Sunday, April 28, 2013

Learning to Forgive

The first three decades of my life I have to admit, I was not a very forgiving person.  Then I became a mom, and the cliché is true-- motherhood changed me.  Everything ceased to go according to my plans, and I had to learn to let things go.  My marriage fell apart under various strains before my son even turned 2, and the last thing on Earth I wanted to be was a self-employed, single mom, but that is exactly what I've had to manage the last 8 years.  In the process, I lost almost all the material things I treasured, kind of like Job in the Bible, and of course there was the option of just wallowing in self-pity, and becoming angry and bitter-- but I have seen too many go down that path.  It does not end well.  So, I made a different choice-- to forgive and move on.  Not that it was easy, but it is far healthier and ultimately more rewarding.

In this last decade of my life, I've definitely mellowed.  I've come to accept that none of us are perfect, that we all make mistakes, and that you shouldn't judge someone based on whether they suffered a setback, but rather pay attention to how they recover from that setback.  Here are some concrete examples: (1) I am so proud of my ex-husband, who has blossomed into a wonderful father since our divorce; (2) I am truly touched by the warmth my father has shown me in the past few years after being MIA for the first 38 years of my life; and (3) I am relieved to see my mom at peace now that we have reconciled our differences just in time to bury my grandmother without further drama.  These are all beautiful gifts that I've been privileged to witness-- but only because I chose to forgive rather than harbor grudges against them.

Over the last 6 months, while many great things have occurred in my life, I have also suffered some severe losses-- I sold my condo at a huge loss, my grandmother died, and I broke off an engagement.  Yet when people see me, they cannot understand why I seem to be so happy.  Well, simply put-- it is all about perspective.  I have my health, a job I love, a great kid, and an amazing group of family and friends.  These past 40 years, I've learned that you need to focus on what you have, not what you don't have.  The fact is that money is often wasted on the rich.  Don't accept someone else's definition of success or wealth-- you need to define these things for yourself.

Next month, I get to speak to the Fresh Start students at Living Classrooms.  These are young adults that may have made a mistake early on, and now need to start fresh in life.  They obviously won't have the same trajectory in life that I had-- but maybe that is actually better.  My path left no room for errors.  To escape poverty and follow my dreams, I had to walk a very tight line.  It's been a hard, and sometimes very lonely road.  I wouldn't wish this path on my own son, so what does that tell you?  Against all odds, I proved the one thing that I really wanted to prove, and it is this: that you could take a poor girl from the projects, and given the same opportunities as an affluent child, she could be just as pretty, smart and successful.  Why?  Because we are all created equal-- unfortunately, we are not all born with the same opportunities.

We all have to play with the hand we are dealt in life.  I was born with a crappy hand, but I played my hand well.  I hope to teach my son, and other young adults how to do this too.  That's why I am psyched to share my story with them, and more importantly to spare them some heartache by explaining that the best survival skill you can learn quickly in life is the ability to forgive.  To be able to forgive, at whatever appropriate level, in a timeframe that works for you, is the best gift you can give to yourself.  It allows you to stay positive and move forward, and with each new day we can appreciate new joys.  Let the sorrows go; let life's lessons make you that much stronger, and above all-- forgive yourself.      

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