful (or any number of negative) thoughts about themselves is the best way to let it go.”
The best way to heal is forgiveness. Internal forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves for putting up with things we shouldn’t have. Forgiving ourselves for believing we were less than. Forgiving ourselves for continuing on paths that didn’t serve us. Forgiving ourselves for what we did not know. If we can take those steps, we can do what Tanya suggests, claim what’s ours. We can stop putting up with things we shouldn’t. We can believe we are all worthy. We can follow the paths that bring us joy. And we can learn how to listen and understand each other’s stories. We can renew the human experience.
And while I’m at it, I’ll forgive myself for calling the library nonessential, without that beautiful building, I wouldn’t be going through this beautiful experience.