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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 29th, 2014

We have 3 kerry roper time waits for no mandays to contemplate the year of 2014 before we begin a New Year.  Perhaps, it might be useful to think of the time we have lost in arguments, grudges, misunderstandings and not wanting to say “I am sorry.”  We go on with feuds and squabbles and time keeps fleeing.  We think that perhaps we can make up for lost time, but making up for lost time can be bittersweet at best and at worst an impossibility.  Time waits for no one.  (Forgiveness song by Matthew West)

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come.  fWe have only today. Let us begin.”  ― Mother Teresa

I have a daughter who has not talked to me for many years now.  I think of the time that has gone by and how we could have spent it together doing things we could never have afforded to do when she was younger.  I think of how as adults we could and should have become good friends with talks by the fireplace and walking in the woods.  She is over forty now and I am nearing 70 and the clock keeps ticking and ticking.  I think of the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years that keep moving on by, each moment lost forever to us as this blanket of silence and anonymity shrouds our lives.

“They say time heals all wounds, but that presumes the source of the grief is finite”  ― Cassandra Clare

time_waits_for_no_man___tattoo_design_by_mortar_girl-d67o35cTime is lost forever, or can it be made up?  What if she suddenly decided that she wanted to have a relationship with me?  Could we make up the lost time?  If we started today to try to get to know each other; imagine the events that have changed our lives, the places we have been to, the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the funerals and weddings we have been to, the jobs and careers we have changed, the grandchildren we have helped raise.  So much that has changed each of us.  Could be ever bridge the gulf that now separates us?  Would it be possible to be close to each other or even love each other?

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes.  Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”    ― Haruki Murakami

It is difficult to imagine making up lost time, nevertheless, few of us would not try if given the opportunity.  It is an opportunity full of promise but also anguish.   We think we can go back to where we wanted to be years ago but while we are trying to make up the lost time, forgive1we feel anger at the waste of time that could and should have been prevented.  It might be water under the dam, but it will always seem like a useless expenditure of time and energy.  I have known brothers and sisters, parents and siblings and former friends who did not talk to each other for over fifty years.  Unfortunately, some of them died and there went any possibility to make up for lost time.  There are no guarantees in life and if you choose to waste time or lose time, perhaps you will never be able to make it up.  It might be too late when you finally realize your mistake and ask yourself WHY?  You will be left with regrets about what might or could or should have been.

“Any time not spent on love is wasted.”   ― Torquato Tasso

Perhaps you have no control over your lost time.  Time spent in jail, time spent recovering from an accident, and time spent in a relationship that was wrong may all constitute lost time.  Lost time is time away from ForgiveHeart-Jessica_Keylife that could have been lived much differently.  It is time that could have been spent more productively and happily.  Can this time be made up?  Better to not lose it in the first place.  But if you have lost it, then do your best to get on with your life.  Live each day the best you can.  As they say with money, don’t throw good money after bad.  Do not throw good time after bad.  The lost time is over and you have the rest of your life to live.  If you can live each day the best you can, you will be able to put the lost time behind you and perhaps even forget it someday.  Then again, maybe the time that was lost was a lesson and you needed to hear the message it was sending.  A good friend of mine was fond of saying: “There are no mistakes in life only lessons to be learned.”  I think of this comment often.  It is a good lesson to remember.

Time for Questions:

Do you have any lost time to make up?  Are you currently losing time that you should not be losing?  Have you thought about how you can stop losing this time? What can you do today to make it up?  What might you feel regrets about someday if you do not change your life today?

Life is just beginning.

Start now.  Don’t wait.  Tomorrow may never come.

 

 

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