The healing from the criminal abuse I received as a child, age 13 – 16, took me years to accomplish. With intense focus, focus that required seven long years of continuous work [work that included two solid years of guidance from an extraordinary family counselor], I was free at age 35. At age 40, with only one condition, I was able to forgive my father. The condition? For many justifiable reasons, I chose to remain estranged from him. He died when I was 44.
For many years now, but especially as I make my way towards the winter of my life, I wish things could have been different between us. I wish I would have found it in my heart to not only forgive him but to show him mercy and compassion through the grace of a controlled, adult friendship. However grownup that regret, it does have the benefit of leading me to this post.
I have always been affected by Rwanda.
From the onset, I cried out with despair and understanding. I related to the devastation. The pain. The ultimate evil. I was angry with our government for doing nothing and remaining silent as 800,000 were slaughtered. Our non-involvement only brought back the memories of not having anyone protect me, rescue me, when I was a child. I was disappointed with myself for not bending down and swooping at least six Rwandan children into my arms. I remain embarrassed I allowed my own circumstances [my beloved husband saying, “At 55 I am too old to raise more children … let alone children who have suffered such great abuse”] to trump their desperate need. That said, in its own powerful way, Rwanda defines a lot of my love of life and for my belief in my fellow man.
Here are people who have suffered unspeakable crimes, crimes that make my unspeakable crimes pale in comparison. They are a country, 20 years after the genocide, that continues to heal. They will continue to heal long after the entire generation who survived the horror first hand, have gone to their graves.
It does not escape me that the story I have included in this post (please click the link provided below), touches me as deeply as it does. It is a story of two people, Alice and Emmanuel, that moves me to the most profound of tears. A story of forgiveness of the highest order. As I read the story, I saw two people who were able to do what I was not. To forgive and heal, together and unconditionally. To them, I send all my love, my gratitude and my deepest admiration. They bring me to my knees. They exemplify what it means to be beautifully, impossibly, blessedly human.
Forgiveness. Alice and Emmanuel‘s story takes it to a level of which I can only dream.
So, I woke up at 4 this morning and the story I wanted to tell you yesterday [but lost to the ethers of the universe] was still in me … but this time there were big red flags everywhere! Warnings that were kinda like that children’s show in the ‘6o’s, Lost in Space, “Danger Mrs. Robinson, danger!!!” Remember THAT show?!!! I LOVED that show!!! One of my favorites!!! But I digress …
The title of yesterday’s [lost] blog was, “Is there a God?” In today’s rewrite, I kept the title, but this time there’s a caveat, a warning, that needs you to know this particular story ISN’T about religion. Yesterday’s version wasn’t fit to be read because I put far too much emphasis on religion, blah, blah, blah. It’s NOT about religion. It’s about a remarkable experience in a little girl’s life. And the little girl just happened to be me.
Now that I’ve gone this far in setting up today’s blog not being about religion, I might as well tell you a few things about me from the perspective of religion so you’ll know where I’m coming from as well as being able to decide whether or not you want to continue walking down this road with me. 🙂
My beliefs about religion start with my mother. She’s a wonderful full-blooded Filipina woman and, seeing that our country had been conquered by the Spanish Conquistadors several hundred years ago, she’s devoutly Catholic. My father was an American serviceman of German-Irish descent. He claimed he was Presybeterian but in truth he was a wandering generality. He abdicated the religious upbringing of his five children to my mother which of course means we were raised in Catholic churches and schools.
I am by no means a scholar when it comes to religion, but I am a very serious student, with a strong emphasis on very and serious. In trying to find peace and happiness in my adult life, I studied a lot of different religions and attended a large variety of churches, temples and synagogues. My library is filled with lots and lots of books on the subject and I’ve read most of them.
Fervently ‘born again’ in my mid-20’s, I left the Catholic church and embraced my husband’s Methodist upbringing. I wanted to provide our children with religious training so I taught their Kindergarten Sunday school classes and then sent them to Catholic school for a parochial education. After my youngest brother died of liver and pancreatic cancer in 1994, for deeply personal reasons, I stopped attending church. Let’s just say I encountered a David Koresh type (not my pastor, someone else’s), took him on in verbal hand-to-hand combat … and won.
I am decidedly not religious. As I’ve grown more comfortable in my skin I no longer feel it’s my place to preach to anyone about anything. That said, as it pertains to me, I know what I believe and, if asked, will happily share my thoughts, opinions and beliefs on any given subject.
As it pertains to religion, in the fervor of my youth, I did my fair share of bible thumping only to learn I’m not in the convincing business. Why? Because many of the people I love are deeply religious, several are atheists, lots are confused. Regardless of where they stand on the issue my role isn’t to be right or to make them wrong in what they choose to believe [or not believe]. My role isn’t to preach, plead or cajole. If they’re over 21, they’re old enough to make their own decisions about the most important issues in life. My role, however, is to love them and to support them in their quest for happiness, meaning and peace.
I’ve learned that my responsibility is to live my beliefs in actions rather than to sit back comfortably and proselytize, condemn or judge those who don’t believe as I do. I came to this conclusion because (forget about Buddhism or Islam or the other 20 major religions in the world!) there are more than 3,000 schisms of Christianity alone! How unbelievable is THAT?! One Christ and 3,000+ divisions! From my personal experience, I’ve learned most religions have some of it right and none of them have all of it right. Therefore, I remain steadfastly not religious.
