For as long I can remember, I felt a deep internal pull to ease pain in the world. My most memorable emotion when I was a baby was sadness and some sensations of frustration. When feelings began manifesting into thoughts, I can vividly remember being absolutely mortified when I realized that some people were mean and there was danger and injustice on the planet. So, I began my unending search to find a way to bring healing, peace and love to myself and the world.
I began my path of being a healer as a listener. Many, many people of every age group and background spontaneously began telling me their deepest secrets, problems, fears and desires. As a child I was quite clear that I had nothing to say to them that could be helpful. However, I would watch their faces relax and lighten, just from sitting there, releasing their problems and having another human being patiently listen. Sometimes they would tell me the most shocking things you could imagine. I can remember in those moments, very urgently thinking that I had to hide any shock from my face. I can remember being so devastated. I would ask God why on Earth these things could happen to human beings at all. Then I would ask why on Earth I was meant to listen to these things at such a young age. As confusing as it sometimes was, I felt absolutely, unconditionally sure that I was meant to do this and that I was being of service to humanity, even to a tiny almost imperceptible degree.
My interest in people grew. Everywhere I possibly could, I observed and studied faces, communication and body language. I voraciously read every biography, spirituality and crime book (I know that does not seem to match) that I could possibly find. I also loved talk shows on TV. I remember thinking that Phil Donahue was so courageous in having so many wild topics and people on his show. I tried to watch it as often as could.
At 13 years old, my family moved from Fresno, California to Lee’s Summit, Missouri. This was quite a shock. There was almost nothing the same about Fresno and Lee’s Summit. In 1973, we went from mini skirts to dresses below the knee. From 3 years of freely wearing jeans to school to a first year of wearing jeans only under the strictest guidelines described in the Student Handbook. From dry heat to wet heat. From, we had almost never seen snow, to, yikes, it’s snowing! The only constant was the steady stream of people that came into my life to tell me their stories.
Missouri was a blue state. For those of you that don’t know what that means, it meant that you could not sell liquor from 2am Sunday morning until 2am Monday morning. It meant that on Sunday, the only TV programming was religious. And, in Missouri, religious meant Christian. So, it was because of the snow and the all religious programming that I began my study of Christian preachers, evangelists and faith healers and the guests they would have on their shows. To be honest, by this age, my experience had led me to have confidence about people who were being deceptive. Some of the people I felt were deceptive were later exposed publicly.
Often, I would flip through the stations trying to find a show that actually had guests. By now, you know I loved stories. One very cold winter day, as I was flipping through stations, one of the shows that did not usually have guests, announced that they had guests that were there to tell their miraculous story of faith and forgiveness. So, there I sat, glued to the television.
The couple was older. Who knows what that really means when you are a teenager, but let’s say they were in their late 50’s. They looked very normal and all-American. I studied them very closely. They seemed truthful and humble. They began their story.
Many years before this show, they had a daughter. She had been an only child. At the age of 18 years old, their daughter had been raped and murdered. They had been Christians at the time and their faith had called for forgiveness. Understandably, their faith was shaken. They were facing the most pain of their lives with no real guide posts. They did not want to lose their faith, but saw no clear road forward as a reconciliation of this senseless act of horror on their most dear one.
The man was apprehended. He was put on trial and found guilty. His sentence was Life in prison. He was a fairly young man in his late 20’s. Even after his capture and sentencing, these two parents were completely devastated. Their entire lives had become a turmoil. They talked very candidly about their thoughts, what happened to their relationship, and their loss of faith.
After much suffering and agony, at some point, the wife decided that she needed to meet the man that killed her daughter. She said at the time, she truly had no real agenda or understanding even of what she would get out of it and how it might help her. She was in pain, and felt she needed to do something. And she hoped that some peace might come from meeting him. So, she set up an appointment at the prison and he agreed to meet her.
Her first observation about the young man, was that she was shocked that he was not scary and just seemed like a very troubled young man. She spoke to him at length that day. To her surprise, she actually did feel some movement to her pain. Next, she asked her husband to come meet him as well. Over the course of the next year, they visited this young man many times. They came to understand that he had come from a very disturbing background. After many visits, deep prayer sessions and discussions with each other, they came to the conclusion that they wanted to adopt this young man and be proper, caring, parents to him. Which they subsequently did. The result of these actions led them to experience deep forgiveness and to be at peace in their hearts. They were clear that in no way did they, or would they condone or say his actions were okay, but that they needed to move forward into a meaningful life and forgive their daughter’s murderer was very palpable for them.
I was in shock. I must have had my mouth wide open sitting in front of the TV. I drew in close to the TV screen to study their faces. I believed it must be a trick, that they were actors or lying. But, try as I might, I could not detect the slightest bit of deception. So, here I was in my small world, feeling like I knew what forgiveness was, knew what unconditional love was, and suddenly my world completely evaporated!
Clearly, I was not where they were. Clearly, I knew nothing at all about forgiveness or about unconditional love. I was shaken to the core of my being. Even though I was not yet a parent, I could absolutely imagine their pain. At a young age, these two people set the bar for my learning curve. I was grateful and forever am grateful to this couple for their courage and for their willingness to tell their story publicly. I was also very grateful that I was no longer in an illusion that I was someone that I was not.
I am not telling this story to say that this is what anyone must do in this situation. Every person and situation is unique and would call for different actions. However, this story is an intense and valuable message of the power of the human being and the transformative nature of forgiveness.
I never forgot this couple. They are a part of my heart and always will be.
I love and honor them and all of you!