74. Finding Peace

74. Finding Peace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Finding Peace

He who angers you conquers you.

~Elizabeth Kenny

The midday sun was extremely hot, and our twelve-year-old daughter Kelly grew increasingly concerned. The school had taken the student body to an exciting sports day in the open air and everyone was having fun, but Kelly was jittery. Her sister Judy was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia and was far more vulnerable to the elements as a result.

We had been warned that even small amounts of sun exposure could cause irreversible damage. When Kelly’s entreaties to the supervising teacher elicited little response, Kelly took charge. Bringing cell phones to school contravened school rules, but on that particular day I had equipped her with one for just such an emergency, charging her with keeping an eye on her sister. As the clock ticked on and the sun beat down, Kelly whipped out her cell phone and dialed home. Following a brief exchange with the teacher, my girls were allowed to leave, but not before our daughter had been firmly yelled at and our cell phone confiscated.

Looking back, I should probably have been more organized and taken the trouble of coordinating things with the teacher beforehand, but hindsight couldn’t change reality. Our lives at the time were beyond hectic. We had been sucked into a whirlpool of hospital visits, strange medical procedures, painful side effects and harsh emotions. Even though it had seemed to us that we were coping rather well, I realize, in retrospect, that certain things must have fallen through the cracks.

Communication with our daughters’ school was one of them. The cell phone fiasco was just one example of how this negatively affected them. While Judy was justifiably absent, more days than not, for close to two years, Kelly was expected to attend as usual. But soon we had to beg her to get up and go. Always a temperamental child, her sister’s sickness had intensified her volatile nature. At home we tried to extend as much understanding and support as we could. But at school, instead of enveloping her with warmth and loving attention, the staff chose to focus on every shortcoming. Too often, those perceived misdeeds happened through no fault of her own.

Kelly was sent home, for instance, after arriving at school without a uniform skirt—when I had just spent a week in the hospital with her sister and was woefully behind with the laundry. Her grades slipped—hardly anyone was home to help her with homework! Her attitude was all wrong—you bet she was upset. I don’t know why the school staff never contacted us—maybe they realized we were less available or felt uncomfortable bothering us. But our daughter was made to feel like the biggest of sinners instead of being taken for the distraught, lost and emotionally fragile girl she was.

Eventually, despite our fervent entreaties, the school board kicked her out (using a lot of fancy euphemisms) for a list of petty infractions, and that is when our sensitive daughter fell into a steep spiral of deep and genuine suffering. She dropped out of the mainstream school system, digging in her feet at any mention of a standard environment. She ventured into risky company and courted self-destructive behaviors. She hated herself, she hated us, but more than anything—she hated the world.

She has still not completely recovered from the indignities she suffered in elementary school, and for many years my husband and I harbored grievous feelings for the school system’s abysmal lack of understanding. I still cannot begin to comprehend why they couldn’t have simply cut her some slack. Why couldn’t they have made more of an effort to cushion her feelings and focus on her positive side? We have been through hell and back with Kelly, but the pain of those years has never quite washed away.

By nature I am a gentle, peace-loving person. Never in my life had I been angry with anyone for more than a few hours. For a long, long while, however, I had to come to terms with this crouching beast within me. Sensitivities I never imagined I possessed suddenly reared their ugly head and set me aglow with anger. I was furious. I was deeply hurt. I ached for the Kelly we seemed to have lost, for the unbearable price we had paid for attending to her younger sister. And I seethed with the injustice of it all. We had not been AWOL whilst vacationing in the Caribbean; we had been battling for Kelly’s sister’s life! How could the school staff have been so very indifferent?

These feelings were unfamiliar and dragged me down terribly. And beyond the sickening sensation of floundering in a maelstrom of negativity, I was shocked by the effect they were having on me. I didn’t like knowing I was capable of entertaining so much hatred and disgust. I didn’t like knowing there were people on this planet that I simply could not stand to be around. This wasn’t the person I had always been. Having already seen the havoc wrought on Kelly’s emotional health—I was wary of endangering my own.

There was no precise point of inspiration, nor one particular moment of illumination. It was a process. At some stage I realized I couldn’t allow myself to live life like this. I missed my old personality—my casually forgiving nature, my innate tendency to trust and to love. I decided to recover it, and in order to do that I had to forgive. I was determined to put the hurt behind me.

It was tough. Many of the people involved in our daughter’s past lived in our town. It was inevitable we would meet some time or other. No sooner had I made that conscious decision than I began bumping into the key players at every turn. At the supermarket. Coming into a parking lot. In line for the ATM. Any time I was near any one of them, my heart raced, I became short of breath, and felt a screaming impulse to put the greatest distance possible between us. But I faced my inner demons squarely, and I told myself they had acted in good faith. They had simply been ignorant, foolish and shortsighted. Above all—they were God’s messengers, and as such I should accept the past as past, forgive them for their part in our sorry story and let go.

I cannot say the wound has completely healed. It still has its sensitive spots. But for the most part, I have healed. I have regained a sense of peace and happiness. I have grown in my capacity to love without rancor. And I can face myself and say in true faith, I bear no grudge. I am free.

~Debra Rosehill

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