Free Will: It’s not who we are, it’s what we are.

Grieving hard for my brother has brought me back to questions of free-will and forgiveness. I see his life clearly. He didn’t have a good start. Fetal alcohol issues gave him very poor judgment, massive dyslexia, and a mess of social and emotional secondary issues. None of that was his fault. They led him to do harm to others in a variety of ways, and each time it happened he was very sure that he was right, that he was doing the best he could, and that in some way someone was treating him badly. His actions were a direct result of who he was.

Following this, of course, come thoughts about myself and my own life. I dodged the fetal alcohol bullet, but took direct hits from post-traumatic stress disorder, abuse, and neglect. While I was there watching out for my little brother, no one was there watching out for me. Late in life now I look at all of it, of the expanse of seventy years of being me, and for sure I see immense damage. I see that my children wear the bruises, that injury is not discrete, not contained in a single life, that the harm is generation. And yes, I was always doing the best I could, working with what I could understand. Lost in some ways, in addiction, in some kind of dissociation, in the coils of PTSD, not seeing what was true, but always doing the best I could.

So how does one ask forgiveness for things one didn’t cause? My life made me what I was, and that’s never a person’s fault. The disturbing conclusion has to be that it’s not what we do, it’s what we are that causes harm. If I had perceived any kind of choice to do differently, of course I would have.

And still chasing this, I find that it’s not what people do to me that is hard to forgive; it’s the realization then of what/who they really are that’s so terrible. It’s not coming to terms with what they did; it’s how on earth they could have done it.

I’ve learned not to take credit for the good things I do, but to give it back to God. How does this work for the bad ones?


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