Dad’s last sunset rainbow
The raw reality gets us to the point, doesn’t it? Death does that for the living.
I don’t like death, but I appreciate it for how it slaps us on the back of the head, especially when we are busy worrying about petty disagreements, financial distractions, or self-image obsessions that have nothing to do with “real” life or death. I’m not saying everything between the first breath and the last is all nonsense. All I’m saying is that once you’ve had an encounter with grief, you are more likely to be the kind of person whose healthy cynicism distances you from blind or lazy paths of “success.”
Anyway, this year is not my first Father’s Day without my Dad. I wrote about the first though, in Enlightened-ish. I have decided that the best way to remind myself that my dad still matters is to share that complicated, but important chapter from my grief memoir. After you read this chapter, you will understand why our dead dads matter. When we work through our grief, we we snap back into seeing what is important and learn how to free ourselves from burdens and imperfections. For some of us, our dead dads teach us more from the grave… and we miss them dearly not because they were perfect, but because grief is an awful, albeit powerful, teacher.
Allow me to add some context for this chapter – It touches on several themes that came up through the writing of “Enlightened-ish.” There are portions where I discuss what it felt like to leave the Christian Church *again* and also how I learned to let go of heart wounds that came through two relationships. This is the kind of stuff that I dealt with, alone, on my first Father’s Day without Dad – so many layers of grief, thus, so many layers of healing.
In short, healing begins with us, forgiving ourselves, for failing to accept the raw reality and the blunt self-awareness that can set us all free… namaste my friends. Happy Father’s Day, Dad… RIP.
Chapter 12: The Freedom to Forgive and Forget
Enlightened-ish, by Gail Dickert.
Feel free to share with permission if linked to the original post.
Copyright, Gail Dickert 2013.
“Father’s Day 2012 – the first when I did not have a phone call to make or a card to send.
I’m surrounded by some of the most thoughtful people that walk this great Earth yet, not one single friend reached out to ask how I was doing on that day.
No texts saying, “Hey, just in case you’re having a hard time, I’m thinking of you.”
No phone calls asking, “What are you doing to remember your dad today?”
No emails or notes suggesting, “The first one is always the hardest but you’re not alone.”
Nothing. Nada. No one.
Were it not for the short texts with my sisters, my mother and the friend I was visiting (who only contacted me because I was visiting her from out of town), I would have been all on my own to reflect, sob and search for solace.
What I longed for most, aside from the freedom to call my dad, was a friend who would take note of his death.
When I took a summer getaway to Massachusetts before Father’s Day weekend, I discovered the Freedom to Forgive and Forget. Specifically, while sitting quietly in a secluded sandy beach at Cape Cod, I thought about my entire week away and all of the activities planned. I knew this retreat would be significant but I didn’t know exactly how the awakenings would present.
It was hard to believe that this freedom would come from anger.
Being angry at my friends is like punching flowers for not blooming upon my command. It’s hardly reasonable. My friends are brilliant. They consist of people who are globally recognized spiritual leaders and highly educated, mature, energetic, giving, creative, faithful people. I have the most enlightened-ish friends in the world.
Yet, while I sat near the ocean, watching the waves predictably toss shells, rocks and sand towards my dry spot on this remote beach, I lamented, “This bunch collectively forgot to call me? C’mon Universe! What could I possibly learn from more isolation?”
The Universe spared no expense on this freedom. There are three concepts to the Freedom to Forgive and Forget. I named them The Three Calls. (That’s three more than I received from my friends.) The Calls I did receive made it clearer for me to see through the fog of forgiveness and land at a place of acceptance and mental freedom. I didn’t know it was possible. Not only is it possible, but it’s also available to anyone with the ability to reframe the concept of impossible.
There are people who teach that all things are possible, when we align ourselves with God. There are others who teach that all things are within reach, when we focus our thoughts on positive energy. On the contrary, we hear plenty of teaching about what is not possible. We can’t make someone love, we can’t force someone to change, and we can’t know what people are thinking.
What I experienced on Father’s Day weekend, aside from the lack of calls from my tribe, was the opportunity to attend a mind-blowing, gravity-defying performance from the talented and innovative people of Cirque Du Soleil’s “Totem.” While on the beach, I remembered what I felt while watching their latest traveling revolutionary show. (If you’ve never been to a Cirque Du Soleil show, I sum it up like this: Extraordinary acrobatic contortionists presenting their unique, artistic skills while defying gravity and reason before an audience whose jaws never leave the floor for 90 minutes.)
Each show I’ve seen has been better than the one before. Totem was no exception.
