Q: In regards to (your column of July 6), I really did like it. I have that (David Gates/Bread) album and have listened to ("It Don’t Matter to Me") quite a bit in the past. The song was going through my head as I read. I agree with your sentiment, it does matter to me as well. And when that person leaves to find whatever they are looking for and they don’t return, how do you forgive them? — S., Las Vegas
A: Couple of things, S., …
First, this column provoked a ton of the most beautiful, honest and moving mail I can remember receiving in a long time. From Hawaii to Arkansas. The kind of mail that reminds me why I write this column at all.
Second, please assume nothing about who or what I was writing about. I deliberately withheld that information in hopes that the reader would be more willing to wrestle with the paradox of ideals (as opposed to wrestling with speculation about me. I promise I’m not that interesting.)
And lastly, you say you "agree with my sentiment," that it matters to you as well.
Which, ironically, was not my sentiment. What I tried to say was that it’s embarrassing to notice how often my practice of love is measured by whether I’m getting what I want from a particular relationship. I was saying I want to change that, that Gates had his finger on an important ideal which took me years to recognize: selfless love — a love that sets the beloved free … a love that wants for someone’s happiness more than it wants its own desires.
But, the heart of the column was holding together a compelling tension of two ideals: selfless love and self-respect. How can we surrender the self in love without surrendering our boundaries of self-respect and thereby betraying the self? That’s my sentiment, S.
You read my column and applied it to a relationship with a particular person; my guess is a love relationship. And you ask: How do you forgive someone who won’t commit to us? Someone who decides to move on in the journey of life and does not return? You’re going to hate this, but, here’s how:
By realizing there is nothing to forgive. There is only your heart to heal. That, and your ego, rent asunder by the answer "no." But this "no" is not a moral wrong. You can be (and are) anguished, but you have no moral claim. The only work before you is grief. Which is hard work. Which is why we put it off by thinking about whether we can ever forgive.
It would be so much easier to deal with the "no" if we could mobilize righteous anger. And people do commonly mobilize anger when they love someone who doesn’t choose them, but it’s not righteous anger. It’s more like an ego tantrum. Predictable. Understandable. Very human. But hardly righteous.
There is nothing to forgive, any more than the Beatles need to forgive the record companies that said no — and no and no and no. Why did they say "no"? Because they didn’t say "yes." Because they decided not to commit to the Beatles. Because they didn’t take the risk. Because they signed other bands instead.
I’m saying it does not, in the end, matter why they said "no." The only thing that matters is that they said "no."
And the Four Lads from Liverpool grieved. They felt the pain of "no." They were tempted to despair. But what they did instead was remarkable. They somehow held on to their commitment to themselves. They would not relinquish their grasp on their beauty, their talent, their worthiness of a recording contract.
Like a mantra, John Lennon would say, "Where we going mates?" And the other three would say: "To the top! To the very top!"
And in 1962, Parlophone Records signed them. Why? Because they did. And the rest is history.
See, "no" doesn’t make us not beautiful. And "yes" doesn’t make us beautiful.
It’s for you to decide, S., whether to take the risk that you are beautiful. Then the rest of the world can decide for itself whether it wants to recognize and value the self you have decided to admire and respect.
The Beatles don’t need to forgive those other record companies. Though it would have been delicious fun, certainly, to see the expressions on the faces of those same executives when, on Feb. 9, 1964, they watched Ed Sullivan say, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!"
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.