Last night I had the good fortune to run into a dear friend who I hadn’t seen since the “beforetimes.” She happened to be having pizza and a beer by herself when I entered the quaint little neighborhood restaurant. I pulled up a chair, a slice of pizza and a beer of my own and we caught up on life. It had been quite a while since I’d recounted the traumatic events of the past year of my life, and as I was answering her questions, there were moments when I couldn’t believe that I was telling my own story. At the end of our heartfelt catch up, she looked at me with genuine eyes that were mixed with awe, sorrow and admiration and said “Wow, I had no idea that it had been so rough for you; I have thought of you often and had hoped that you were well. It’s an awful story but you look really good; I’m really glad to see you and hear that you’re moving forward.” Our serendipitous encounter helped me realize how far I’ve come during this past trip around the sun.
A year ago I was preparing my heart to spend my first Thanksgiving without my family. Even when I lived in France during my junior year of college, my Mom came out to Lyon to be with me for my favorite holiday. But last year when I was facing my first holiday without custody of my children, I knew I had to do something drastically different. So I booked a flight to Ensenada Mexico and went south of the border to build a home for a family who was living on dirt with cardboard walls. I tried to find gratitude in my heart for all that I had, even though it felt like I had lost everything. Without my family I was lost. And angry. And resentful. And confused. And scared.
While in Mexico, we worked alongside this beautiful young family who was living in a shed with three young children. In American terms, they had nothing. And yet they smiled as they worked alongside us and their kids laughed and chased bubbles that we brought. The baby sat in an old milk crate with dirt and wonder on her face. Their neighbors came and lent a helping hand to this family and on the last day the family prepared a meal for all of us who worked on their home even though they had little to give. I saw deep gratitude and love in their hearts and realized that this family had something that I didn’t: each other. While in Mexico, I found gratitude for my home and my material belongings, but upon my return home my heart was still broken by the loss of my family unit. Little did I know that the worst heartbreak was about to come. I was about to face challenge after challenge and heartbreak after heartbreak. My family was going to be further divided with a second divorce between my oldest son and my ex. I was about to be tested in a way that I never had been before. And you know what? I’m sitting here today and I’m still alive. Telling all of the hardships to my friend over pizza and a beer helped me realize that in fact, I’m better than alive- I am a warrior. I am a survivor. I have looked into the eyes of the demons that tried to scare me and put me back into a tiny cage, but I refused to comply. I struggled in that dark space and I emerged authentically me. The trials were a necessary part of my soul’s growth. I am learning a new way of living that is built on the foundation of self love. For the first time in a very long time, I feel like I’m listening to what I need. But there’s still one thing that I need to do to free myself from the pain of the last year: forgive.
By the way, I forgive you
Brandi Carlile sings this:Didn’t it break your heart
When you watched my smile fading
Did it ever cross your mind
That one day the tables would be turned
They told me the best revenge
Would be a life well lived
And the strongest one that holds
Would be the hardest one to earn
By the way, I forgive you
After all, maybe I should thank you
For giving me what I’ve found
‘Cause without you around
I’ve been doing just fine
Except for any time I hear that song
Oh, any time I hear that song– From Everytime I hear that Song, by Brandi Carlile
This year, I will celebrate Thanksgiving with my kids, my puppy, my mom and step-dad at an Airbnb in Utah. It’s not exactly traditional, but we’re doing the best we can with what we have where we are. And instead of gratitude, I’m working on forgiveness this year. Brandi Carlile’s song helps me to reframe the idea. Even though I’m not living the life that I thought I would be living, I can see now how fortunate I am. My marriage gave me three incredible children. They are all working to overcome their own challenges, and they allow me to walk alongside them, encouraging and loving them through every step along the way. In turn, I have parents who love and support me through all my challenges through phone calls, visits, meals and financial advice. I have friends who care deeply about how I’m doing and will laugh and cry with me. I have a job that I love with co-workers who support and uplift me. I have a beautiful little home that is uniquely me. I have an angel named Calvin and a spirit dog named Crosby who show up regularly in the form of blue butterflies, squirrels and music. And I have the cutest little dog that loves me fiercely and is helping me learn forgiveness, just as he forgives me when I fall short (which is nearly daily). So perhaps forgiveness is simply another form of gratitude?
I have a pretty good list of people I need to forgive which includes my ex for sure. Myself too. And God. And my oldest son. And society at large for teaching a generation of people to believe that if your marriage doesn’t last for a lifetime, then you’re a failure. I think my ex knew that our time together had served it purpose; we had learned everything we could from one another, we had brought three incredible beings of light into the world and we were growing in different directions. And we couldn’t figure out how to get back on the same page. And that’s OK. I would rather have the pain of the last year than continue to live in a marriage that’s full of feelings of inadequacy and anger and miscommunication. When I see our divorce from this light, I can be grateful that I’m free to experience a new way of living, and therefore I can forgive.
