We all transform. We all change.
Become new people—happier people, sadder people, more patient, more grumpy, more loving, less forgiving— whatever the changes, we all change. We all know someone who became bitter after a breakup or gentler after having a child. Change is inevitable—the question is, how much can we decide who we change into?
Most of our changes are gradual, small, almost unnoticeable at the time. It is usually only in hindsight, over years that we can see how and how much we have grown, evolved, adapted, if we can see it in ourselves at all. Sometimes it takes a comment from family or friends before we notice that we have changed. But occasionally, just sometimes, we have a moment where something happens that transforms us instantly.
This is the story of my moment.
My father died when I was nine years old. Pancreatic cancer.
It took just three months from when he was diagnosed. My parents believed that children should be told the truth, so we knew what was going on and what the inevitable outcome was. As far as that goes, they probably handled it as well as they could. I do agree that honesty is best, even with small children. However, I still ended up being angry…at my father…for dying.
Yes, as completely irrational as that sounds, I spent the next ten years being furious with him for leaving. Apparently this is pretty normal for kids who lose a parent at that age. My anger turned inwards—I was a quivering mess of insecurity that was unheld and unseen. In retrospect though, even then, my natural tendency towards self-awareness was helping.
I knew that I was mad at my father for dying. I knew this was irrational. I knew it was only one aspect of my life.
Twice as a teenager I had a dream. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I remember the dream as if it was yesterday. Somehow, my father had come back to us. We were living, Swiss Family Robinson style on an island (completely irrelevant) and he had somehow talked God into letting him come back. Everyone was completely thrilled and having a huge loving reunion. Except me. I was still so mad at him for dying that I refused to talk to him at all.
I had that same dream at least twice in my mid to late teens. It was a disturbing dream. It added guilt and overwhelming sorrow to my anger. I didn’t want to be so mad at him, but I couldn’t figure out how to get past it.
When I was twenty one and nine months (I can pretty much tell you to the day), I had the dream again. My father came back and I forgave him. I didn’t have to think about it in the dream, or work on it, it was just there. Forgiveness.
It turned out he had been a Nazi spy (in the dream); it didn’t matter— I loved him and accepted him anyway. I remember waking up sobbing. The joy and relief at finally letting go was so huge.
That dream changed me forever.
Instead of being a person who clung in anger, I became a person who could let go of things. From being the teenager who watched grief swallow her mother and swore to never love, I finally become someone who could feel love, completely, deeply, unconditionally. I became a friend who, instead of holding my friends to impossible standards of suiting me, I accepted others for who they truly were, and honestly not minding if that did not always suit me.
I had a few more episodes along the way that took me a while to get over, but I did get over them. I became someone who could let my beloved husband leave because that’s what I knew he needed to do for his own purpose. I am someone who looks behind the inflammatory words my sister writes and sees the love and concern behind them. I am a person who makes the first call, reaches out, apologizes, stays calm and gives hugs.
When my mother passed away a few years ago, the letting go and moving on was pretty much instant. Not from the grief, but from all the wanting and yearning. I had wanted her to be a more attached parent, a more nurturing mother, a more selfless person. She could be none of those things—she could only do her best, which was emotionally limited. But, I remember the weight of wanting something different from her simply dissolving in the days after her death. She could no longer be anything other that what she was, so I simply let go of my side as it no longer had anyone to play against.
Forgiveness sets you free.
It truly has very little to do with the other person. Whether or not they “deserve” it, whether or not they even know about it, the person who will grow, who will live, who will be happier is you. I had a dream to help me with that the first time, but anyone can start without that.
Maybe just start small—forgive a slow waiter, be cheerful with the kid who gets your change wrong at the store, hug your mother or sister when they question your career choice, instead of getting defensive—they are really just communicating their love and concern for you.
Forgiveness is a change you can see straight away. That saying about how resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die—so very true. Letting go of all of those stories about who did what when and how it wasn’t fair—the only person you are hurting is you.
We can’t choose how other people behave or choose some of the big events in our lives. No matter how much we want to. We can only choose what we do with it. Rant, cling, gripe and fester? Or forgive. Let go. Choose happiness.
We all change, we all transform. We can decide into what. You can decide who you become out of all the experiences of your life. You get to decide who you are.
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Editorial Assistant: Leila Taylor Jankowski / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Hartwig HKD/flickr
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