Looking back, I must have appeared to be a really lucky guy. A loving wife, two beautiful children, a great job, a wonderful house and a brand new car on the drive, who could ask for more? That was certainly the view from the outside, but sadly things weren’t quite so rosy inside the relationship. I met my then wife when we were still at school. We dated, fell in love, left school, started working and everything was great. We married, bought a small house and started growing up together. All went well, we were happy, we traded in our little house for a larger home and set about building our family. Charlotte arrived first, a bonnie, bouncing baby girl, followed a couple of years later by Hannah, equally bonnie and bouncing. Life seemed to be treating us well. But the undercurrents of the problems that followed were already stirring.
Everyone had told us to wait a while before marrying, live a little, grow up and discover yourself, all very wise in hindsight, but we knew best and we ignored the advice. I couldn’t point to one single issue that brought it to a head, but basically we were growing apart, wanting very different things from life, and something had to give. It was the start of the jogging era and I took to it like a duck to water. I would run every day, out on the road for hours. Returning home, the selfish use of my time would cause arguments and the arguments caused me to stay out longer and longer. Of course, looking back, I should have been looking at my behaviour and realising my mistake, but I was very selfish back then. So it went on, more running, marathons and other events that took me away from the family, but also took me away from the pain of the arguments. Worse still, the bickering was affecting the children and the atmosphere was getting worse and worse. We had to do something, but still I refused to see that my actions were causing the pain.
It all came to a head one weekend. I had no events to get me away from the strife, so when my wife suggested that we talk about the options, I literally had nowhere to run. So we talked and we talked, far more than we had ever talked before, and the truth of the situation became very clear. We had to break the vicious circle, for the sake of the children if for no other reason, and we decided that we would split up for a set period, to see how we felt about things after being apart. Of course, the rest of the family were very upset. They wanted to help, they wanted us to resolve the differences and stay together. My father-in-law, a very successful, powerful and rather outspoken man arranged to see me, to discuss the situation and, in his mind, to put me straight. I was hurting his daughter and he was going to put a stop to all this.
Resolve it he did. A week or so later, having refused to change my decision to separate temporarily, I received a letter from a solicitor telling me that I was being sued for divorce. It was a huge shock and I reacted badly, getting angry and saying that it was fine with me, that I would go along with the divorce and we would go our own ways. Of course it wasn’t as simple as that. My father-in-law played merry hell with my life at every opportunity over the months that followed. He telephoned my parents and threatened me with court action over the repayment of a loan. He interfered with a new relationship I had formed and was generally the cause of as much pain as he could be. The rift between the two families was painful and a lot of hurtful things were said by both sides. As with many divorces, the friends and families feel that they have to take sides, and it ended with me being the black sheep in the whole proceedings. A badge of dishonour I am still wearing, to some extent, to this very day, even though it all happened decades ago.
But life moves on. My ex remarried and now has a wonderful family around her. Her husband made a fantastic job of bringing up my two daughters, with all the trials and tribulations that involved. So, again in hindsight, splitting up all those years ago resulted in happiness for those involved, albeit after a lot of pain and anguish. So what has all this got to do with forgiveness? Well time, they say, is a great healer, and that may well have some truth in it. But if the parties involved in such a messy breakup are determined to stick to their guns, no length of time alone will ever heal the wounds. I’ve changed a great deal in the last few years, partly because I am older and hopefully wiser, but also because my Buddhist practice has forced me to look at things from the other person’s viewpoint and to be brutally honest about what I see. Seeing yourself for who you really are, not who you believe, or would like to think you are, is extremely painful. Particularly when you really don’t like what you see. So I’ve been working hard at being a better person, someone I am happy to be.
Since my daughters have grown up, and certainly since the birth of their children, my grandchildren, we have been able to grow closer again. I always felt that I was the injured party, but looking back, though their eyes, I see how wrong I was to feel that way. They have plenty of reasons to hate me for my part in their past, and they have been quite blunt about the way they felt about me, and that has been painful for us all.
My ex and both of my daughters live in Bristol and in the past few months I have been fortunate enough to meet a wonderful lady who also lives in the city. I have been able to spend far more time with both Charlotte and Hannah, as well as their children, and we have grown closer almost day by day. Hannah, who is the more outspoken of the two, has been able to see the changes in me and to forgive me for my mistakes. Charlotte is being a little more reserved, partly because, being the older of the two, I know she has more vivid memories of the bad old days. But she too is being more forgiving and although she has always been very loving, we are growing much closer as well.
The strangest, and for me, the most amazing transformation has been within me. At the Christening of Charlotte’s youngest son a few weeks ago, I found myself sitting talking to my ex father-in-law after the ceremony. He was telling me about the terrible time he is having, nursing his wife, my ex mother-in-law, through severe dementia. So painful were the details of her condition and their suffering, that he was reduced to tears. That proud, even arrogant man I used to detest, sitting there, pouring his heart and soul out to me. In that moment I completely forgave him for what he had done to me and my family and put my arm around his shoulder to try to console him. Forgiveness truly is an amazing thing. It has given me back the love of my daughters, something I cherish and thought I may never have again. It has also shown me that I have changed, so much so, that I can freely give my feelings of compassion to someone I used to loath. If forgiveness can bring about such transformations, then it surely is is the ultimate gift.
© 2012 Anupadin, The Search for Enlightenment