Mental illness is a heavy topic. Sometimes it can get overwhelming and depressing. So I thought I’d take a break today and write about another topic that is important to me.
Many years ago I was asked to give a talk in church about forgiveness. Several years after that I had to give a lesson on it in Relief Society, a class where some of the women at my church meet to learn about and discuss the gospel. Think God was trying to tell me something? I know He was. Forgiveness is something I struggle with—being able to get over the pain or hurt others have caused me. I know I struggle with it, and it is something I’m constantly working on and praying for help with. When I was asked to give a talk on it all those years ago, a story from my past popped into my head—one I thought about often, but it was the first time I realized that it truly was a story about the power of forgiveness. A story about me and a girl named Sarah.
Sarah was pink. For those of you who knew her, you know what I’m talking about! She was pink, frilly, girly, outgoing, flirtatious—nothing like me. We were as different as two people possibly could be. The only thing we had in common was that we were both girls, and we both played the flute. So it wasn’t surprising that we quickly became rivals in our junior high band class. One year I sat first chair, Sarah sat second. The next year, she got to play the piccolo, and I didn’t. Our dislike of each other only grew, and before long we weren’t just rivals. We were enemies.
I remember how happy—like giddy happy—I was when my sophomore year of high school came because it meant one year in band without Sarah; she was a year younger than me. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as far away as I thought. Sometime that year, I discovered some flute players I had met and made friends with, who had gone to a different junior high, took from the same private teacher as Sarah. Apparently, she had told their flute teacher bad things about me who had, in turn, told them.
“We thought you were going to be a horrible flute player, and that we wouldn’t like you,” they said. “But now we know Sarah didn’t know what she was talking about. You’re a good flute player, and we do like you!”
I was glad they hadn’t let their flute teacher’s assessment of someone she had never met before influence them, that they had decided to be friends with me anyway, but it was not cool that that’s how they had found out about me. Rather than being mature and just brushing it off, I hypocritically went and trashed-talked Sarah to some of my other friends.
My junior year of high school came, and Sarah came with it. We were in band together again, and the truth was that she was a better flute player than me. She sat first chair, I sat second. It was a blow to my ego and just another difficulty for me to deal with in the midst of my horrible depression. One day that year I got to school to find a note tucked into my band locker. The writer of the note said they had seen me crying the day before, and it made them sad because they hated seeing other people sad. It said they hoped I felt better, and if I ever needed to vent or just needed a hug they would be there for me. It was signed from Sarah. And just like that, years of distrust, dislike, and rivalry completely washed away. Sarah was still pink, and we were still as different as two people could be, but we became good friends.
We never hung out outside of school because we had very different kinds of friends, but at school, we were always there for each other. If I ever needed a kind word or a little boost to help me out on a rough day, I would go to Sarah. Likewise, if she ever felt down or was having a problem, she came to me. Sarah became someone I grew to love and always felt grateful for. She was a light in my life.
Three years after graduating high school, when I was away at college, my mom called me. It was finals week, and I had just completed my last test. My mom told me that Sarah had been killed in a car accident. I’ll never forget the way my heart plummeted, the way my blood turned to ice. After I got off the phone I just started balling. I couldn’t believe Sarah was gone. She had meant so much to me. She still means so much to me.
I’ve often thought about Sarah, about our story, since high school. And it was when I had to give that talk in church that I truly understood that ours was a story of forgiveness. I had never looked at it that way before, but I realized if she hadn’t been able to forgive me, she would never have given me that note in the first place. And had I not been able to forgive her, I never would have trusted her and probably would have just thrown her note away without a second thought. We’d both behaved in a non-Christ-like attitude towards each other, but luckily, we had both been able to forgive each other, and look what came of it! Two people who were so different, who disliked each other so much and had became bitter enemies, became very good friends who loved and cared about each other.
While I still struggle at times with forgiveness I’m so grateful for the lesson in my own life about what powerful things can happen when we do follow Christ’s example and commandment to forgive.