Last night I sat in the little discussion group and listened to a woman talk about the changes she is going through adjusting to a new stage in her life. Her youngest child has gone off to college, and she starts a new journey defining who she is without children in her house.
All of us as parents face that day and time when our greatest joy is that our children venture out in to the world as adults; joy that they made it that far, joy that for the time being the choices they make seem positive and exciting, but sometimes it comes with the pain of realizing that decades of focus on the well-being of someone else is no longer possible, or appropriate. Yet nothing will ever be the same again.
My focus drifted away as I absorbed her pain, remembering my own challenges as my children left the nest, compounded by the end of a long marriage and divorce. The blast of the horn on the long freight train rumbling by on the nearby track separated me temporarily from the words she continued to speak, but not the touch of her emotional tone.
Outside the sky had begun to darken, the setting sun touching the tops of a few nearby clouds with magenta and orange as their underbellies deepened into gray. The blue of a few minutes before paled also, making the sky that much more striking. I was grateful I had chosen the seat I had, facing the front of the building where the plate glass windows looked out not only on the street, but a piece of that sunset, too.
The woman’s husband sat near her, nodding toward the nearby box of tissues long before any of the rest of us realized her struggle to speak. I took my cue from him and pushed the box closer to his wife so she could easily pull one out.
Once again I felt a momentary envy as I sensed his attunement to his wife still present after the mighty struggles I knew they had been through over their many years together. It is not that I regret making the decision to divorce when I feel this, but rather a sorrow that a certain dream of continuity had to fade and come to an end so that I could evolve into the person I am today.
I remember many years ago as my brother lay dying a conversation about some money he wanted to leave me. “It’s for educational purposes,” he said. “For you, or for your kids in case any of you want to go to graduate school.” I know how hard it was at times for him to pay for his doctorate at an Ivy League University without such a lump sum to draw on.
“Of course, I would consider leaving your husband a major education of sorts, too,” he said, smiling. “So do whatever you want with it.”
I have been working hard on forgiveness of my ex-husband lately. Forgiveness of the things for which I feel a very deep resentment, like the fact that he did and still does his best to drive a wedge between me and our children. Indignation that in his desire to be mean to me, it has sometimes put our kids in the uncomfortable spot of seeming to have to choose between which parent they will spend time with, or feel closer to.
He has been successful in this intent in many ways, but the blessing for me is that my kids have not cut me off, though at times I still feel ostracized. Then there is the whole list of things which I felt were unforgiveable sins in our marriage Those “sins” eventually adding up to a breaking point for me.
The passage of time and a whole lot of work on myself has changed some of my perceptions about that relationship. I heard a different definition of “sin” a few years ago that holds true for me today. “Sin” is a term from archery that means “missing the mark.” Yes, indeed, I can say the ills of my marriage certainly involved missing the mark in so many of the areas of dreams and hopes and expectations.
The news for me is that I have finally begun to look at how I might have played into the sins for which my ex-husband holds me accountable. Accountable even to the point of trying to amputate me from his existence; past or present, as wife, or friend, or even mother to our children.
This is an undeniably mighty resentment I see clearly from the height of my high horse. It is my perception that I am in the right, and his resentment is, of course, unfounded. Perhaps the time has come for me to dismount and ask myself, “What was my part in this?” If relationship is really supposed to be a two-way street then what is my 50% that still needs to be cleaned up?
In a few weeks it will be seven years since our divorce became final. I moved out, but in many ways I have not moved on. I have been judgmental, and petty. I have held on to resentments and disappointment and anger. I have inflicted punishment, where possible, perhaps the greatest of which was to give up and leave. I have derived satisfaction from his pain and limitation, both in the past and now. So who is it today, this minute, who suffers from my thoughts and actions? I do.
“Pray for your enemies,” is an injunction I have read a thousand times in spiritual literature of many forms. I understood the benefits of this, but only on an intellectual level before. I have recently begun to experience what a gift it is to do this in present time, seriously, and from the heart.
“Wish for your enemies all the good that you would bring to yourself,” it says in a recent reading I encountered.
A great frustration I have felt about my marriage is that somewhere along the way I got on my ex-husband’s “shit list.” Nothing I ever did seemed to get me off that list. I became the enemy without ever seeing how.
The revelation is in realizing I had such a list myself. He was the one at the very top. This simple act of prayer, of wishing my ex-husband well, even for a minute, is miraculous. He has not only moved down in the ranking on my list, but seems to have disappeared entirely. There is room now to let go. I can “put down the rope in this game of tug-of-war” as they say.
One definition of forgive is to “give up all claim” on the one forgiven. Yes, I think I have finally done so.
“It’s all God,” a certain guru is quoted as saying. That means that you and I, and my ex-husband, too, are all God. In ceasing to attack the man to whom I was married with “justified” thought and action, I have ceased to attack myself.
Thank you, God. What a relief.