Recently, I was re-introduced by a friend to a song by the Avett Brothers, an Americana style folk band hailing from North Carolina boasting 9 studio albums.
Last year, HBO released "May It Last," a documentary that marvels at the two brothers' cooperation through a musical career that has spanned most of their lives.
The central question of the documentary is, "Can you believe these two don't hate each other yet?," as they, in the words of New Yorker columnist Amanda Petrusich, "calmly navigate family life, touring, illness, marriage, children, and the writing and recording" of their many albums.
The Avett Brothers' philosophy is, in her words, that "the most useful art is the most honest art."
"Don't be cool! Be yourself."
The song in question, which is admittedly a bit maudlin, is called No Hard Feelings; it is an emotional reflection on what it means to be human and the love that binds us together.
In short, it is a song about death.
Or so it seems, when actually it is about so much more than that. It is a song about the love that we've known, the light that has broken through life's one million darknesses, and the joy that truly tells the story of who we are.
It isn't about waiting until death to be able to see goodness, but how seeing goodness and knowing love is the whole point of it all.
This, in the end, is how life is meant to be lived: treasure the goodness, stare down the sadness, give love to everyone you can, and, finally, harbor no hard feelings.
"For life and its loveliness. And all of its ugliness. Good as it's been to me. I have no enemies."
After the final chorus, a rousing crescendo makes clear the point of life is about reconciliation.
My professor of theology, Dr. Shirley Guthrie, known for his in-office pipe-smoking (a no-no) and his deeply accessible books about the mysteries of God, died not long after I had graduated.
On his deathbed, Guthrie was asked by the school president in a quiet moment between just those two what he, at this moment before death, thought life was all about.
The smartest theologian in the country, as he lay dying, whispered, almost inaudibly.
Forgiveness is what life is all about.
Having and holding no hard feelings.
Some think forgiveness means pretending something didn't happen, or trying to forget the pain that another caused. Saying it's OK.
Forgiveness is far more powerful than that.
Whereas retaliation and the harboring of ill will toward someone actually feeds the pain and the brokenness, forgiveness is the launching of a counter-strike. Vengeance fuels the fire.
Forgiveness extinguishes it.
When we obsess about how someone has wronged us, we, in a very real sense, become connected to them, as if by a chain. Sometimes, we are so closely linked that we start to imitate them, becoming them.
Forgiveness is nothing more than letting go of another person's throat, cutting the chain that connects us to wrongdoing.
Forgiveness isn't saying, "It's OK what you did to me." That kind of response could be abusive to your "self."
Rather, forgiveness is the wielding of power, wherewith purpose and intention, we break the chain, saying with Lutheran pastor Nadia Boz-Weber, in effect, "What you did to me was so hurtful, that I refuse to be connected to it anymore."
Bolz-Weber says that forgiveness is about being a freedom-fighter. And free people are dangerous people. Free people aren't controlled by the past, they aren't easily offended, they laugh more than others, they see beauty where others do not, they are unafraid to speak truth to power, and they aren't chained to resentment.
That kind of freedom is worth fighting for.
And the fight looks like nothing less and nothing more than forgiveness.
Twenty-nine years ago today, my father was recovering from a nine-hour surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his esophagus. After 11 days of "recovery," he died. He was 46.
I'll soon turn 44.
My wife will tell you that because of that early childhood loss, and because of a nearly 20-year vocation that involved my proximity to a lot of dying, I think about death more than the average man my age.
I think she's right. And I'm ok with that.
I'm ok with death.
Don't get me wrong: With happiness like mine, with a wife and family and a life like mine, I still shudder at the thought of it.
But I don't fight it.
I hold whom needs holding. And I try my best to let go of what needs to be set free.
Which, when it comes to bitterness, is always me.
I was asked once in a class I was teaching what God does to God's enemies.
I thought a moment, then responded with the words of German theologian, pastor, and Nazi opposition leader, Martin Niemöller, who wrote, "It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. God is not even the enemy of God's enemies. God has no enemies."
That's what life is like when you're made of love.
Considering we're made in God's image and with God's name branded on our hearts, it seems we are supposed to be like that, too.
For those who struggle with pain and enduring resentment, fight for your freedom armed only with forgiveness, break the chains of your own imprisonment, and walk away into the light that shines down on the goodness that your life is built on.
With no hard feelings.
"Lord knows they haven't done much good for anyone," the brothers sing, "but kept me afraid and cold with so much to have and hold."
I have no enemies.
Dr. Jonathan Eric Carroll, KLPC, NCPC, NCCE, is a state-licensed mental health professional, an ACPE Psychotherapist, and is the Founder of The Clinic @ The Montgomery in downtown Owensboro. Visit www.themontgomeryclinic.com. He also co-created and co-hosts "You'll Die Trying," a podcast available everywhere.