“You say Goodbye, and I say Hello…. Hello, Hello. I don’t know why you say Goodbye… I say Hello.” The Beatles
How do you say Hello after 55 years? How do you look someone in the eye who has deeply hurt you and say I forgive you? How do you open your broken heart to love again?
I’m going to tell you a story about fierce courage and transforming love. Several months ago, mysteriously and seemingly out of nowhere, my brother and I received a letter from my biological father who we had not seen in 55 years. It began:
“A few months ago I received an anonymous postcard letting me know I have 6 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren…I was saddened to hear one had passed away ….”
My parents separated when I was 4 years old and later divorced. After their separation, we saw my father for several years on visitations but slowly after a time, the visits stopped. One day, the “Dad” that a 7 and 10-year-old so deeply loved disappeared. The “Dad” that took us on hikes, played baseball with us in the backyard, laughed and giggled with us, who fixed our broken bikes and skinned knees made a decision to slip into the background and fade away.
In all those 55 years, I only saw my father two times, one being an accidental encounter when I was pregnant with my 4th child and then several years later at my paternal grandmother's funeral. Chance meetings that left more questions than answers and a deepening confirmation in my life that I believed to the core of my soul- my story of abandonment and rejection.
That abandonment left a painful wound in my heart, even though my mother remarried and I had a wonderful stepfather who celebrated and loved me. I grew up and lived quite a fulfilling life owing much of it to my mother’s constant love, support, and guidance. I eventually married and had four beautiful children of my own and seven wonderful grandsons with one leaving this earth before he took his first breath. Last year, after a long and debilitating illness, my husband of 38 years passed away. The deep wound of abandonment of that little girl has ignited again in full force.
Several months ago, my mother had told my brother and me that she was going to send my biological father an anonymous postcard telling him that his earthly legacy was continuing for more generations even though he had not really known his own biological children. Then one day, several months after she sent that postcard, a letter arrived. It was filled with words that were offering to bring healing, forgiveness, and the potential for the transformation of much pain and hurt.
This all started with a very simple action- fierce courage. Courage is defined as “strength in the face of pain or grief, to act on one’s beliefs despite danger or disapproval. “ Everyone in my family has been invited to either say yes or no to our painful realities. We have all decided to say yes and the flowing river started to pour forth abundant grace and mercy.
My mother showed her fierce courage by sending an anonymous postcard despite the fact that she too lived with her own deep pain and suffering from the divorce. Her grief was inter-twined with her children’s, that as a mother, she had been carrying for many, many years. She decided to act on something inside of her (despite all the discouragement from my brother and me) that told her to send an anonymous postcard. It showed up fiercely when she made the decision to meet her ex-husband at the ripe ol’ age of 91, and offer him forgiveness even though he had broken her heart so deeply. Originally, she said no to the request to meet my father. She had every reason to sit back and hold onto her own story of betrayal and abandonment. But something shifted in her- something courageous stirred in her- that same energy that prompted her to send the postcard also prompted a fountain of forgiveness to begin to flow. In the words of one of my children … Grandmom is the gospel.
My brother showed his fierce courage by allowing himself to contact my father the day after we received the letter. He helped initiate the chain of events that was to be one of the most transformative experiences of all of our lives. He was all in ready and willing to let go of the dark past and forge into a hope-filled future. He acted on what he so desperately wanted his entire life- a relationship with his Dad. Nothing was going to stop him from willfully going after that desire despite the outcome. He modeled for us fierce courage in offering total forgiveness and complete acceptance to the one who had wounded us. He led the charge in showing us how to respond with reconciling love.
