Sentenced to Life
Forgiveness. People say it's the key to living a happy life. No one gets by without being hurt and sometimes it's extreme. Maybe it's someone calling you fat, or ugly. Or, perhaps, it's being betrayed by someone you care about. Sometimes it's really serious - like a loved one being killed. My uncle was murdered when I was a kid and I've only just begun realizing how big of an effect it had on me. When I was a kid, I saw a movie about Adam Walsh and, afterwards, would dive into a ditch when a car approached me on the street, suspecting everyone of wanting to abduct or kill me. I'm seriously afraid of knives, the weapon used on my uncle, and can hardly bear to see anyone cut, even in a movie. I consciously look for escape routes wherever I am, just in case a mass murderer might approach. I always thought this was normal - that I was just aware and prepared. But really, it's abnormal paranoia resulting from a child's brain processing the reality show version of a horror movie.
I remember not knowing much of what was going on at the time because I was young and my parents spared me the details, but I could feel the impact on everyone around me. My mom and her sisters were crying and huddling, talking in hushed tones. I knew the world had been turned upside down and safety was gone. My grandmother sealed off my uncle's room like a museum and it lay frozen in time for years. She became ill not too many years later, likely from the stress and sadness.
The pain must have been terrible, because speaking of him still brings tears to my mom's eyes. His murderer received very little time for the crime, yet they forgave him. I can only imagine how much strength that took. I cannot pretend to understand what it must have felt like to see his killer walking the streets again afterwards, but they forgave because the alternative would have been crippling. Nothing would bring him back and torturing themselves with anger and desire for revenge would have meant that they would be living victims, always replaying the fresh pain of his loss.
I thought that I had learned from their example. When I'm hurt, I try my hardest to forgive. When I hurt someone, I consider it my responsibility to sincerely apologize and ask for forgiveness. I want to live my life by the principle that not forgiving brings me as much pain as it would to my assailant. I've always considered myself successful, but it is becoming painfully clear that I have a lot to reexamine
What if the person you've hurt means very much to you and they won't, or can't forgive you? Even worse, what if the person who won't forgive you is...you? How do you ever find closure when the natural order of things - hurt, apologize, forgive - just doesn't work?
I can't forgive myself of anything. I don't know why, but I never shared anything I was going through with anyone. It's the reason I put up with bullying all through school and it's the reason I didn't tell anyone I was gay until later in life, after years of marriage. Every bad and painful experience was kept inside where I could process it as best I could and build up the strength to wake up the next day and deal with it again. I didn't want to appear weak, and I definitely didn't want to be embarrassed of anything. I've tried to figure out why this was my natural state - to figure out something that happened when I was a child to make me this way. Maybe my family didn't share their feelings either? Like when the details of my uncle's death were kept from me - maybe everyone hid the truth and their inner pain? But, I know that's not true, because I witnessed those around me sharing sadness and comforting one another. Maybe I didn't want to be a burden to anyone? That's true, but why? I don't really have the answer, and that scares me, because I like everything to have a logical cause and effect. What scares me more is that I've lived to be almost 38 and am just recently learning to share the ugly, scary and stressful thoughts that are trapped in my mind. They feel like a whirlwind sometimes, scattered and colliding, because there are so many that need to be freed from their decades-old prison.
People who know me see me as a beautiful person. I see myself as quite the opposite. I think of all the shame and rage I kept bottled in for so long, and the self-hatred that resulted because I had no vehicle for letting it out and getting comfort. I think of the time I stabbed a friend in the mouth with a marker in 4th grade because he sat in a chair I was saving for someone else. I think of the time I walked away from my mother in a department store and then naively took the hand of a stranger who offered to help me find my way back. Thankfully, she returned me to my mother, but what if she had kidnapped me - what would my parents have gone through because of my stupidity? I think of the secrets I held, the lies I told, the escalating arguments, the yelling and hateful words that I would expel because I just couldn't control everything anymore and I was afraid of going insane. I look at the big toe of my right foot and see the broken nail, an injury caused by a set of keys I threw in a tantrum, which has never healed. These things are but a very small sample of the things I feel guilt about, the reminders of a life lived wrongly, and I have no idea how to even begin forgiving myself when there are years of other transgressions that are first in line to be annulled.
Why can I forgive pretty much anything done to me by anyone else, but very little that I have done to others? Why do I not see, nor care, about the hurt I caused to myself throughout it all? Do I really view myself as so unworthy of tender loving care that I refuse to give myself a break? No one is perfect, so why do I need to be? There is so much more that I could write on this subject, but even stating what I have, in black letters on this white laptop screen, is pushing the border of my comfort level at this time. I hope that changes. Actually, I know it will. I am incredibly grateful that I have someone in my life right now that is willing to listen, at the same time that I'm willing to share. I never took advantage of willing ears in the past...now is the time and he is a generous listener and a wise soul.
Each piece of my past that I share is helping clear away the barnacles that are stuck to this once-sinking ship. I feel as someone who was sentenced to life in a prison of his own mind who has finally been given a pardon. Each day I learn to love myself more and to love the world more. Each brave new step I take opens new doors to a more joyful, stress-free future. I have made so much progress, but still often find myself caught up in a tornado of thoughts that threatens to wreak havoc and stop me in my tracks. But I continue to move forward.
I don't know for sure if life is a one-time thing, but even if this is my only life or my third, I want to make it a good one. I want to spread joy wherever I go. I want to build people up and make the world a better place. I want to use my talents to their fullest and paint, write, explore, consider, philosophize and learn. I want to share all that I am and the barely tapped well of love I have to offer. And most of all, I want to learn to share it with myself. If I am ever to forgive myself, it will only be because I love me. I love everyone in my life right now so much, that I think I'm on the right path.
And here's a start - I forgive myself for thinking I was strong enough to handle it all myself. I didn't know any better. But now I do.