When I was four years old my biological father died. My mother married my stepfather a year later. Many of us have volatile childhood relationships; mine was no exception. I felt ignored, misunderstood and bullied at home and in school. Starting with Catholic school I was told: “you’re bad (Original Sin) and you can’t trust your body because it will always betray you.” Several days later, in public school, I was telling my new teacher and classmates about how the local catholic school treated its students. When I asked my young male teacher how public schools treat their students, his face instantly turned red in anger, and he yelled at me: “Sit down, shut up and do as I tell you. I’m the teacher, and I know what’s best for you!” So much for being asked to stand up and introduce myself to the class.
In my senior year of high school (1959-1960), as soon as I turned seventeen, I quit and joined the Air Force to get away from home and school. I was angry with the world. However, I was even more angry with myself for not being able to understand and overcome the challenges that were afflicting me in life.
After being discharged, I returned home to finish high school and attend college. Little had changed. Whenever we had a family gathering and started drinking, Dad and I would open up old wounds and start arguing over who was right or wrong, good or bad. Once, he became so aggressive I had to grip both sides of his white dress shirt to hold him off. Without warning, he surged forward even more aggressively, and his shirt tore apart in my hands. Both shocked by our behavior, we stopped arguing in embarrassment.
One day in the mid-1980’s, a decade or so after my family and I had moved from Maine to California, I sat quietly in meditation. As usual, random thoughts and feelings were bubbling up to the surface of my mind to quietly disappear. After a short while one area of thought took center stage. Without knowing how I had arrived there, I found myself reviewing life with my parents.
Instead of recalling all the things I didn’t like about my life with them, I could now see all the things I did like about life with them. As a husband and father myself now, I could see how challenging life is for all parents with children. Heck, it’s hard enough to take care of ourselves, let alone others in this ambitious and demanding world. How did my parents measure up to my wife and I as parents? Pretty damn good, I thought!
My stepfather married my mother with four young boys. At the time, my oldest brother, Rudy, was a teenager. My youngest brother, Tom, was a baby and Dicky and I were seven and four in that order. Together, my parents managed to feed us and keep a roof over our heads, despite the challenges they faced in life. As you can see, now that I was an adult and could see how challenging life as an adult was for me, I had new appreciation for my parents.
From the time my mother married my stepfather, we had a large garden every year. When he first married my mother, he had one racehorse. Several years later, we had three; we went to races and fairs every year. When I turned twelve, dad sold his horses and bought a thirty-foot boat that was rumored to have been used by Joe Kennedy and others to run rum and guns up from Cuba during Prohibition, through the Florida Keys.
During the summer we cruised Casco Bay off the City of Portland, Maine, fished, swam, water skied and had picnics on Basket Island. At home, over the years, we had chickens, goats, cats, dogs, rabbits, rhubarb and even flowers in our lives. As kids, we were able to ice skate, run free in the woods, climb trees and make maple syrup.
What more could anyone ask of their parents, I thought? Weren’t they doing the best they could and trying to learn more to do better? Absolutely! Don’t we all do the best we can and try to understand more to do better? Yes! In that moment of insightful clarity, I couldn’t help but forgive them and myself for our real and imagined sins. Still, in meditation, I reached out with my mind and asked them to forgive me for being so distant, angry, and ungrateful for so many years. There may have been larger reasons for why we all felt and experienced the things we did but that didn’t lessen the pain we all suffered during the many trying times we experienced.
The tension and negativity that had existed between us for so many years suddenly melted away in a flood of tears, replaced by a profound sense of understanding and forgiveness. If we’re all doing the best we can and learning more to do better, what more can we ask of each other? As long as we’re trying to learn from our experiences, what is there to forgive?
From the moment I forgave my parents and asked for their forgiveness in return, our relationship changed dramatically. During later visits to Maine, my parents and I treated each other in new and loving ways. We hugged each other, which is something we never did before. More than that, we hugged each other with love and joy.
Curiously, even though they didn’t directly experience the revelation I had during meditation in California, my experience seemed to affect them just as much as it did me. Our relationship no longer contained judgment and stress. It was full of fun and appreciation for each other. There was also no more heavy drinking or arguing.
This experience also led to improvements in the relationship between Sandra, my wife, and I. Our entire family, including new spouses and grandchildren has benefited from my personal change in perspective. For our entire family, it’s no longer about judgments of right and wrong, good and bad, I win, you lose; it’s about paying attention to our experiences and learning from them. It’s about learning the difference between what we like and don’t like, what works for us and what doesn’t, what makes us happy and what doesn’t in our oneness with and separation from All That Is, as both products of creation and creation itself.
For years, I was unhappy with many of the people and things in my life, including me. Why? Because I was blind to the goodness in us, even though part of me knew it was there. My current challenge is to expand my boundaries of love and understanding out far enough to include everyone and everything. If we’re all doing the best we can with what we know and learning more to do better, instead of judging ourselves, why don’t we support each other in becoming the selves we love to be?
It seems to me the easiest and least costly way to change the world for the better is for you and me to change ourselves for the better. Life is challenging for everyone, so why beat ourselves up over it? Is it fair to look for fault in others while our own go unattended? What do we gain except misery by picking on ourselves and others? Learning how to forgive each other and ourselves is a great place to start. It frees us to live, love, learn and evolve in new ways.
Empathy knows how challenging Being and Creation is for All That Is.
If you liked The Healing Power of Forgiveness, you may also like: Talk to the Universe. About to leave the military in 1964 with nothing more than a General Educational Development (GED) certificate and a habit of heavy drinking to ease my fears and inhibitions, there was much I had to think about. Late one night, before being discharged, I felt an undeniable impulse to go outside and lay under the stars. Talk to the Universe is my account of what happened.
Roger Peterson (Pete) – https://realtalkworld.com
Thoughts to Ponder
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having (creating) a human experience.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
In life and business, how often do we ask: is what I’m doing worthy of my ideals? Do my actions improve the quality of life or undermine it? Do they improve humanity’s chances for survival or threaten it?
How we define ourselves and All That Is forms our intent, which, in turn, forms our reality, whether we know it or not.
If we don’t consciously choose our beliefs, we unconsciously absorb them from our surroundings.
If this is so, how can we afford not to question them?
What do we want most for our children, ourselves, and the world?
What can we do today for the selves we’ll be tomorrow?
What works best and makes us happiest in our oneness with and separation from All That Is, as both products of creation and creation itself?
The secrets of the universe lie hidden in the shadows of our experience. Look for them!