96. The Final Forgiveness

96. The Final Forgiveness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Final Forgiveness

Only after we can learn to forgive ourselves can we accept others as they are because we don’t feel threatened by anything about them which is better than us.

~Stephen Covey

For a moment following the initial noise and confusion of the crash, a deep stillness returned to the Maine woods. Then a friend in the back seat broke the silence. “How does it feel to be a statistic?”

Slowly, there was rustling, groans. Each sound seemed to be amplified as we sat thirty feet off the country road where our car came to a rest after being broadsided.

A disembodied voice echoed for a split second, seeming to come from all directions at once, which, of course, was impossible. The voice was strangely light and upbeat, carefree almost, despite the fact that the owner of the voice turned out to be the driver of the car who had just hit us. One of the passengers in my car, who was unhurt, got so angry when he heard the guy laughing he almost went over and decked him, but he couldn’t get out of the car.

At least this is the information I was given when I awoke from my coma thirty days later.

It’s strange how, even after almost forty years, and granting forgiveness to so many people, the idea of forgiving that other driver, the person who did this to me, has not crossed my mind until I started thinking about writing this.

I was so busy trying to regain and recapture the things I had lost that I never looked back to the event that caused it all. In fact, I was strangely disconnected from the events of that night, in much the same way my traumatic brain injury (TBI) removed me from my own life.

Deep down I became angry, not about the crash itself, but about how people treated me after the coma when I was struggling to get my life back. Quite a while passed before I could get over the slights that I attributed to my friends in college, who I felt weren’t there for me when I finally returned to school. I couldn’t understand why people acted the way they did toward me. Sometimes ignored, often misunderstood, I would beat myself up because I didn’t understand what was going on and felt it must be my fault. This caused a great deal of pain and resentment as I tried to make my way through a world that had become confusing and alien to me. Often nothing made sense and I felt like I was going crazy.

With difficulty, I graduated from college a semester late and tried to move on with my life. Although confused and unsure about my abilities, and prone to beating myself up for not performing or for making dumb errors, I was able to return to work in my family’s business. Soon after that, I was married and had two terrific children, but I was not at peace, always looking for my place. Lingering doubts, anger and frustration were still with me. I used to refer to myself as an “angry little boy,” stuck at age nineteen. Even though I knew it all went back to my car accident, I had no idea what to do about it.

At one point, nearly twenty-five years after the car accident, I had a revelation of sorts. Although in my mind I had forgiven those who I felt had wronged me, I decided that wasn’t enough. To make it mean something more, I needed to go the next step by looking up my old friends and talking to them. One lived in the next town, and I made an effort to contact him. Eventually, I connected with each of my friends and found a wonderful weight lifted, as well as a return to a bit of normalcy. I learned that, of course, my friends weren’t the demons I had made them out to be. Forgiveness freed me from the angry chatter in my head. And in the process, I also learned we had all become different people. I didn’t feel the need or desire to resume a relationship with them, and I was at peace with that.

What I did finally see was that each of us carried regret and hurt from that time period. I also learned I needed to take responsibility for some things and not go looking for ways to place blame. By getting to a place where I could forgive, I began to see that I had unrealistic expectations and that I had, in one way or another, played a role in the way things happened. I also saw that blaming other people reduced my personal power by saying, in effect, that my life was not in my control. By blaming others, I was letting them have control over me.

Forgiving my old friends wasn’t about “giving in” or “giving up” or “compromising,” it was about growing and taking responsibility for my own life. I was making a statement that I was powerful enough to live on my own, without using blame as a crutch when things didn’t go right.

About a year passed and I began seeing a neurologist for the first time since my coma. My coma was in 1975, and there weren’t MRIs or CAT scans then, so my doctor suggested I have a current MRI. Even though we all knew I had a brain injury, I had never actually “seen” the damage.

The results came back showing areas of damage as well as areas of dried, twenty-five-year-old blood products in my brain. The news, which I had expected but was not prepared for, brought back the memory of years of rehabilitation, anger, confusion and resentment. But it also provided me with a conclusion, an ending, of sorts, for my journey. On the drive home from the doctor I was overcome by the strength of the truth and had to pull over.

For the first time, I grieved the events of that night and forgave the other driver. At that moment, I not only understood how hard I had been on myself all these years, I saw what I had done to myself by not giving myself a break. The MRI was clear; my brain had real damage, and I shouldn’t blame myself for the way I was. Sitting in my car on the side of the road, sobbing, I knew I had to finally let myself off the hook. First, I forgave myself for the unrelentingly negative way I had treated myself. And then I acknowledged myself for all the battles I had fought, and the good things I had accomplished.

A great wave washed over me as that nineteen-year-old boy from 1975 finally became the forty-two-year-old man who sat behind the wheel of that car. Forgiveness of myself, the final forgiveness, had healed me, and allowed me to move ahead with my life.

~Jeffrey Sebell

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