Endless Horizons:  How We Learn and Develop

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I have a theory about life and about how we grow as individuals. I call this my theory of “Endless Horizons.”  I developed this theory through experience and observation.  I would like to share it with you this week.  It has been a big inspiration in my life and provided a great deal of motivation for me in my journeys.  It involves the ability to accept the unknown but with a difference that is important.  Whereas many theories posit an “unknown and unknowable,” my theory says that what is unknown may just possibly be “over the next horizon.”  Let me explain more.

Once upon a time, I believed that what we see, feel, taste and smell was all that there was.  It did not get any better or worse than what I was already experiencing.  I was usually a very angry guy.  I was ready to physically fight at the drop of a hat or some perceived slur or insult.  My temper and lack of anger management got me into a lot of trouble.  I was arrested for assault and battery.  I had more fights than I can remember.

“Those who improve with age embrace the power of personal growth and personal achievement and begin to replace youth with wisdom, innocence with understanding, and lack of purpose with self-actualization.” — Bo Bennett

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Perhaps worse was the constant state of fear that it kept my first wife and daughter in.  I never realized how hurtful my temper and lack of anger control was to them.  From my throwing things, to yelling and punching walls, I was like a volcano that might explode at any moment.  Even my sleep time was violent.  I was constantly having nightmares of someone chasing me and trying to kill me.  I would wake up drenched in sweat with my pulse racing a mile a minute.

My first wife and I divorced after sixteen years.  My daughter who was fifteen at the time eventually cut off all contact with me.  I have not seen or talked to her for over twenty years now.

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“Building a better life for every child is a lot harder than becoming a world champion. Both goals take dedication and commitment.” — Kim Yuna

I knew I needed some help and I joined a treatment program for violent and abusive men.  About ½ of the men were in treatment voluntarily and about ½ were court ordered.  It was sponsored by the Wilder Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I completed the program (which met weekly) for about 16 weeks. After that I continued with a support group for another two years or so.  The support group also met weekly and was restricted to men who had finished the regular treatment program.  I had a buddy (Jerry) whom I could call if my temper flared up.  Jerry was part of my process or control plan for dealing with my anger issues rather than acting out.  There was more to the plan that included walks and other means of cooling off. 

I do not know whether my marriage would have been saved if I had gone through this program earlier.  I do know my wife would have been a lot happier and my daughter would probably still be speaking to me.  Another thing I know is that my nightmares went away.

Getting back to my “Endless Horizon Theory,” I first observed it in the anger support groups that I went to weekly.  Before coming to these groups, most “angry” men were in denial.  It was always, “they or she made me do it.”  “It was not my fault.”  The horizon of most men in terms of their awareness of themselves was very short.  After they went to treatment, they made it to a new horizon of sorts.  From this new horizon, many men could now understand that it was their fault not the fault of others around them.  If they chose to, they did not have to go through life angry, violent and abusive.  Standing at the horizon of having accepted their responsibility for their anger, they could see a new horizon.  This horizon was one of equanimity and if not happiness, at least not misery.  The support groups offered a way to get to this next horizon.  As they say, “Rome was not built in a day.”  Well, dealing with anger problems involves a trip of years.  It would not be an easy journey for many of these men.

I stayed in the group for nearly two years.  Many of the men I met during these two years were also long-timers.  Our support group seemed to grow together as friends and comrades along the journey.  I think many of us made it to the next horizon.  When I arrived there, I saw another horizon just beyond the one I had reached.  We had all assumed that the best we could get would be a life without being constantly angry and explosive.  When I came to this new horizon, I began to understand that there was more that I could accomplish.  The next horizon promised happiness and a positive outlook to life.  Many of us had gone from a negative outlook on life to a neutral outlook and now saw a horizon that promised a positive outlook.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

Unfortunately, the Wilder Center did not see that as the role of these support groups.  They saw their mission as helping to curb domestic abuse.  They did not see their mission as helping men grow and develop beyond their ability to control their anger issues.  With the lack of support and even hostility towards our new goal, many of the long-termers in my group simply quit and went away.  I kept in touch with a few men, but the years have melted these relationships away. 

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.” — N. R. Narayana Murthy

I realized that when I reached one horizon, I could now see beyond it to a new horizon. It was clear to me that there was possibly an infinite number of new horizons.  If one has the tenacity, discipline and determination, there is no end to the development that we potentially can reach.  Another experience gave me more proof for my theory of “Endless Horizons.”

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My second wife Karen and I have both been to two Marriage Encounter weekends.  We went to our first Marriage Encounter weekend about five years into our marriage.  The second weekend was about ten years after the first.  Both weekends had very positive impacts on our marriage, friendship and lives.  My horizon theory was further strengthened by events that happened at both weekends.  I will relate the events at the first weekend.

