You know how, when you were little and you'd approach your mom or dad with some sort of mystery ailment? "Mommy, my legs hurt!" you'd exclaim, offering up your little shins for their inspection.
"Sweetheart... those are growing pains" they would say, giving you a comforting touch or kiss.
I wonder if, I were to go to the doctor today with these odd maladies I'm experiencing, what they would say. When I presented them with my symptoms: a twinge in my heart now and then, an odd pulled feeling in my soul... would they, too, offer me the same prognosis?
"Oh, Jenny. No worries. Those are growing pains, my dear."
Because I think I'm growing.
I felt the first symptoms not too long ago. The kids would mention something about their dad, or something about the mistress-turned-stepmom or their little half-brother. And instead of snarling or feeling sick or thinking something awful about it, I felt... nothing. Okay, maybe that's exaggerating. I still felt a little bit of the old hurt, the scar from the knife wound in my back would throb just the tiniest bit, but still. It was becoming almost imperceptible. The conversation would come and go and we'd be onto the next dozen subjects before it would occur me: "It doesn't feel so bad anymore."
I started a rage-y and ranting essay about the subject of forgiveness, and why I hate that word and all that it implies. How offended I am whenever I am told that it's my job to forgive, how my life will change oh-so-much when I finally, finally forgive my ex-husband for all the wrongs, for all of the grievous injuries he has inflicted upon me and our kids.
I was about a third of the way through that post when it dawned on me:
I have forgiven.
I forgave him, and I didn't even realize it.
Oh how I fought it. Tooth and nail, I did. I looked like a dog being dragged into the veterinarian's office, probably. Claws dug into the floor, neck straining against the pull of the leash.
"Forgive him? Seriously? Look what he's done, look at this mess he's left behind. How am I supposed to forgive him?"
In my mind, forgiving him was akin to presenting him with a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. It was offering him absolution.
Today, just this morning, I finally realized that the card isn't for him.
It's for me.
That anger, that hurt, that grief... it was necessary, I believe. Necessary and natural. Who wouldn't wail and moan after being hurt so deep? It got me through the darkest of days and it fueled me when I ran out of other resources to just.keep.going. It motivated me and spurred me along and kept shooting imaginary bullets at my feet just to keep them moving. To keep me dancing this slow waltz of recovery.
I would read other tales of forgiveness and feel shame because I didn't have that capacity, nor did I have the desire, to forgive. I didn't want to let go of the red blanket of rage that I had snuggled with for so long. Its heat kept me warm. It gave me desperately needed security.
Until I didn't need it anymore. I am marching forward now, taller and stronger than ever before. I know that what I've been through has sucked and at times, almost killed me. But I wouldn't be where I am today without it. For every tear shed, there has been a laugh or a hug or a smile. For every time I cursed the man who left me, there has been a sweet, shadowy memory of the man he once was, the best friend I once had. And for that, I'm grateful. Grateful that the hate and anger didn't wipe out those old images of him, nor did they squelch my ability to love and be loved in return.
I'll never forget what has happened. I don't think I could, even if I wanted to. I still drive past my old street and feel fresh tears threatening when I catch a glimpse of the little house I lost. I still get mad when I'm single-handedly dealing with a petulant, angry teenager and I picture my ex-husband playing with his toddler, singing "The Wheels on The Mother-Effing Bus." I still feel all of that, and so much more. But the feelings come, they flit around behind my eyes for just a bit. And then they go.
I don't have any secret recipes for forgiveness, no mantra or step-by-step how-to instructions. Maybe I had to wait until we had our last meeting in court. Maybe it had to grow at its own slow-as-molasses pace.
But I do know this: once you've forgiven, you will know. You will feel it, like a growing pain... in your heart, in your mind, and in your soul.
And only then can you get on with your life.
I'm using my Get Out of Jail free card now, folks. I'm busting out. And it feels good.