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Happiness Is A Choice

Chapter II Continued

She had just celebrated her thirty-seventh birthday. She came, she said, to work on anger and forgiveness. Her mother had conceived her after being raped by an acquaintance. Wounded and meek, the woman never filed any charges. Now the child of that act of violence wanted to make peace with what she called "the unthinkable."

Her own successful marriage, her delight in her two sons, and the enjoyment of a developing sales career had been dimmed by the gnawing anger she directed at phantom images of a man she had never seen. Initially, she considered her intense emotions as a cross of outrage she would bear the rest of her life. Then, she held on to the bitterness to protect herself and those she loved from such "subhuman" behavior as the rape of her mother. Finally, exhausted by pain, she wanted to somehow move beyond her narrow view and come to a new understanding.

"This man has never seen me, though he knows I exist. He is old now, riddled with cancer. I have even located where he lives; I know his exact address. At first, when I found him I thought about cursing him or beating him with my fists. Oh, God, I want out of this misery and all I do is get myself deeper in. Instead of practicing peacefulness, I practice rage!"

No one would fault this woman for her wrath. Some might even see justice in a finger-pointing confrontation with her "father." However, she knew she had been twice the victim: first, of a stranger's violence toward her mother and then of her own emotional violence toward herself. The first violence had passed years before; the second continued simmering inside.

While exploring these issues, she came to a crucial awareness. "If I continue to see him as terrible, I will never let go. Never! I really have to look at this person differently for my own salvation." She shook her head and sighed. "Okay. This will probably sound stupid, but the man's a human being isn't he?" She smiled. "I know, Bears, you won't give me the answers; I have to find them myself. Okay, then yes, I agree with myself; he's a human being. Violent, probably miserable, but still human like you and me.".

"What does it mean to you to call him human?" I asked.

"It means he's fallible. And it means I don't have to hate him forever. If I could just figure out how to let go of this anger, well, then I'd be free and at peace with myself."

"How do you think you can let go of it?"

Her eyes closed as she covered her face with her hands. In a muffled voice, she said "I know how to do it, I really do. Forgiving him would be letting go." With those words she began to cry. In subsequent sessions and in dialogues with her own husband, she formulated a plan of action which would change her life.

Two weeks later, she flew to a remote Midwestern city, rented a car, and drove hundreds of miles to a small rural village. She telephoned this man's younger daughter, the product of an eventual marriage, and introduced herself without referring directly to the rape. The other woman hesitated, then refused to invite her to the old man's home. She announced that she would come anyway; they could turn her away at his door if they wanted.

Old paint peeled off the side of the house. Shutters hung askew beside blackened windows. As she walked along a dirt path to the front door, she saw the woman who must have spoken with her on the phone standing on the porch with her arms crossed.

"I won't stop you," the woman, declared coldly, then stepped aside while maintaining her obvious vigil.

After she knocked on the door several times, a man's voice told her to enter. One small lamp cast its dim light over the room. An old man, his shoulders hunched into his chest, sat quietly in a wooden chair. The deep lines on his face seemed chiseled by a crude and unforgiving knife. His reddened eyes peered at her uncomfortably. When he gestured for her to sit, his physical pain became apparent.

"I know who you are," he said in a whisper.

She couldn't talk. He was just a man, old and dying, nothing like the phantoms that had whirled in her mind. She struggled to find her voice. She had rehearsed the words hundreds of times on the plane. It's just a decision, she told herself.

Finally, in a whisper that matched his, she said: "I forgive you. I really do."

He nodded his head several times and then looked away. In a voice more audible, he said, "I'm sorry."

She rose to her feet. Just a human being, she thought, like me. Then she surprised herself by putting her arms around him. She had truly forgiven him. His words of apology had no meaning for her now; it was her new vision that had made her whole.

A vision (a frame of reference or viewpoint) is like an invisible friend we invent to help us make sense of unfolding circumstances. We create visions for the best of reasons: to protect ourselves, to honor those we love and to express caring. But we do not have to become prisoners of our perspectives; we can change them and our lives by developing a completely new world picture ... one human step at a time.

Chapter 2 Continued