Our Actions Matter, And Then There’s Forgiveness

It’s graduation and reunion time, and I just returned from my 25th at Villanova University. Although I was really active there as an undergrad, over the years I lost touch with most people, and so coming back was really a blast from the past. What I found most interesting about the weekend was my memory and brain through it all. Here were people I haven’t seen in 25 years, and I would often have an automatic response of moving toward or moving away from someone in a flash. There was one guy in particular who when I saw him, I knew that we hung out together as buddies in some way, but I couldn’t put my finger on the specific memories. I was compelled to come up to him and say, “Hi! I know I know you and I like you, I just can’t remember why.” He couldn’t remember either, but he said it was the best compliment of the day. There was something in my memory that said, “Here’s a good guy, reconnect with him.” I also had a moment, in all honesty, when I saw someone else and immediately thought to myself, “He’s an [jerk]” (Language adapted for all audiences). Twenty-five years later there were these visceral reactions to people after just a moment of seeing their faces. It’s got me reflecting on lasting impressions we have of others, and those we make.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.

This quote represents much of the reunion weekend for me. I had an immediate move toward or move away from people based on past memories. One of my questions of the weekend was to ask if they could anchor a memory- remind me how we knew each other or a specific incident- because then I found the memories came flooding back. In one instance, a guy Scott reminded me that I brought him balloons on his birthday freshman year. It all then came back that we had just met during orientation, and I thought that it’d be tough to have a birthday when you didn’t yet have friends, so I brought him balloons. It was an action that mattered to him, and it created a good connection between us even 25 years later.

So on one hand, our actions do matter. If we’re kind to people we’ll likely have friends. Karma in action. And yet there is danger in letting past actions dictate our future. Memories are our past- so how do we check our bias? The guy I had a reaction to as a jerk- I need to remind myself that whatever data I had at the time to draw that conclusion is 25 years old, when he was 21, and maybe he’s changed over time. Maybe I saw him at a bad moment when I made that conclusion. Maybe I didn’t see him when he brought balloons to someone else. Maybe I can forgive and drop the bias and allow him to just be a person at a reunion, trying his best to go through this life just as I am. And to what extent can I extend that same forgiveness to myself for my less than honorable moments, those bad days when I didn’t have patience and I snapped at people? How can I reach toward living a life from my higher self, and forgiving myself and others when we don’t? It’s a lifelong practice, and I’m grateful for the reminder.

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