Longfellow writes, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."
While there are many levels and layers to forgiveness, I'd like to share a personal story related to Longfellow's quote. It is my hope that this story will inspire you to open your heart to someone who does not know how to show their love.
Both of my parents were born and raised in the deep South. They were taught that raising children should be simple. Teach them to obey without question, be polite, work hard, and end every sentence with ma'am or sir. In and of themselves, most of these qualities are valuable to possess, but I didn't know this until many years later.
Growing up, I discovered that questioning their authority in any way was often met with physical and emotionally challenging consequences, especially when they had been drinking. Alcoholism ran through the family history on both sides.
I learned to walk on eggshells until I was a teenager. By then, I had gathered enough sorrow and pain to often be defiant and search for a different way to live. I left home when I was 17.
At the age of 21, I found myself living in the beautiful countryside of North Carolina. I remember clearly the cool spring day I decided to plant a vegetable garden. The sun hadn't been up very long but I knew it was a perfect day to get out my shovel and hoe to begin preparing the ground.
Dressed in bluejeans, a long sleeve flannel shirt, and boots, I began the process of churning up the dirt until it was suitable for planting. As the sun rose and the day grew warmer I discarded my shirt and enjoyed the warmth on my skin. After a while, the jeans gave way to shorts and the boots gave way to bare feet. Ahh, what a wonderful feeling.
I worked like this through the rest of the day enjoying the sweat and aching muscles that came along with the job. At days end, as the setting sun colored the sky, I sat on my porch looking out over my creation with great pride. I realized how much I had enjoyed working and how grateful I was, that as a child, I had been taught to work hard until the job was done.
Suddenly, my heart opened wide and I understood what my dad had been trying to teach me so very long ago. I began reflecting on the many values he tried to instill while battling with his own demons. I became aware of his nature in a way I had never seen before. There was no doubt how much he loved me, and now I realized beyond a doubt how much I loved him. Gone in an instant were the years of bitterness held in place through my lack of understanding and inability to see beyond my story.
Simply by taking a moment out to better understand his sorrow and suffering, our relationship was healed. I discovered that forgiveness was mostly for me and came quickly when I looked with new eyes. It can be for you too.
I'm reminded of a quote by Bryon Katie. "Forgiveness is the discovery that what you thought happened, didn't."