I was long past worrying about anger issues by the time of our first Marriage Encounter weekend.  I had been trying to be more tolerant of Karen and some of the things that she did that annoyed me.  I had reached what I will call a Horizon of Tolerance.  I thought I was doing pretty good when I could practice tolerance.  When I could not, I would be sarcastic, rude and frustrated.  We went to the first weekend as a means of improving our marriage.  I will forever be grateful to the organizations and volunteers that put these weekends on.  We have found that both these weekends helped us to be better lovers, parents and friends.

Well, during the first weekend, we were having some discussion about the issue of tolerance.  I was pretty pumped up because I thought I was doing pretty good with dealing with this issue.  I made the remark that I thought I was very tolerant.  The response I received caught me by surprise.  It was something to the effect that tolerance falls short of respecting the other person. The speaker explained that tolerance simply accepts what is.  Respect on the other hand sees the benefits and appreciates the value of what is.  There is a significant difference between respect and tolerance.  For instance, we can tolerate minorities or people who are different than we are but that is not the same as respecting them.

I was confronted with a new horizon for my relationship with Karen and our marriage. Again, I realized that this new horizon further supported my “Endless Horizon” theory of growth and development.  I had finally accepted (and thus my theory was born) that there is an endless number of horizons.  Each horizon presents a new possibility for growth.  We cannot see beyond our present horizon, but we can be sure that something new will await us once we reach it.

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”  — Napoleon Hill

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What does it take to reach a horizon?  I said earlier that you must have determination.  It helps to have support and coaching along the way.  As the song says, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  It also takes commitment to keep trying.  There are lots of potholes along the way. There are dead-ends.  There are large crevasses, boulders and obstacles to overcome.  There are no straight flat highways to the next horizon.  It is not a straight-line journey.  There are times when you will get lost and times when you will go backwards.  But the journey is not to the fittest but to the ones who are most determined.

Time for Questions:

What horizon are you at in your life?  What new horizons have you found in your life’s journey?  What obstacles have you had to overcome?  Have you given up on finding new horizons or are you still searching for new horizons?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“The journey is never ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.” — Antonio Brown

Forgiveness: The Second in My Series of Most Important Virtues

This is the second in my series on what I called the Seven Most Important Virtues for Living.   I will speak from my personal experiences on Forgiveness and try to share as much of my own life as possible.  I do not want to speak as an “Expert.”  I am far from being an expert on this subject.

Every Tuesday morning, I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Please give me the strength and courage to forgive those who insult, disrespect or harm me in any way. May I be strong enough to offer forgiveness to others and to ask for forgiveness for myself.

Forgiveness is a subject that is both easy and difficult for me to write about.  It is easy because I have had a great deal of experience with the subject.  It is difficult because much of my experience has not been positive.  It seems to be a virtue that I am not very good at.  I can’t say that I ever gave it much thought until several years ago.  Here is what changed my life.

When my oldest and only daughter started college, about two years after my first wife and I separated, we had a slight argument over money.  I did not think it was that big of a deal but Chris (my daughter) became very angry.  She said she never wanted to see me or talk to me again.  She told me that I had made her life miserable when she was growing up and she wanted me out of her life for good.  Almost ten years went by and despite my best efforts, she would not reply or respond to any overtures I made.  I felt very sad but I did not know what to do.  I was torn between trying to see her and also trying to respect her wishes.

I ended up talking to a sizable number of people who one for reason or another had been cast aside by friends and loved ones.  I thought this would make an interesting story and I wrote some of my thoughts on this and sent it to the Oprah Winfrey show.  I never expected to hear from them.  Several months went by and one day I received a phone call.  The person on the other end wanted to know if I would like to be on the show and talk about my problems with my daughter.  The other person described this particular Oprah show as one that dealt with forgiveness.  I was somewhat intrigued but I had several misgivings and turned them down.

Perhaps a year or so went by and one day the Oprah show called me again.  For the second time they asked me if I would like to be on the show.  They explained that they would contact my daughter and if she accepted, we could both come on the show and tell our stories.  It would be a show about forgiveness and I could offer my apologies for anything I had done and see if Chris and I could work things out on the show with Oprah acting as a facilitator.  I decided to give it a chance and after discussing some logistics, I accepted the invitation.

A couple of weeks later, I was flown with Karen and my step-daughter Megan to Chicago where they had booked rooms for us at the Omni Hotel in downtown Chicago.  We were told that a limousine would pick us up in the morning and then take us back to the hotel or to the airport after the show was filmed.  We were given food vouchers and enjoyed some fine dining in our hotel rooms before going to bed.  There was a definite feeling of both excitement and dread on my part.  I had no idea what to expect.  At this time, I did not even know if my daughter was going to be there.

Next morning, I went for a run around the streets of Chicago.  A funny thing happened on my run.  A film crew from a local TV news network stopped me and asked me if I was a tourist.  I said more or less I guess I was and they then conducted a brief interview with me concerning what I thought of Chicago.  Two TV shows in one day!  After I returned to the hotel, Karen, Megan and I showered, dressed and waited for the limousine to take us to Oprah’s studio.