It was significant that the plot resembled my personal journey. The theme of Totem is to explore what happens as creation awakens to the beautiful spark that is “life.” It is deeply rooted in Native American traditions and viewing Mother Earth as a Turtle. (Turtle is my animal totem.) Beyond the theme, it was the tricks, stunts and interconnected costumes, music and physical tenacity of the entire event that allowed me to receive The Three Calls.
As I watched the professionals deliver a breath-taking performance, I envisioned what my life would be like if I could use my mental faculties to free myself from the past the way they used their physical bodies to free themselves from the ordinary.
Examining each performer’s acts of courage and bravery, I began the formation of this freedom. This all came to me during the show but it passed before I had the time and mental fortitude and capture it in writing. Little did I know that the same dedication and training it took for a man to balance on his head, on top of a 100-foot pole that rests on the bridge of another man’s nose, is the same mental capacity I can use to rewire my brain into a powerful tool for accessing the Freedom to Forgive and Forget.
~ The First Call: Recognize the Timing ~
A single collision on the Cirque stage could send any one of the acrobats to the hospital. Bad timing could also injure an unsuspecting audience member too. Likewise, forgiveness is an issue of timing.
“Forgive and forget” is good in theory. It is similar to the lofty and spontaneous ideas that Cirque producers have about their acrobats soaring through the air. As like the performance, the actual execution of forgiveness requires exact timing.
Forgiveness is often viewed as the climactic event around which all other spiritual decisions find their meaning but this is not the case. Forgiveness is simply one flip in the trapeze act, one step on the tightrope, or one ball to be juggled on the path of healing. “Trusting the timing” means moving through this part of our awakening with attention to detail.
When the timing was right for forgiving my exes or the people in my Christian community, I had a lot to consider. At best, I could say their combined actions were unintentional. At worst, I could perceive that all involved needed to be held accountable. (Enlightened-ish living has less to do with what others have done or not done and more to do with our own choices.)
As I sat with a mental list of supposed transgressions, I had an image of the Cirque performers, spinning and twisting in their artistic displays of interdependence. I thought, “If one of them fell, would they immediately blame one another?” Using the Freedom to Imagine, I scripted a dialogue between me and the “performers” whose behavior had caused injury to my heart and soul.
“You missed the catch!” I said to a trapeze partner at the church.
“I know,” she sighed. “It’s just that you reminded me of someone else for a second and, well I don’t know what happened.”
“Stay focused!” I barked at the knife thrower in the home.
“I am sorry,” she replied. “I have so much on my mind, I haven’t slept in days and my head is throbbing.”
Suddenly the call was clear.
Bad timing cannot be underestimated.
I did not recognize that I was rehearsing with people who were not fully present or able to perform. But with a broken arm and a knife in my foot, I had to take responsibility for my part in the collision.
My spiritual community was not ready for a progressive person of faith. In fact, they were still recovering from being hurt by other people. No amount of artistic passion, friendship or prayer was going to hurry them along in their evolution.
My ex wasn’t ready for a relationship. In fact, she had not yet recovered from abuses in her family or the disappointment of her divorce. No amount of nurture, love and prayer was going to hurry along her evolution.
I, however, was ready to fly and take calculated risks.
With a reframed awareness of timing, I could focus my efforts not on their behavior but my own.
I received the call to forgive myself for colliding with bad timing.
I called upon myself to forget what it felt like to force a situation to be what it is not ready to be.
~ The Second Call: Be the Source ~
The twists and turns of a Cirque show require the performers to use their own body’s inertia and weight in order to create the movement that is desired. At some point, while the beauty is in the timing, the power is in propelling oneself.
This is equally the case in awakening. Each twist is necessary but I was challenged to keep the momentum going entirely on my own. I set out on this freedom but also the entire book to complete an ethereal To Do list:
To give voice to the grief of my father’s death.
To tell the truth of how it felt to leave a spiritual home.
To imagine healing for my body.
To release myself from the karma Bright brought into my life.
To share the story of one man’s fateful day and my irreversible response.
That was one ambitious set of tasks!
Finding the momentum to proceed when I didn’t have a publisher or agent required a lot of stretching and expanding. Motivation would have to come from somewhere. I didn’t have a book advance and yet I maintained a full-time job while writing.
I had to become my own Source.
This Call came through loud and clear was when I realized that after all of my experiences of 2011-2012, what I was still hanging onto was the break-up with my partner of 4 years, in late 2009. (Before I reveal the details of this partnership, I need to finally give her a name. I will call her Beloved.)
The reason I am still in touch with Beloved is quite complicated and enough to make a therapist tilt their head in wonder. It isn’t necessarily a negative thing.
The Freedom to Forgive and Forget would not have been so powerful were it not for the day we debated about how she ended our engagement, leaving me with the deepest level of disappointment I had felt since…
Well, since my father had abandoned me as a child.
