As soon as I heard that supporters got to contribute images to the project, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
I struggle with forgiving: both myself and others. It’s something I want to master before I die. Conveniently enough, there’s a long chalkboard outside of the Alibi (one of San Diego’s iconic bars) that allows people to finish the following:
Before I die I want to . . .
It seemed simple enough, I brought my own chalk. I brought water and rags to wipe down the board before I started. And I planned to wipe it all down again after I was done. I just needed 30 minutes to write, photograph, and erase. Thirty minutes and then others could resume recording their life goals on the board. It seemed like a perfect plan. I’d sat in the coffee shop across the street for hours and hadn’t seen anyone write on the wall, so I thought 30 minutes was perfect. No one would care.
Except when you are writing about forgiveness and you aren’t good at it, situations arise that cause people to care.
I started the conflict accidentally. A passerby saw my writing and grabbed a piece of chalk to write her own goal. My candid homeschool self told her that I wanted to fill the whole board with “forgive” so I would probably erase hers. In my mind I thought I was being fair and honest. Now I realize that I just sounded like a jerk.
The passerby moved on while I kept writing; then a woman came out of the Alibi.
“You can’t do that.”
“Do what? I’m just writing on the board.”
“You can’t fill this board up with forgive. We just cleaned it.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll wipe it all back down after I’m done. I just want to photograph it for an art project.” I pointed at my bucket of rags and water.
“I don’t care. You can’t fill this board. It isn’t fair to my clients.”
“I’ll erase it in less than 30 minutes.”
“But you are telling people they can’t write.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, realizing my mistake. “I won’t do that anymore. I was wrong. I won’t do that again.”
“I don’t care. You can’t do this.”
We kept that up for a bit. I addressed all the concerns the woman had. She knew she couldn’t completely bar me from writing, but because I had turned that other person away or perhaps because of the subject matter, she really wanted to. I didn’t want to continue the conflict (I was writing about forgiveness for goodness sake), but I REALLY wanted that photo of the filled board.
Eventually, she told me I couldn’t fill the whole board, and I agreed to that stipulation.
I kept writing. People began stopping on the street corner, watching me. People came out of the bar to watch me. People began to mock.
“Forgive, what an idiotic idea.”
“I’ll never fucking forgive.”
I kept writing, completely embarrassed about the exchange I’d just had with the woman and feeling that maybe this project wasn’t such a good idea. Even when two men stopped and asked if they could write “forgive” on the board (which they did many times in beautiful script), I still felt a kernel of doubt.
Then Crystal arrived with her awesome camera. As she set up her tripod, the most vocal heckler started talking to her.
“Why would I want to forgive,” he asked.
“Forgiving frees you. Holding on to resentment only hurts you. The other person doesn’t care whether you forgive them or not. When you forgive someone, you can begin to heal from the wounds they’ve made on you.”
The man thought about it for a moment.
“Can I write on the board?” He picked up a piece of blue chalk and wrote “F.O.R.G.I.V.E.” in big block letters.
And with that statement, a miracle occured. The man kept writing. Then he decided to go into the bar and recruit others to write. A handful of people came out. Some wrote “forgive”; others, at Crystal’s prompting, began to be specific.
“forgive my dad.”
“forgive my wife for cheating.”
“forgive the man who stole from me.”
“forgive her for breaking my heart.”
We filled the board.
After we finished, after the pictures, the man who started the forgiveness revolution in the bar–the former biggest heckler–came up and told me that I didn’t need to worry about cleaning the board. He would do it for me.
Then he put on a silly hat and got a bucket and mop from the bar.
That’s what forgiveness does: it makes you open. It frees you to be silly and joyful. It lets you serve others without worrying about if you will get your turn. It reminds you that your life and your plans aren’t yours to control with clenched fists (telling people you will erase their goals if they don’t fit with your plan). Instead, in forgiveness, we play and in that play, invite others to participate.
Forgiveness is infectious.