In my journey toward wholeness, I have come to understand that I need to forgive you. Over the past months, so many memories have flooded my mind … pictures of the childhood you stole from me. The teen years I never had a chance to enjoy. A marriage of my choosing with someone I loved.
Today, I sit with a group of people my age and they reminisce about the music of the 60’s. They smile at me and say, “I’m sure you remember when Elvis sang….” and they name a song I’ve never heard of. They didn’t know that kind of music was a sin. Or they talk about the prom they attended … the clothes they wore and the romantic evening they enjoyed. Dancing was also on the list of sins. It was a little worse than tapping my toe in time to any music that might slip through on the radio.
Here’s what I remember about my childhood. Me sitting in the window watching the neighborhood kids playing in the street. Since they didn’t go to our church, they were obviously going to hell … and I could not associate with them. I listened to my classmates at school talking about the current movies. I could not go to a movie. They were of the devil and the roof of the movie theatre might fall on me. Television was the devil’s box and only evil came out of it.
I loved to roller skate. When I turned 10, you explained I could no longer enjoy that. Because of my age, it was now a form of dancing. Playing cards was strictly off limits. Any game that contained dice was a sin. I never quite understood what was wrong with dominoes. Swimming was called “mixed bathing” in the little black book that we lived by. The church’s manual outlined each and every sin in detail.
And so you listened to sermons on the radio … KJRG … Newton, Kansas. And I sat quietly in the corner, trying very hard not to sin.
Where would I have learned anything about real life? My religious cage kept me from the world and things of the world … which meant anything and everyone that did not agree with your religious beliefs.
And then there is the marriage issue. I remember your announcement to me at the age of 15 that before I finished high school I would be marrying the preacher’s son. You were right. I did. I had only thought I had a hard life when I lived at home. Life got even harder after marriage. 13 years later, when he left me, you asked, “What did you do to him to make him leave?”
And so, what do I do with all these memories? And what about the ones I never got to have? How do I just say, “Oh, that’s ok?”
Now you are in your 80’s. Do I really think you are going to change? Understand? No.
The last time I attended church with you I was a woman in my 40’s. We sat on the second row (in your pew … it has your name on it) and you reached over to my arm and slid your hand up under my sleeve toward my shoulder.
“Mother, what are you doing?”
“I’m just making sure you have a bra on.”
How do I reason with that?
And so I have decided not to try. I believe that if I brought all this up it would only hurt you. I don’t believe I could ever make you understand what it was like for me. You might stop all communication. And in your eyes, I would have only sinned again.
So I write this letter, intending to never mail it. Even though it has taken months, I can tell you that I forgive you. I can never get those days back … and I sure don’t want to taint the days I have left with bitterness over my loss.
I really don’t feel love for you. I can say you have qualities that I respect. You are a strong woman, which I inherited from you. I have always tried to honor you … my mother.
As I continue on my journey to wholeness, I will look back on my life and remember this letter. I can move forward with peace, knowing that my gift of forgiveness to you was to withhold giving you this letter.
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