The Most Important Lesson
It was summer, late August. Exhausted from a twelve-hour work shift, I drove home, just breathing in sweet summer air with my windows rolled down. It was the kind of driving that I wasn’t really present for. My mind wandered.
I had only been living in my new place for a few short weeks, and the excitement of coming home each day was still at its peak. I was taking in the landscape of my new territory like a tourist. While passing the grocery store near my apartment, I could have sworn I heard my name being called. Hopeful to see a friend, I turned around and pulled into the store’s parking lot. I could not see anyone I knew. I decided I was just hearing things. I was pulling back out onto the street when I heard the shouting much closer and somewhat familiar sounding. I swerved into the turn lane and made my way into the parking lot from the opposite side. I frantically scanned the parking lot for someone I recognized.
A man pushed his grocery cart full of belongings, not groceries, right in front of my truck. I slammed on the brakes just short of his cart. The man staring at me was tall, thin. Very thin. Gaunt even. He had a long beard, graying with age, that matched the tufts of thinning hair hanging out from around his ball cap. He was wearing cutoff jeans, one leg shorter than the other showing the bottom of one pocket. Dingy white socks, pulled up high and showing dusty ribbons where they had once been slouched. Sneakers that had walked more than their fair share of miles. Aged tattoos showed through a blue net fabric shirt. He wore dark wrap-around sunglasses on his face - the kind with the rainbow-mirrored lenses, a pair of reading glasses around his neck, and another pair of sunglasses on top of the ball cap. Back up shades I wondered? He moved with quick rapid motions; a sort of frantic dance to a beat only he could hear. The flesh visible around his beard and dark glasses bore the evidence of a rough life, leather-like...long past it’s supple prime.
This man was clearly excited that he had found who he was looking for as he whooped and hollered in my direction. The sound of his voice was muffled under the rattle of my truck engine. He walked up to the driver’s side window and my pulse quickened. I clutched the steering wheel tightly. With as much enthusiasm as an excited child he called into my open window, “Well hello darlin’!” The stagnant odor of alcohol filled my space. Words eluded me. I stared. I knew this man. He pulled off his shades, hooking them into his shirt. The reality of the situation hit me like a wave. An angry, storm-chased wave, crashing on the knife-sharp rocks and muddied brown palette that were the landscape of my heart.
With a loud metallic thump my truck bobbed beneath the weight of his belongings being tossed into the bed of my truck. For the first time since pressing my brakes to the floor I remembered to breathe. I inhaled so deeply that I could feel each lobe of my lungs, the actual shape of them in full capacity. My entire body expanded and contracted with this breath, causing a silent rush of warm tears to spill from my eyes and down my cheeks.
The passenger door opened and then slammed, his presence quickly filling the inside with a tangible and sharp electricity. “Woo hooooo, I knew I’d find you!”, he exclaimed. Still silent, I shifted my truck back into gear, eased out of the parking lot and headed for home, my father in the passenger seat.
My life has been like this, off and on for as long as I can remember. Like a movie I don’t have any desire to see, but I wind up in a theater watching it anyway, I’ve been watching it unfold.
Its been full of good and bad, but this one particular aspect has been so painful: I’ve forever longed to be a daughter. I’ve pined for the comforting hands of a father. For the love of the man who gave me life. For his affection and attention. For some special father daughter moments, that I could look back on with a warm heart. But all I could find, looking back, was a sad childhood, set to the back drop of a family divided by alcoholism and drug abuse with a father who wasn’t there. If I searched hard, I could find moments of happiness. But they were sparse, too few, like a cupcake with not enough sprinkles. I longed to be loved and protected. I wanted so desperately to be good enough, to be deserving of love, especially from him. I grew up angry and bitter. Ashamed that I was unable to love my father, myself and others enough to fix the feelings of unhappiness and depression that had become my constant companions. I made little to no effort with relationships, for I believed the love I was capable of giving held no value and it was certainly not the kind of love that made people stay. During this time in my life the meaning of joy held no resonance with me and love felt like it wasn’t enough.
In my late twenties, I began to search for myself, the person I felt locked inside. I looked for the me I wanted to create. I needed to make sense of my life. To come to some sort of peace. I had such firm beliefs about who I was and what I was able to accomplish that progress of any kind was difficult at first. My head, heart and body were all on separate paths, fighting each other for the right to lead. Which one would be in charge of our collective whole? I was full of anger and hate. A self-loathing fit for a criminal with a conscience. I was so caught up in the story of my life that I wasn’t fully living it. Circumstantial history and events defined me, who I was and who I had the potential to be.
Season’s changed and years passed. Desperate to break the vicious cycle of hate and anger controlling me, I began attending some local personal effectiveness seminars. They were brutal. Ten to twelve hour sessions lasting for days on end. Exhausted and swollen-faced from day after day of facing my own demons, I continued to be an active participant. Diligently doing my homework, journaling, participating in group exercises...but somehow still at a distance.
And then it happened. In a moment, literally a moment, everything changed. A cycle was broken, a page turned. I understood that my beliefs about who I was could be altered. That I was actually in control, taking responsibility for my own actions and reactions. That what had happened to me in the past was nothing but story, filler. It did not define my potential or me. In that moment I learned the absolute joy of forgiveness. Of acceptance. The beauty of being set free within my own body and life. I saw that the anger, hate, hostility and sadness of who I was on the inside affected everyone I came into contact with. Ugliness was emanating from within myself and seeping its wounded, acidic energy onto others and the world. The ripple of hate that had surrounded me for so long would no longer capture my unsuspecting self in its deadly undertow. I realized that the love I had longed my entire life to feel, could be and was born from a place of acceptance and forgiveness...of not only my father, but of myself as well. The once illusive joy I had longed for became abundant. I was fully present.
In a recent conversation with my father, I asked him what his favorite memory of my childhood was. And he said, “All of them. Every single one.” He then proceeded to replay his memory of my childhood as it was remembered in his eyes. I heard love in his voice, and I felt it in my heart. I have accepted him, my father, flaws and all. I have chosen to believe that he did the very best he could, and that the rest is left in the past. Forgiven. I have set down the burdens of anger and of hate and I no longer mourn for the loss of what could have been. I feel light. Loving is so easy, it flows like a beautiful river through me, carrying it’s peaceful energy onto others. Learning to love others and to love myself has encouraged parts of me to bloom, which I didn’t know existed. I am his daughter, and I am loved.
I no longer wish for what I know I have.
I am a joyful, authentic and beautiful woman; living gratefully in the moment