If you are a long-time follower of this blog (thanks, Mom), you know that my quasi-retirement involves a part-time job at an upscale outdoor store, at which I work in the clothing and footwear departments.
During a recent shift, I was tidying up children’s wear and came upon this impossibly cute item, the Columbia Tiny Bear II Bunting, in Size Wee:
I was so smitten by the smallness of the garment and its furry little ears that I felt moved to show it to co-workers. “Is it wrong of me,” I asked, “to want this in adult sizes?”
They laughed as they always do, with the affectionate indulgence appropriate to an older relative who is slightly daft. But they understood, too: “That’s nature’s way of keeping us from killing our offspring,” one colleague observed. “It makes babies really cute.”
A customer shopping with his toddler overheard our conversation and grinned broadly. “If we all wore onesies,” he said, “there would be world peace.”
Hyperbole, of course, yet I had to wonder. Because it was impossible to not feel happy, and a little tender, too, gazing upon Tiny Bear II Bunting. It had the power to disempower, which is to say, disarm.
That’s when it occurred to me: I might forgive the transgressions of practically any person if I could simply get him or her to wear a onesie for me. The soft silliness of the supposed enemy, so radically re-envisioned, would compel me to let go of my grievance: to lay down my sword and shield, to practice war no more.
However, problems were immediately evident: As a practical matter, the clothing industry has somehow overlooked the important niche market for adult onesies, which I understand are exceedingly difficult to find. And as an emotional matter, the kind of person apt to need your forgiveness is probably not the kind of person eager to help heal your woundedness by dressing up in a baby suit.
This is why we have imagination. Here’s how it works:
Visualize the face of a person you need to forgive for being, well, a butthole. This is just a hypothetical, but:
Then, bring to mind Tiny Bear II Bunting, or some other irresistibly cute onesie:
(I am not bright enough to master mash-up software, so I had to create the composite using paper, crayon and scissors. Which leads me to my next point.)
Humans never become very smart, and are born downright dumb, a scientific fact about which I have previously written. But most of us also come into the world cute, at least to our parents, and — no matter how destructive we later become — helpless and vulnerable.
We are then subjected to caregivers whose nurturing skills typically range from abysmal to marginally adequate, having not been all that well-reared themselves. And, assuming we survive that long, arrive at adulthood not only much less cute, but often needy and stunted in our understanding of what really matters, which is to say: Love. And then, in our utter cluelessness, blunder about our lives, doing harm to ourselves and others.
Sigh. Welcome to Personhood, from which no one emerges unscathed. Try as we might to love and be loved, we inevitably become part of an eternal human chain of giving and getting harm. And are faced, sooner or later, with a question: Do we cling to our grievances or let them go?
The answer may be obvious, but it’s not easy. Many transgressions are hard to forgive. “I am imagining my ex in Tiny Bear Bunting,” a co-worker said. “It’s not working.”
The truth is that people do bad things — really bad things — and sometimes not just to us, personally, but on a horrific, impersonal scale. There are too many examples to number recently: Name your mass shooting. Not all acts feel forgivable.
But most of us aren’t harmed by that kind of wholesale madness; we are wounded instead by our ordinary day-to-day experiences, often with those closest to us. And it’s within this realm of the personal that forgiving is most difficult, and also most important.
Imagining a person who harmed you dressed in a onesie might seem silly and simplistic as a route to forgiveness. Still, it’s a good reminder of the vulnerability that characterizes our beginnings and endures in most of us all of our lives, though often hidden beneath adult coping mechanisms that aren’t so endearing.
That little human being is still there in each of us, somewhere beneath the corruptions of time and experience: Still Tiny Bear II Bunting, looking for love.
This post originally appeared three years ago. You may now have in mind a face other than George W. Bush’s, but I leave you to your imagination, as I no longer have my crayons.