I’ve made peace with the Universe (aka God) because I’ve learned that every end is really just an opportunity for a new beginning. As Jason Mraz sings in 93,000,000 miles “we all need the darkness to see the light”; death and rebirth are just a cycle of life that’s integral to the human experience. Every sunrise and moon lit evening reminds me that there is still beauty in this harsh earthly existence, and it’s up to me to seek it. And so I do. And when I see a sky that’s burning alive with hues of coral and rose, I know that the Universe forgives me too, and encourages me on to a new day.
My oldest son manipulated and lied to me for months and I played a role in that awful dance. But to see him facing all of his demons head on inspires me and reminds me that we can do hard things. I cannot wait to wrap my arms around him this Thanksgiving! I am so grateful for his school, his therapists and the progress that he’s making; he is finally owning up to his destructive ways and is learning how to live healthily, with truth and integrity. I can absolutely forgive him.
As for myself? That’s going to take a while. Perhaps a lifetime. I know that forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight and that it will be my life’s work to truly love and forgive myself. I will make mistakes every single day of my life. I will say something I didn’t mean to say, I will make a judgement against somebody or against myself, I will lose my shit when my puppy pees right in front of me on the carpet, I will make a poor food choices, I will drink too much, I will struggle to say I’m sorry or I need help, I will choose being passive instead of being active, I will not hold a firm boundary, I will get jealous, I will be human. Forgiveness means offering myself some love and grace when I fall short and look at my wrongdoings as an opportunity from which I can learn and grow. And little by little, with daily practice, I will love myself better, forgive myself more fully, and finally free my soul for the bonds of this past year’s pain.
I know that my hurt and my pain from this past year were felt in equal measure to my love and commitment to my family. I don’t ever want to relive any of what I’ve been through since last Thanksgiving, but today I can honestly give thanks for all the lessons that last year has taught me. And if I can give thanks, I think that’s the first step in forgiveness, which will ultimately allow me to move forward. Rob Bell, a spiritual mentor of mine, says “We can choose the way of compassion, the way of forgiveness, the way of generosity. Or we can choose other paths and those have very real consequences in the world….When you forgive somebody, when you are generous, when you love and stand up to justice, you are, in that moment, bringing heaven to earth.” I’ve read that quote a million times, but when I recently read it again and applied it to forgiving myself, I felt like I understood forgiveness for the first time. If I want to rise out of the ashes and be someone who shines some heavenly light here on earth, I know what I need to do. One grace-filled moment at a time.
Wishing you and your family a blessed Thanksgiving. Whatever your circumstances may be this year, my wish for you is that you will know that you are loved, that you will forgive yourself when you fall short, and that you will find thanks for the little things. And may that fill your soul with a reminder of the goodness of life, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. Namaste.
Thought provoking and honest. Here’s my favorite forgiveness quote from Mark Twain, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
First of all, amazing share (as always) and since you asked… I just had bumper stickers rising to my thoughts the entire read. The two I feel most compelled to share are “life is what you make it” and “holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”.
Life is what YOU make it. That includes family events and holidays and rituals. We believe if we aren’t living the experience Norman Rockwell painted, we are failing and yet most people find family gatherings at the holidays unbearable. Life is what you make it, so make it joyful. It’s about who you’re with and not where or how. I’m confident you’ll look back on this year’s irregular thanksgiving in a random Utah Airbnb and realize it’s one of your favorites. Because you didn’t do the status quo of what’s “expected” but instead made it an adventure. Who knows? Maybe there will be many more Airbnb holidays in your future?
And forgiveness, that elusive minx. I can feel it in my bones that you were so close on the precipice of unlocking all of this. Unlocking the true power of forgiveness and how it sets you free. But we hold onto it so tight because we don’t think about what it’s doing to ourselves, we only think that we are punishing those who have wronged us in our eyes and are protecting ourselves from ever letting it happen again. we don’t actually see the self abuse we are inflicting upon ourselves. By staying mad or hurt or angry by something someone has done to us, including ourselves, we fear that if we release it, the stage is set and the door is wide open for the same person to come marching through and do it all over again. Once you can release that fear and realize that forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person but as an act of healing yourself you will know true interpersonal bliss and freedom. All I can say, as I know this from personal experience, I know you’re on the verge of discovering it all for yourself. And I for one, can’t wait to see you there. As always you deserve all of the joy in the world and then some. I’m so proud of how you have continuously tackled all of the challenges no matter how hard, no matter the result, no matter the want to throw in the towel, you’ve kept marching forward and that is what it’s all about. It’s so beautiful to see and completely inspiring.
Happy thanksgiving and live and healing energy to you. Thank you for sharing you write beautiful. Wish I could hug you.