This essay is part of our month exploring the theme of Forgiveness. Find out more about Chris in an audio diary she did on self-care and cancer and an essay she wrote on her newfound intimacy with her body during cancer treatment.
Embracing forgiveness can be the easiest path to experiencing life to its fullest, but human nature often holds us back from the act of forgiveness and in turn, from getting the most out of life and the joy of human relationships. Sometimes forgiveness happens without even understanding how you got there. That’s when it’s simple and with it comes a happier and richer life.
I grew up in a single parent household; my parents divorced when I was very young and for a good part of my childhood my dad wasn’t present. It wasn’t until I became a young adult that he came back into my life in a meaningful way. What I learned from my relationship with my dad, really only as I looked back on it after he passed away, is that the human condition is imperfect, and we can choose to dwell in that state of imperfection or to reside in the positive space and take from others what they have to offer, when they can offer it. My dad spent a good part of his life addressing his own set of demons. When he fully emerged back into my life I was in graduate school, engaged to be married and beginning my life as a functioning adult. My dad was embarking on his own journey. He was entering his third marriage and about to bring two young girls into his household and raise them as his own. I look back on that time and realize with some fascination that I held no bitterness towards him, even though most people would agree that I had real stuff to be bitter about.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY DAD, REALLY ONLY AS I LOOKED BACK ON IT AFTER HE PASSED AWAY, IS THAT THE HUMAN CONDITION IS IMPERFECT, AND WE CAN CHOOSE TO DWELL IN THAT STATE OF IMPERFECTION OR TO RESIDE IN THE POSITIVE SPACE AND TAKE FROM OTHERS WHAT THEY HAVE TO OFFER, WHEN THEY CAN OFFER IT.
I don’t think my internal process of reconnecting with my father was particularly intentional—it was not a conscious decision to forgive him for the 20 or so years I spent practically without him. As my dad began in his own way to repair our relationship, I met him in that space and stayed in the positive rather than dwelling in his imperfections and everything that wasn’t. I didn’t get to see him often, but when I did, it was easy. He didn’t require a lot from me and I didn’t require a lot from him. He was fun and funny. My kids loved spending time with him. Yes, it’s true that I wanted to have a relationship with him, maybe at any cost. And perhaps that was my unknown path to forgiveness. Maybe my desire to have that relationship trumped his imperfections and our complicated history. And maybe that’s a good thing because it made the act of forgiveness simple and pure.
I’ve recently gone through my own life-defining experience. One powerful lesson I learned is to value the relationships with those I value. That may seem circular but here’s what I mean: I believe it is essential to surround yourself with people who build you up, not those who poke at your insecurities. And once you’ve settled on that team, extend grace and forgive easily. And, move on from those that aren’t on the team. It is this team who can serve as a bridge to hope in the darkest of times. Don’t dwell in the imperfections of the human condition. Most people, whether a parent, child or friend come to a relationship with their own baggage, stuff you may never understand and frankly don’t need to unless that person needs that from you. But holding out for more from someone valuable to you and failing to forgive their imperfections keeps you from experiencing the fullest relationship possible—with all of its messy imperfections and joy along the way.