On Forgiveness

Monday night on Oprah’s Lifeclass Tour ‘Living with Purpose‘ Bishop T.D. Jakes said, “So many of us have some sort of shame or guilt because we don’t fit into the stereotypical ideal situation that we would like to be birthed into, but that only points to how important it was that we got here.”  Oprah reiterated the story of her birth:  her parents were teenagers, were together once, she was born unwanted to a teenage mother in Mississippi, her grandmother raised her until she was 6, then she was sent up north to live with her mother, who then sent her to live with her father in Tennessee when she was 14 and pregnant (unconsciously repeating the past).  Her son was born and died shortly afterwards.  Her father told her she had been given a second lease on life.  Ultimately, the feelings generated from her childhood are what led Oprah to her purpose:  to help people tell their stories so that everyone can “know for sure” that no matter what, we are all worthy of love and just worthy period.  Or to paraphrase her during the May 2011 series finale, “I came into this world feeling unwanted and unloved, but I have found that love a million times over through you, my audience.”  Much of the ‘Living With Purpose’ show is about finding ways to forgive your past while allowing it to fuel your passion to find your purpose/calling.

What’s ironic is I was literally writing this blog post in my head right before watching Lifeclass since I’d recently returned from my father’s funeral.  My dad died March 27 around midnight.  He was 80 and had smoked since he was 10, so it wasn’t surprising.  He started not feeling well Saturday night and died on Tuesday night, which is a Godsend versus suffering from cancer.  My dad was a very unique individual.  I liken him to Don Draper on Mad Men, only without the Madison Avenue job/salary and he didn’t really come back after he left.  My parents had 7 children (photo of my parents and four older siblings at my aunt’s wedding; she made the photo boards for my dad’s service), of which I’m #5 or ‘the youngest of the first family and the oldest of the second family’ as I describe it.  My dad left when I was 2, returned when I was 6 and left again when I was 14.  Within months of my dad leaving, my oldest sister got married, my oldest brother went to college, and the third oldest moved out, which quickly pared us down from a family of 9 to a family of 5.  My mom worked nights and I helped raise my younger brother and sister.  Obviously this affected my life in many ways, on many levels.  I didn’t really see much of my dad for a very long time.  After I went through my divorce, I knew I needed to heal my relationship with my father.  I moved back home and when my brother in FL, who remained closest to our dad, would visit, the three of us would go out to eat.  It was as an adult woman, who’d worked, lived in various parts of the country and been through a marriage and divorce, that I could actually see my father and the gifts that he’d given me minus my expectations as a child.  They are many:  my height, hair color, eyes, body type are all from my dad’s side; his intelligence and love of reading; and his willingness to delve deep into the mysteries of life.  When we were kids, our dad used to take us out searching for UFOs.  We didn’t go to church; I didn’t even realize what that meant until I was 12, eating lunch in school with friends when they looked at me in horror because I wasn’t getting confirmed.  (I had myself baptized a little over ten years ago.)  Ironically, while my brother was closest to him, he was uncomfortable with our discussions about God, the ten spiritual dimensions, life after death, etc.  But it was through these discussions that I realized it was my dad’s insistence on ‘coloring outside the lines’ that gave me permission to follow my own metaphysical leanings.  I took him out to dinner in October 2009, right before moving to Florida, and he told me about the woman in his life, the mother of his first child before his marriage to my mom.  I knew as I drove away that night it would be the last time I saw him alive.  His funeral, where I got to see many relatives, was very healing for all who attended.  Many of us spoke, including me, but my favorite was my maternal Uncle Gene who said, “Larry, all is forgiven.” On the way to Rochester, I started rereading Caroline Myss’ book “Defy Gravity:  Healing Beyond the Bounds of Reason.”  I’d given it to my sister for her birthday two years ago and then reclaimed it six months later to read and still hadn’t finished it.  In that book, she writes about forgiveness and how our ego blocks us from it even when it’s what our soul craves.  She writes in the context of healing anything that stops us in our tracks:  illness; death of a spouse, child, parent (anyone extremely close); divorce; job loss/career crisis; or a catastrophic event like 2011’s tsunami and record-breaking tornadoes.  Basically anything that makes you think of your life in terms of ‘before xyz’ and ‘after xyz’ usually contains an opportunity for forgiveness.  It is by accepting that it happened (not accepting as in “that’s cool, dude,” but accepting as in understanding you can not change it) and forgiving those involved that allow us to heal and move forward.  Caroline tells the story of an adult son raised by an alcoholic mother; he only remembered her passed out on the couch, left home and had nothing to do with her for over a decade, but after he got cancer realized it was his anger at his mother that caused his ‘dis-ease.’  Don Draper’s character in Mad Men shows how severe wounding as a child can cause such dissonance in a person that it’s often their search ‘for the salve to the wound’ that hurts others.  Or as Betty asked him when they divorced, “Why wasn’t I enough for you?”  Caroline Myss points out that it’s often our desire to know WHY and our refusal to accept that our life hasn’t gone ‘according to plan’ that can do as much damage as the event itself.  The truth is as we go along we realize it often has more to do with the person who hurt us than with who we are.  It’s not that you weren’t smart enough, pretty enough, loveable enough (fill in the blank of whatever you think you weren’t enough of); it has to do with whatever issues the other person carries.

What’s interesting about forgiveness is you know when you have, and you can feel when others haven’t.  In the Lifeclass linked above, it’s very easy to tell who has and who hasn’t forgiven.  In talking to the people affected by my dad’s death I could tell the difference.  Even my Twitter feed is full of tweets about forgiveness from Deepak Chopra and others.  What I know for sure is this:  It’s true what they say, “Forgiveness frees you!”  Speaking of Deepak, he and Bishop Jakes, Iyanla Vanzant and Tony Robbins will be on Oprah’s Lifeclass dedicated to forgiveness tomorrow night, 4/16.

So who, or what event(s) in your life, do you need to forgive?

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