As I sat on the floor and wrote my father a letter of forgiveness, I had no idea that this process would impact my life in such a profound way. Blinded by tears, I could hardly see the words I wrote but I felt them throughout the very fiber of my being. I read and re-read the letter and carefully folded it and put it with my travel documents. I intended to give this letter to my dad on my next visit home, which I hoped would have been that Christmas. That letter was written in November 1997; my dad unexpectedly made his transition one week after my forgiveness exercise. True, this incident happened over two decades ago, but it changed my life, and left me with lessons that will still govern my actions.
Prior to this life lesson, I used to think that forgiveness was for the person or situation I forgive. I believed that as long as I withheld my forgiveness, I was justly punishing the one who I perceived had wronged me. That was way before I learnt about this thing called “ego” and way before I figured out that refusing to forgive was like taking poison and hoping the other person would die. But who took the poison? No wonder the other person was going about his/her business, perfectly happy, while I was miserable! My unforgiveness was killing me. It took many bouts of suffering for me to realize that forgiveness is for me, not anyone else. I finally understood what it meant when I first heard someone say “forgiving you releases me”! That was a “light bulb” moment for me. In my refusal to forgive my dad, I felt in control. I had my foot on him holding him to the ground, refusing to let go until he made right all the wrong things I perceived he had done. Not once did it occur to me, prior to my epiphany, that as long as I was holding him to the ground I couldn’t move either. So I was bound to the very person I was trying to get away from. How ironic!!
What had led me to harbor such resentment against my dad? This is a man whom I adored. He was smart, bright, handsome and had the best sense of humor ever. But something changed in him and he became an alcoholic and I felt like somewhere along the line he stopped being a good father to my siblings and me, and a good husband to my mother. That did not sit well with me, as I watched his actions drastically change our family life. I resented that he allowed alcohol to take away the person that I knew and loved, and the only way I knew how to deal with this was to withdraw. I knew that my withdrawal hurt him deeply. Everyone in my family used to tease me that I was his “favorite” child. Maybe that’s why he nick-named me “Precious” at birth. And here was I, his “favorite” child, harboring all these angry thoughts and feelings about him. I hated it when I was called his “favorite” and on some level I now saw this as an opportunity to show the others that I was not his favorite. After all, I could resent him as much as everyone else. I was in. But was I? I was dying inside because I intuitively knew that the real daddy was still there—no matter what. But where was he? How come my anger and resentment was not bringing him back?
Those and other answers came years later, after I moved from my home country to the United States, and Divine Grace led me on a journey of spiritual discovery and the power of forgiveness. In my exploration I read many books and articles on forgiveness, and in one of these readings, I was led to an exercise that encouraged me to have an imaginary conversation of forgiveness with my dad. At the end of the conversation I wrote him my letter – which I never had an opportunity to deliver physically. Daddy’s transition left me with all sorts of mixed feelings: guilt, more anger, regret. I had questions: Why had I waited so long? Would he have been alive had I not mentally and emotionally forgiven him? Was this why I released him? To die? Then Grace stepped in again and made me see that even though he may not have read the letter, the Universe let him know that I had forgiven him and myself. I had taken my proverbial “foot” off him, and in doing so I set him free to go on to his next experiences, and I was able to move on to mine too. We had both been given a gift, through the power of forgiveness. For the first time in years I felt relief. I could move on. I could love my daddy like I used to.
I’m learning to release “stuff”, but I have held on to that letter as a reminder of the awesome gift I was given. And the gift keeps on giving, because now, more than two decades later, when I am tempted not to forgive I remind myself that “forgiving you, releases me!” Such is the power of forgiveness…so I forgive.
Namaste, my friends!