My sister and I play an ongoing game which began about fifteen years ago. I have come to think of it as The Worst Sister game. Each round ends when one of us calls the other in confession and exclaims, “Ha! I win!” The prize is the Most Horrible Person award. It’s kind of a sick game, really, I know, and we probably need professional help. (That much is certain, my husband is thinking.)
The one rule is that we can’t win intentionally, or by being our worst selves: losing our tempers, saying ugly things, acting out in anger or frustration. No, the Most Horrible Person prize can be awarded only when failure has sneaked up and surprised us with mistakes, misunderstandings or memory lapses at which we are shocked and suddenly panicked. “What? Oh no! How did that happen!?”
Through the years, the “Ha! I win!” moments have come after missed appointments that were significant, gifts, actions, or motives that were misunderstood by others, advice given that went wrong, and forgotten special events.
I am the current holder of the award, the most recent winner. My round of play was so terrifying, so horrendous, that my sister’s response on the phone after my painful retelling was a quiet, “Oooh. I would never do that.”
Well, no, she didn’t really say that. Those are the words I heard in my head as I confessed to her the situation, my shame so great. She would never do what I did; I would never do what I did; no one would intentionally do what I did!
So, ha, my dear and only sister. I win.
My misdeed was a forgotten appointment, an important one. It could have had tragic and long-lasting consequences. Thankfully, it didn’t. But my unintentional failure troubled and offended someone important to me.
Of course I begged forgiveness. She would forgive me, but said she needed a little time. No doubt. Perfectly understandable. I felt humiliated and incredulous at my forgetfulness. I fell into a tailspin of uncertainty about remembering anything. I purchased and devoured a book titled, Why We Make Mistakes, searching for explanations and insight and help for the future. I furiously updated all calendars, computer alarms, phone alarms, and alarm clocks for even the most insignificant events and appointments.
I realized, then, after I fixed anything I could fix, that what I wanted and needed most was something entirely out of my control: her forgiveness. And more: her forgiveness and our reconciliation.
It took me some time to forgive myself. I relived the event of That Day again and again, but the reality would not be undone no matter how many alternate scenarios my mind constructed. That event, though, could not control my life or summarize who I was. My options were to see myself as a failure, or to see the event as a failure.
In only a few days, she came to me with forgiveness in her eyes, healing the wound of my shortcomings with an ointment of affirmation, affection, and confidence in me. She asked gently, “Would you be willing to try this again next Monday?” And I welcomed the bright grace of her restoration.
Thomas Merton said, “We do not really know how to forgive until we know what it is to be forgiven. Therefore we should be glad that we can be forgiven by others. It is our forgiveness of one another that makes the love of Jesus manifest in our lives, for in forgiving one another we act as He has acted towards us.”
Though I am the consistent winner of the Most Horrible Person award in The Worst Sister game, I have repeatedly been the recipient of a different and altogether valuable prize: forgiveness. Whether I receive it for my unintentional failures or for my worst behaviors, being forgiven replaces stagnant regret with a wellspring of charity and gratitude that bubbles up, clean, glad, bright, alive, spilling out and washing onto the souls of those involved in their own dark Worst Person games, wounded and defeated by their own set of failures. Experiencing forgiveness, both given and received, is experiencing the Divine.