We were picked up and driven to the studio where Karen and Megan were taken to the audience area, while I was escorted to what they call the “Green” Room.  There were actually two such “Green” rooms where guests could be separated.  I talked to several other guests who were on the show to deal with the subject of forgiveness.  One was a man whose family had owned slaves and he wanted to ask forgiveness for the history of his family.  The other was a Methodist Bishop who wanted to ask forgiveness for her church because of the slaughter of innocent Native Americans led by a Methodist minister named John M. Chivington at Sand Creek in 1864.

A short time passed and while I was getting my nose and head powdered, Oprah Winfrey herself and her little dog came in to chat with me.  We talked for a short time and she told me that she wished me the best but to keep in mind that I might not get what I hoped for.  She said often the people that felt that they had been wronged did not want to forgive the other party.

Well, I went out on the stage with Oprah and I was truly surprised that my daughter Chris had also accepted the invitation to be on the show.  I was immediately hopeful that we could resolve our differences and begin a new relationship.  Oprah explained that there were three components required for forgiveness.  True forgiveness requires one to accept all three components if that is what the other party needs.  The three components of forgiveness are:

  1. An apology or request for forgiveness
  2. A willingness to listen to how you hurt the other party
  3. A willingness to make amends or to try to correct the wrong in some way

Oprah started off the conversation by asking my daughter Chris why she did not want to speak to me.   Chris had a lot of reasons.  I had already realized that I was often angry when she was young and I would explode at the drop of a hat.  I had gone through a Domestic Abuse Program a few years earlier in which through counseling and a support group, I had begun to get my anger under control.  Chris had felt that while growing up she was often terrified to be living with me and feared for her and her mom’s life.  She had never been physically hurt by me and I can only remember one time that I had hit her mom and that was after she hit me.  Nevertheless, there was a constant feeling of fear in the house punctuated by my violent outbursts which included throwing things, punching walls and yelling at Chris and Julie, my spouse at the time.

When, Oprah finally turned to me and asked me what I wanted to say.  I had no doubt in my mind that I was sorry for my actions and that I wished I could turn the clock back.  I apologized to Chris and asked if she could forgive me.  I was ready to make any amends possible.  At this point, I had covered two of the three conditions for forgiveness.  I had said I was sorry and I had listened to her pain and grief.  I was ready to make amends.  However, Chris did not buy into the scenario.  She refused to accept my apology and informed me that she did not need a father in her life.  However, she said that she had two children and that perhaps they could use a grandfather.  She would have to think about it.  That was the end of our conversation.

Before leaving the show, Oprah told me that she was sorry it had not worked out better but that forgiveness is a very delicate process and that it does not always go the way we hope it will.   I was not discouraged though and I felt that the outcome was positive.  I thought that I could be a good grandfather and I welcomed the opportunity.

A few years later, I was again contacted by the Oprah show for a “follow-up.”  I again agreed to go on the show.   I do not know if Chris accepted or even had an invitation as she was not on the show.  My segment was very brief.  I explained that Chris still did not want me in her life but that I had been given a few opportunities to share some time with her two children, Frankie and Jesse.  These times were very brief and it was clear that it was only when Chris was present that I was allowed to see them.  I did not know it at this time, but even this opportunity to spend time with my grandchildren would soon derail.

While asking for forgiveness is never easy, particularly when you realize how you have hurt someone; I do not think it is the hardest part of forgiveness.  I had no trouble asking for forgiveness, for I am truly sorry about how Chris had to grow up.  I wish I could redo her life and give her a new childhood.  It is now fifteen years or so since Chris and I last spoke.  She has been remarried and divorced but I have not been invited to any of her life events and any efforts to send letters or cards have not been acknowledged.

The hardest part for me has been to “let go” and to forgive myself.  I tried going to confession at one of my annual Jesuit retreats.  The Father and I talked about my “sins” and the issues I had as not being a very good father.  I was granted forgiveness by my confessor.  I had hoped that this would help me come to turns with the grief and pain that I often feel when I think of Chris.  It has not.

I have been told, that I really have not forgiven myself.  These are just so many empty words to me.  I do not know how to do this.  Particularly, when I know that out there someplace is someone that I spent twenty years with and to whom I am now totally irrelevant.  I never stopped loving my daughter.  I always wanted to be a good father and in my own way, I did try to be a good father.  I remember many good times we had together as father and daughter.  It is hard to realize that the feeling and memories must not be mutual.  If hell is of our own making, then I have made the hell that I feel when I think about Chris and wonder how she is.  I wonder if she will ever change her mind and give me another try.  Until then, I hope someday to know what it will feel like if I could forgive myself, but how can I?

Time for Questions:

I really cannot think of any.

Life is just beginning. 

Sometimes, it seems like it just keeps repeating itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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