Healing the Past in the Present
Years ago I memorized the 50 principles from A Course in Miracles. One that has always stayed with me is how miracles heal the past in the present and thus release the future. Many of us don’t recognize how we hold our future hostage to the pain of our past. We don’t understand that healing the past happens in the here and now. In part this is because it is easy to turn the past into a static truth, a story we have re-told enough times that its reality is so deeply etched into who we have become that re-thinking our historic relationships becomes increasingly remote as we age.
Something startling, or tragic, is usually the impetus for us to look at our past with new eyes. For me it was the re-appearance of my brother after 25 years. As I wrestled with my capacity to let go of my projections to see who was in front of me, I was also faced with witnessing my own bad judgments as well as his. One evening when I was sharing this process with my father, who at almost 80 was struggling with his own entrenched demons, it brought to light an old injury between us that we had never discussed.
As I told my father about how I recognized how I had abandoned my brother so many years ago, he told me that I had abandoned him as well. “You left and never looked back. Not even a letter….” Decades later, and somehow for the first time, I realized how I had hurt my father deeply. It was easier to understand from the vantage point I have of being a parent myself now, but it was surprising too. I was so busy running from the painful, violent situation that became my family after my parents’ divorce that I never thought of my father who was there trying to hold together the broken pieces.
My father’s response to emotional pain of all sorts was anger. His rage became so huge and unpredictable that it was impossible for me to move towards it. Receiving anything from him felt like it was covered in blows. This is a truth about aggression and anger in general that I was slow to comprehend. I never saw how my own anger made it so difficult for others to accept my loving gestures. I was so accustomed to growing up in the context of ongoing violence that I didn’t see the toll that it took for years in my own life.
Then suddenly, almost as if a veil was lifted, I saw the cycle of pain that I had contributed. My father was equally hurt by my abandonment as I was by his rage. The more that I stayed away, the angrier he got. I was filled with regret. I was so very sorry that I didn’t know how to go home. I was sad too, that all these years I had unknowingly and inadvertently stoked the flames of his anger by my inability to acknowledge the home he tried to offer.
These vicious cycles are what often happen in dysfunctional relationships. Everyone is being hurt by the other in ways that neither one can see. My father still has no idea how his angry, caustic comments destroy the relationships he misses. I had no idea that I was missed.
It was a true moment of forgiveness, all these years later, when my sadness about what had been missed was translated in my apology, which he was able to receive. At the same moment that I was able to experience my regret for how badly hurt he was by my silence and absence, he was able to hear how much I had longed for the family connection that was waiting all along to be discovered.
It was tender and soft, this healing the past in the present. It opened me to memories that I didn’t know I had about all the many ways I felt loved by him as a small girl. We both remembered the same moments and I wept for the soft voice he had for me that I hadn’t heard from him in decades. This is the miracle of love that heals the past in the present and releases you to a new future. I want to go see my dad and hear him call my name in his soft voice.