When I was in sixth grade, I was a part of a group of girls. We were the 'it' group of girls, all formed around 'Beth', our uncontested leader and star. She was one of those girls whose hair and skin were always perfect. Who wore her sister's floppy hat from five years ago, which would have been dorky on anyone else, but on her it was adorable. And the following week, everyone in school wore floppy hats. She had an aura, like a pint-sized rock star. She smelled amazing, all the time. That I was part of this entourage is almost unbelievable. I was a tomboy who cut my hair short and wore my brother's old sweatshirts to school. No one copied my style. Plus I was awkward and it took me awhile to catch up with the others' social skills, so I was prone to saying embarrassing things or not getting the joke. I was so far from cool. But I was smart. And cynical grown-up me can see that Beth and her close inner circle kept me around to provide the answers to their math homework. But insecure sixth-grade me was just so happy to be included.
Until I wasn't. One day, as these things go, I was ostracized. Apparently, I had done something a bit too embarrassing, or I had annoyed Beth with one of my comments, or maybe she was just bored. So she decided that we were no longer friends, and that she wouldn't be speaking with me anymore. And since she wasn't, none of the group was.
This was problematic, as I had no other friends, no one else to sit with at lunch or hang around with after school. Suddenly, one day, when I was 12, I went to school and no one would look at or speak to me, or explain. Even the 'uncool' kids would go nowhere near me. I am sure some of them thought, rightly, that if I was too cool to sit with them when things were going well for me, why should they sit with me now? Some of them, I am also sure, were hoping to take my spot with Beth as the nerdy homework provider, and so they did not want to risk her ire talking with the ostracized one in case they were suddenly called up from the minor leagues to the Beth table. Some, I am sure, didn't like me anyway.
For about three months I endured silent lunches and a distinct lack of social life. It was painfully lonely. I formed loose alliances with other ostracized girls, but none I really had much in common with.
Despite Beth's actions towards me, and my doubtfulness that we had ever really been friends, hanging out with her and the wide circle of other girls around her was actually fun. There were lots of trips to the mall and gossiping on the phone and shrieking with laughter in the bathroom and sleepovers. Now there was none of this. I kept my head down, did my homework, and went to bed early.
Then one weekend, I went to Girl Scout camp. Beth also went, as did most of the inner circle girls. I went because, 'why not?' It was something to do, and the organized activities meant that I wouldn't be completely ignored. We slept in cabins of 8 or 10 a piece, in bunk beds along the wall. Beth was in my cabin, randomly assigned. I didn't even try to speak with her.
And yet, sometime during that weekend, Beth decided that my sentence was up. All of the sudden, out of nowhere, she began to speak with me. There was no big moment, we never discussed it, she just made a remark about a game or something, I replied, she laughed, and suddenly things were normal again. Of course, once this happened, all the girls started speaking with me again, picking me for teams, asking to borrow my hairbrush, and laughing. I had been forgiven, and brought back into the fold.
I tell this story because I will never forget what that weekend felt like. I felt like I was flying, I was so happy. I felt a sadness and a tension melt away, and I felt light and relaxed, utterly filled with joy. I was so happy to belong again. And more than that, I was so happy that whatever sin I had committed, it had been put away. Right relationship had been restored. The overwhelming feeling of being released from my wrongs was so strong that I still remember it exactly, even though it has been over 35 years since these things took place.
Such is the power of forgiveness.
Of course, from the perspective of time and age, I can see that I had done nothing to deserve such harsh treatment, and there was probably nothing to forgive. And of course, there was some time when I looked back on this story and these feelings and I thought that it was Beth who should be asking for my forgiveness. But to me, that is not the point. And besides, I do forgive her any emotional harm she may have caused me. The point to me is not whether I deserved to be ostracized as a child - I know I didn't - but what it felt like to be embraced again.
There have been plenty of times since then when I knew I did do wrong, I had sinned, I had caused harm with my actions. And each time I confessed my sin, and I received forgiveness, I felt that sense of lightness, release and joy. But never again with the same intensity that I did that first time.
And always with my sixth grade self looming in the horizon, that imprinted memory of the world returned to rightness. This childhood experience will always be my definition of what forgiveness feels like. To me, there is no other way to describe it.