A DEAR FRIEND, now in his eighties, has taught me many valuable lessons over 23 years. How he transcended his childhood is probably the most powerful lesson. My friend exemplifies what it means to become greater than the sum of your parts, to be able to live a quality life despite a harsh upbringing. To protect certain family members I will refer to my friend as Daniel.
Daniel’s father and mother were a troubled couple, to put it mildly. Daniel’s father was an alcoholic and a serial philanderer. When Daniel was a very young boy, he witnessed his father shove his mother down a flight of stairs during an argument.
As a mature man Daniel went looking for missing pieces of the mysterious puzzle of his childhood. He discovered why he had been sent to live in an orphanage: A few years before Daniel was born, his mother was sexually assaulted by someone in the family. She had kept this to herself, afraid to share it with anyone, until Daniel was about 7 years old. That is when his mother let it be known it was her father-in-law who had raped her. Her husband rejected his wife’s story and succeeded in convincing the family that she should be committed to a mental institution.
Daniel never again as a child got to feel his mother’s embrace because this was during the era — and a tragic error — when children were denied visitation rights even in “regular” hospitals. He has one memory of being taken to the “insane asylum” as it was called back then, but he could only wave up to his mother from street level as she peered through the barred window of the institution. Daniel’s mother died there before he came of legal age.
Shortly after his mother had been committed, Daniel was sent to live in an orphanage. At the orphanage he was beaten many times by nuns and abused by males. He graduated from high school, left the orphanage and enlisted in the navy. Through the GI Bill he was able to get a college education and begin a career.
How Daniel became a loving person instead of bitter and dysfunctional has to do with choices. Daniel told me he decided while he was in the orphanage that he would never become like the people who mistreated him. He also made a decision that he would work as hard as it took to create the life he wanted to have, and not live a life that was made by someone else that would keep him a victim. He also decided he wanted to have a wife and family and he put all of his energy toward building a career that would afford him that kind of life.
Having been abused as a child, Daniel knew he would never want to hurt anyone, so as he grew into adulthood he spoke gently, acted like a gentleman and tried his best to be a good person.
In his twenties and with a steady job, Daniel was able to marry and provide for a wife who chose to work at home to raise their children. He became a faithful husband, and a devoted father of four children and several grandchildren. By every standard of measurement, Daniel has been successful.
You, too, have the power to make decisions that will determine what kind of person you are going to be today and what kind of life you create. You can spend a lot of time rehashing or repeating all of the mistakes both your parents have made (if you even know who your parents are) or rehashing your own mistakes. Or you can choose to let go of that fixation and anger and direct all your energy into empowering yourself to thrive. It is simply a matter of choices and making up your mind, cultivating your mind like Daniel did.
When you choose to put your attention on the positive aspects of your life and the opportunities you have, as Daniel did, you are essentially deciding to love yourself even more than your parents may have been capable of loving you. Developing into an affectionate, generous and compassionate person like Daniel became will also help create situations to draw forth from others an abundance of loving expression.
I have thought a great deal about the fibers of energy that connect Daniel and me. I have watched how this simple thread of wisdom has moved both of us beyond the pains of a distant past toward feeling love, being loved, and being the embodiment of loving. This wisdom has brought us straight into the embrace of an unforgettable friendship and an enduring peace.
For some people, it may take great tragedies and suffering to become open to a different way of behaving, and to break out of a cycle. What Daniel showed me years ago about himself was something we all have within us: the power of choice and the ability to forgive…to forgive even those who commit the most grotesque acts, or what most would consider evil.
Daniel explained to me he had chosen not to make any suffering the centerpiece of his being or to be victimized by tragedy. Instead, he used the examples of abuse and suffering as a springboard to leap into a joyous life of forgiveness and love. Daniel had learned that to move ahead one has to choose to make the dominant beat of one’s heart a rhythmic pulse of forgiving all things and all people, remaining in the awareness of compassion.
That is how anyone can choose to design a masterful blueprint of peace that is uniquely their own.