June 10, 2009
The greatest lesson I have ever learned is from my mother.
She taught me a course on forgiveness. A curriculum of love.
When I was sixteen years old my mother disappeared. She had been in a relationship with a man who we had come to learn was not the knight in shining armour he said he was. For years he managed to keep his lies a secret from us all. We were but puppets dancing to the manipulations of the strings he controlled. Over time, his grip loosened on my sister, on myself and others and we began to see the truth. But he would not let go of my mother. After months of desperately trying to set her free from this relationship, she vanished into thin air.
There was no goodbye letter. No phone call. Nothing. She was just gone.
Her disappearance was the secret I carried with me as I struggled to balance math, and rehearsals, and everything else that comes along with being sixteen. It was not something I was allowed to talk about in my father’s home, so I began searching for the answers in my mind. I waited for the phone call saying that they had found her body, murdered by the man whose lies she had loved, but it did not come. If she was not dead, the alternative was worse. If she was not dead, she had left on her own accord. She had abandoned us. My sister and I, the little girls she had said she loved more than all the stars in the sky, and all the grains of sand, but not more than a man in a red Ferrari driving her straight into his hell. If she was not dead then all that love had been a lie.
Months past, though it felt like years, and finally one day in late may I came home to a message on my answering machine. “It’s me. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
It has been six years since that phone call. Six years spent learning to forgive.
I would be lying if I said forgiveness came easy. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t so angry I couldn’t breathe. I would be lying if I said the road to forgiveness wasn’t filled with pain. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t also filled with love.
On my seventeenth birthday, just weeks after that first phone call my mother sent me these words;
…At times, I have been lost, scared, frightened of the force of that love and in my fear I have not always managed to be the “perfect mother”, the “perfect wife”, the “perfect person”. Though I have always managed to be perfectly me, in all my beauty and pain. And, my love has always been and always will be perfectly alive. It may not always seem the perfect gift to you. It may at times feel like a burden and rather than the blessing I send it as, possibly even a curse. But my love for you can never end for it is infinite.
Remember when you were young how I would tell you “I love you more than all the blades of grass that will ever grow. More than all the drops of rain that will ever fall. More than all the grains of sand that will ever be. And so much more”? It is true. There never will be a time when my love for you does not flow. There is nothing you or anyone else can say, do or believe that could destroy my love for you and for your sister. For love is perfect, love is limitless and love can never die, for we are Love. It is the gift of our lives that never ends.
I wanted to believe it, but I needed answers. Why had she let this happen? How could she have done this to us? What kind of mother was she? Would she do it again? I told myself when I had all the answers, a map of what went wrong, I would forgive her. But sometimes the answers aren’t good enough. Sometimes answers don’t make it all make sense.
Having an answer doesn’t magically transform pain into trust. My pain was my protector. It was my shield and my sword. If I hold on to this anger you cannot hurt me again. In the many months following my mother’s return to her own life and ours I would test her. I would hurl my anger at her-blades of words aimed at the places where I knew it would hurt. I waited for her to leave again. What I didn’t know is that love does not leave. It does not die.
And in forgiving, I set myself free.
The road to forgiveness was not easy. It took patience and time. But mostly it took love. And in the end, forgiveness was a choice. A yes or a no. I forgive you, or I don’t. There are no strings attached. No restrictions, no fine print. Forgiveness is a river, the water can’t go back. Only forwards, over the waterfall, straight into love.
I wonder sometimes what might have happened if my mother did not come back. What if his grip had killed her? Every way I look at it, I know love would still have been the answer. It is the gift she gave us that has no end. Maybe I would have travelled on the river longer, maybe I’d still be on the journey to forgiveness, but I believe, without a doubt that it’s where I would end up.
That is the teaching of my mother. A lesson in love.