And one last thing. Ever since we found ourselves in the projects East of Eden, we’ve been debating the issue of “Is there a God?” Great minds. Crazy minds. Philosophical minds. Theological minds. GeoPolitical minds. Scientific minds. All have been arguing about it for eons. Blood continues to be shed and there’s no end in sight to what men will do to prove THEIR version of God is the version that will prevail. All I’m saying is, ENOUGH!!! Thank you very much! I’m getting off at the next stop …
Now that I’ve got the ‘religious thing’ behind us … I’ll tell you the rest of the NOT religious story. 🙂
I was born in the Philippines and lived there until I was four. I remember quite a bit because I became conscious of life when I was around 18 months old. In other words, that which thinks of herself as me, arrived, and her/my memories and life lessons began to accumulate from that point forward.
Lots of things I remember in great detail. Lots are remembered in fuzzy, warm sensations in great part because of my youngness. I was the first born granddaughter into a very large family of aunts and uncles. I was cherished by all of them and didn’t lack for love and attention. They made the first years of my life wonderful therefore much of what I remember of my time in the Philippines is precious to me. But one of the most profound memories, one I think about everyday, had everything to do with being at church with my mom.
We, my mother and I, attended morning mass on a regular basis and on this particular morning, I simply showed up. By ‘showing up’ I mean as in being ‘consciously aware’ — I knew exactly where I was and I was cognizant enough to be able to pay attention to all the details going on around me. It was 1960. I was three years old. We were in the chapel at Clark Air Force Base in Angeles City. I was sitting on the pew and my legs were so tiny they didn’t hang over the edge. I could easily see the shiny patent leather of my shoes. To my right my mom was on her knees in silent prayer, the traditional long black lace veil flowing down across her head and shoulders.
In child like wonder, I watched the priest and altar boys come down the aisle carrying holy water, the golden chalice, and incense. Beautiful. Somber. Holy. Genuinely sincere. The mass was said in Latin and though I couldn’t understand it, I knew it was important.
And, suddenly, it happened.
I no longer heard the priest. The room fell silent. It was as if someone had pushed the mute button on a current day remote control. My attention was then drawn to the window panes across the aisle and to my left. Simultaneously, the light that came in through the windows became more intense. Brighter on the outside. Slightly dimmer on the in. It began to shimmer and sparkle, dancing before my eyes and covering me with warmth and happiness. It tingled and tickled (in a good way) and overall it was a simple sensation of pure love.
There was no gender attachment. No he or she. It was purely neutral. And, as clear as anything it told me, without words, that God wasn’t in that room. That s/he couldn’t be found in ancient languages or in symbols, or steeped in traditions and pomp and circumstance. The presence told me God was outside, in the light, waiting, and I was being beckoned to come outside and play.
At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to tug at my mother’s arm and tell her what was happening — but I was already too well trained. I knew not to disturb her when she was praying. So I sat there, quietly, and took in the delightful beauty of what was happening.
Since that day, even through my darkest hours, I’ve never felt completely alone or utterly afraid. Whether in a crowd of 10,000 people or on a quiet mountaintop. Whether facing the terrible storms of life or holding on [with all my heart] to a newborn child. Whether grieving the illness and death of a loved one or laughing and talking on the phone with a good friend in the wee small hours of the morning … I feel this presence of warmth and shimmering light that dances in my heart. It’s a feeling akin to what I felt that day. It reminds me that God is in every particle of sunlight, in and through everything in life. And to make it even more poignant, special and sacred, all I need to do is remember back to that exact moment when I was three, in church, with my beloved mother, and it’s as if I’m actually there. 1960 all over again. That said, there’s never a day that I’m not three. I’m serious.
In closing, until yesterday, I’d never put this story to paper (and, I must say, in today’s rewrite, I did a much better job of sharing it with you). I never shared it because how does one explain something like this to others? Seems to me people would have a tendency to look at you and, depending on where they’re coming from, would find you at worse, CAH-RAY-ZEE, or at best, would dismissively patronize you, patting you on the hand and telling you, “Oh, how cute” (while silently adding ‘weirdo’ to the end of their comment).
Weirdo or not, this blog is part confession, part helping hand. It’s all uniquely me. I clearly stated early on that it would be about what’s going on inside my head. And it would be about the thoughts that changed my life. Well, a life-time of thinking about THIS particular thought has touched just about every single thing I’ve ever done. Through fair and frightful weather. It has brought me a sense of peace and calmness with which to build my life upon. I’m going to have to trust my instincts that I did the right thing by sharing it with you today. What you do with this information is your business. Believe it. Reflect on it. Discard it. Either way, I’m not here to convince you of anything. As for me, it answered one of the biggest questions of my life … the one about whether or not there is a God.
And, one final thing. Until yesterday, I had never felt the need to verify that everything happened exactly as I remembered. In making the decision whether or not I could possibly share this story, I needed to find out if my memories were correct. I began searching the Internet for images of the chapel at Clark AFB, circa 1960. Imagine my awed amazement when I found what I was looking for (at http://www.terryballard.org/clark.htm) and, more importantly, that it was exactly as my Three-Year-Old-Me had remembered:
(The four sets of paned windows (on the ground level) can be seen at the left of the double doors. These are the windows where the light sparkled and shimmered and danced and whispered thoughts that influenced the course of my life.)
In, closing, I’ve said all I want to say about this matter of religion and God, light and love. I’ve told you everything there is to say about the details of that life-defining moment. There’s nothing more to say except that Three-Year-Old-Me (known as “Cynthia”) is waiting for you at the end of this message and she wants you to know she was much happier with today’s story and decided I could show you her picture. We believe in you beyond measure.
Now go outside and play.