The 2 months I spent in North Dakota at the SIL program at UND were jam packed with learning. Yes, I learned what it’s like to take grad-level classes (and I’m still an undergrad!) and how to do linguistic research and how to write linguistic papers and analyze sign languages from a linguistic point of view. But I learned more than just that stuff.
Food allergies have forced me to mature more and be constantly on my guard. It’s always when I drop my guard that something bad happens. Sometimes even I don’t drop my guard, I just don’t have it high enough. I learned that it was my responsibility to keep myself safe and I couldn’t depend on the people around me on campus to remember and keep me safe.
But there’s one other lesson that stands out to me right now: the lesson of forgiving others, and not just that, but forgiving myself.
I was eating lunch. It was a totally normal day. I ate the same thing I had eaten for several days for lunch and been careful to wash my hands once I got in the cafeteria. One of my best friends joined me and we joined a bunch of others with the SIL-UND program.
I should say that within the program, since there are only about 200ish (including staff and professors) you get to know almost everyone there pretty quickly. And you develop the closest friendships in just 9 weeks with some of them.
Then as I’m almost done with lunch, I start to open the container of coconut yogurt. Except I have a problem. The foil lid seems like it’s been super-glued to the container! I just can’t get it open. I tug. And tug. And tug. I’ve got the spoon in my mouth to keep it clean, so I can’t really talk.
To my left was one of the staff who I didn’t know very well at all. We had just been talking about how she was eating pizza with her hands and I’m severely allergic to dairy. Then, it seems she totally forgot about it… either that or she didn’t connect the dots. She saw I was having trouble opening the lid so, without asking, reached over and grabbed the yogurt cup (which I was still holding onto) as to help me. With the spoon in my mouth, all I could do was say, “MM!!!” and pull the container away. She was puzzled, so my best friend explained.
Finally, I managed to open it. I figured, “well, she only touched my hand and the outside of the container. It should be totally fine.”
Well, it wasn’t. For whatever reason, it could have been something got in the container, or very likely it could have just been from her contact with cheese covered hands on my hands that triggered my body to react.
Within a minute or two my hand started to itch really badly. I finished eating really fast and ran down to wash my hands in the bathroom, scrubbing them 3 times with soap and water before they weren’t itchy anymore. And then I took Benadryl as I was walking to the dorm, then grabbed more from my room, and started walking to class.
Long story short, my throat started to swell on my way to class, but by the time I was about to pull out Epi, the Benadryl kicked in. I was relieved. 3 hours later, I took another dose of Benadryl to keep the reaction from rebounding. That didn’t exactly go as planned. I made it through class then plodded to the dining hall for dinner, unable to walk a straight line because I was so sleepy. And then the hives started popping up on my back and chest. I could FEEL them popping up! Iiiiitchy!! My throat was fine though… for a few hours.
In the end, one of my best friends decided after having me take an extra dose of Benadryl that since it wasn’t working and my tongue was really swollen and my throat was starting to swell, we needed to head to the ER. So we did. And as the nurse was putting the IV in my breathing got worse and worse. She radioed for another nurse to bring her epi and she gave me a dose, then went off to find the doctor, once I was breathing better and not in danger.
Over the next few days, I struggled a lot with what had happened. How could she have done what she did?? She stuck her hands on me and my food without even asking if she could help! And we had just been discussing my food allergies and the fact she was eating pizza with her hands so they were covered in cheese residue! She should have known better!
I really struggled. I couldn’t see her without thinking about how she had nearly killed me. I wanted to make her realize what she had done and make her pay the ER co-pay. I wanted her to know just how much she had hurt me. Because she was the one who messed up my food. She nearly killed me!
After a few days of this, I realized that this was absurd! And I realized that I wasn’t so much mad at her, but really, I was mad at myself.
Why? Because I’m the one responsible for my food and staying safe. I can’t expect others to remember everything and not make mistakes. I should have washed my hands right away and washed the yogurt cup before I finally opened it. I know better!!
So, I went to find one of my friends. But she wasn’t on campus that night. Instead I happened to stumble across one of my old TAs from last summer. She took one look at me and knew something was up. So we went outside and talked. And by talked, I mean we talked for probably a good 2 hours if not nearly 3.
She started out by listening to me, then she asked me, “Is God mad at you?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Well, if God sent his one and only son to die for all my sins while I was still a sinner (technically I still sin but God has forgiven me and calls me “not guilty”) and cares for me as a Father who has adopted me and kept me alive through this last reaction… Then no. God is not mad at me. And if God, the creator of the universe, isn’t mad at me but instead just wants to show me his love and compassion, then I really have no need nor reason to be mad at myself nor at the other person.”
I realized that holding onto the anger wasn’t going to get me anywhere and would only hold and keep me back and unable to move ahead.
So then we prayed together.
“God, please, help me to forgive _____ and myself. I can’t go on living like this. I don’t want to go on living like this.” And I forgave her. And myself.
After that I could look at this lady and not with anger on how she nearly killed me by her carelessness. I sat by her a few more times during the summer. I just made sure to keep an extra cautious eye on my food and leave a bit of buffer room. I’ll never forget what she did. But I have forgiven her and myself for what happened. I can’t go on beating myself up for things like this. It’s ok to make mistakes. As long as you learn from them and you don’t keep beating yourself up over them.
I think that with food allergies, it’s easy to be mad at someone who might be careless about how they act around you even after you’ve tried explaining things to them. But really… by holding a grudge, are you helping matters? Have you considered that the one who is hurting from the problem isn’t them, but maybe you?
Wanting to retaliate isn’t going to help matters. Instead, try educating them gently and forgive them. It’s amazing how much forgiving someone frees you and gives you the ability to move on. I love the song “losing” by Tenth Avenue North.
“Oh, Father won’t you forgive them? They don’t know what they’ve been doing. Oh Father give me grace to forgive them, cause I feel like the one losing.”