I also had the opportunity to cooperate with fierce courage. I had decided not to move forward with meeting my father or communicating further with him. My heart was very guarded and hunkered down in protection. I was just coming out of a deep season of grieving the death of my husband and I was not looking to sign up for more pain and hurt in my life. As grace would have it, one day I was listening to a podcast where the teacher was talking about death. She offered that one of the things we will look back on in our life review- is “where did we withhold love and what were the results of that with-holding in our life and the lives of others?” I could not get away from that question…. I thought about it over and over and over. I could withhold love for my father and feel completely justified in that decision or I could allow myself to risk everything, open my heart up with vulnerability and humility and say yes. I decided to act despite my fear and went with my brother to meet my father. It was one of the most transformative and courageous decisions that I have ever made.
The one who has shown the lion's share of fierce courage is my father. After living a life of deep pain and wounding in his own life, one day all that began to change when he decided to act on a desire. The desire was to ask forgiveness- to reconcile a life filled with shame and guilt for leaving his wife and children and to make right the wrongs he had so painfully wrought in all of our lives. He has shown tremendous courage in offering my mother, my brother, and myself deep words of healing. He has done this by being open and vulnerable, forthright and transparent, and continually offering to us whatever we need from him for our own healing journeys. He is allowing us to be reconciled to him in gentle humility and tender love. He is seeking to understand and reconcile his own dissonance from which many of his decisions were made throughout his life. He has been enthusiastically willing to meet all 6 of his grandchildren and their spouses and all 10 of his great-grandchildren. He shows great determination in continuing to initiate contact with us, breaking this lifelong pattern of hiding from reality. As he consistently pursues us and showers us with this humble love, we have all experienced a fresh fountain of new healing flowing like a river in our lives.
This is very, very difficult inner and outer work for anyone to do in their life let alone start at 91 years old. What has transpired can only be described as a miraculous immersion in grace and hope. There has been a flurry of correspondence between us- texting, emails, more letters, and phone calls. We have been able to meet in person many times over the last several months enjoying newfound freedom in our decisive reconciliation…. It’s as if there isn’t enough time in the world to speak about all the lost conversations and years of separation and isolation from each other.
All grace has asked of each of us is the willingness to say yes. Yes to love, yes to vulnerability, yes to truth and honesty, and yes to forgiveness. This has not been easy or comfortable for any of us. Quite frankly, it would have been way easier to just continue the status quo for all of us. Courage requires much from us- it demands our cooperation and desires our strength to show up in ways we have never experienced before. It calls us to face our worst fears, venture out into unknown territories, and be bold in our ability to persevere.
According to Joseph Campbell, the monomyth of one’s life is referred to as “The Hero’s Journey.” The hero is called to go on an adventure. At some point, the hero refuses the call, and after many failures and entering into one’s own abyss- the hero emerges into transformation, atonement, and victory. My father has been transformed from the villain to the hero in his story, in ways he could have never imagined. Through his willingness to act on his desire to bring reconciliation into his own soul, he has allowed all of us to be a part of that healing process.
The hope that has been forged for future generations through these acts of fierce courage by 4 confused and scared people, in choosing to act in love, is otherworldly. There is something so beautiful about showing up in one’s life regardless of what you have done, how much you have hurt others, or how old you are. We all have this same power and ability to change the course of our lives, to manifest healing for ourselves and others in ways that can change the trajectory of everyone’s lives.
The closing scenes of the hero’s journey involves a return where the hero again crosses the threshold of adventure and returns to the everyday world of daylight. The return usually takes the form of an awakening, rebirth, resurrection, or a simple emergence from a cave or forest. He brings with him the Elixir- the object, knowledge, or blessing that the hero acquired during the adventure and is now put to use in the everyday world. Often it has a restorative or healing function, but it also serves to define the hero's role in the society. Yet, ultimately, the hero comes back home from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow blessings on his fellow so-journers.
This is a story about love. This is a story about hope. This is a story about courage. This is a story about showing up as the hero in one’s own life journey and leaving victorious.
About the author:
Bev is a Registered Nurse, Health Coach, and Riso-Hudson Certified Enneagram Teacher through the Enneagram Institute. She's also a professional member of the International Enneagram Association.