Granted, I had been left by a partner in 2006, but the level of trust that I had for Beloved was adult. This was “grown-up love.”
For better or worse love. (The kind of love I had hoped my father had for his family.)
As we had this awkward and heated discussion, I finally confessed to Beloved and myself that after almost three years, I was still angry that she walked away. I was angry not just because she left but because I never would have done that to her. She did not love me with the same for better or worse love with which I loved her.
She was “my beloved” and no other before woman had convinced me that they could love me with the same acceptance for our differences. When she proposed in 2007, I embraced every gesture like it was a marriage in that private, beautiful moment on a chilly but beautiful day in February.
While on my drive home, after this flashback of a fight, I imagined myself again as a Cirque performer. I thought of this wild task list and how I was editing the most bizarre book I’ve yet to write. I thought of the previous three years and how I hadn’t even come close to forgiving Beloved.
Suddenly the call was clear.
I am my own Source.
I was looking for her to be the source of the compassion I needed.
I was looking for her to be the source of the understanding I sought.
With a reframed awareness of Source, I could focus my efforts not on her behavior but my own.
I received the call to forgive myself for seeking momentum outside of me.
I called upon myself to forget what it felt like to be abandoned.
~ The Third Call: Breathe More, Think Less ~
Sitting close to the stage at a Cirque show allows the audience to see deep into the process of each maneuver. As my friend of 20 years held her breath for each wide leap or fast spin, I looked closely at the rising and falling chests of each acrobat. All performers were 100% focused on their breathing.
I watched as two acrobats lifted the ends of a rubber balance beam upon which a smaller acrobat would soon be leaping. With intensity, they inhaled deeply, kneeling down and then exhaled forcefully as they stood up, and moved the beam from the ground to their shoulders. This image, of calculated and timed breathing resonated with my experience of grief.
Grief has a way of making even good memories painful. This is the sad reality of the emotional unraveling that comes after the loss of a loved one. I noticed this one afternoon when I was talking with one of my teachers at the pre-school. She was sharing some of her thoughts about classroom management, nature-based learning and child-led activities and suddenly I started to remember that her first day at the school was the day my father died.
Then my mind started to snowball.
The date of my father’s death happened to be the same as the birthday of an ex girlfriend. The woman responsible for so much of her pain and thus, our collective pain in the relationship, was born on the same day of the year that my father died. Death and birth are hardly distinguishable sometimes.
It hasn’t even been a year yet.
I was thinking so much, I couldn’t breathe!
After the teacher walked away, I went outside to catch my breath.
Once again, grief had taken my breath away. One minute we were just chatting and the next, I was standing under the expansive arms of an oak tree hoping to calm myself down. I thought of the Cirque performers, lifting and shifting and doing it all, one breath at a time. I longed to be as graceful in my awakening as they but anger within me began to boil. I thought of how death had been used to bring me to life. I resented it. Loss and grief had conspired against me since March 2011 and there I stood, angry at my father for dying, angry at an ex for lying, and angry at the “Universe” for not trying to make my life simpler.
Most of all, I was angry at myself… for crying.
Under that great oak, I knew that it was time to Forgive and Forget and make the ultimate acrobatic move regarding the many losses in my life.
It was time to stop thinking so much about the behavior of others. It was time to stop holding my breath, waiting for the ex to apologize for her lies or for Beloved to apologize for leaving me. I couldn’t be angry anymore at my friends for not calling or my father for not living. My mind was running the show.
With a reframed awareness to breathe more and think less, I got the call to never forgive and forget anyone, ever again!
I received the call to forgive myself for holding my breath for anyone or anything.
I called upon myself to forget what it felt like to over-analyze that which cannot be explained.
After my parents separated, my dad had a saying about how he was always thinking of his daughters.
“When the phone doesn’t ring, it’s me.”
This abstract thought wasn’t very comforting for a grade-schooler who hoped to hear her father’s voice on a daily basis. By high school, I started to understand that for some reason, he didn’t know how to be a non-custodial father. He arguably wasn’t the best father before the separation but it was my impression that at least he was present.
It was that day on the beach at Cape Cod, when I sat with my silent phone and thought, “Dad, is that you?” that tears began to flow – the taste of these tears, so bitter and the anger, so tangible.
How dare he abandon his children in such fashion! How dare he not prove that he was thinking of me and behave in a manner that matched this so-called thought he had for my well-being!
As I stared at my silent phone I debated between two options.
I could keep waiting for it to ring – berating my friends for being forgetful while I simultaneously remembered the wound of abandonment.
I could turn it off – forgetting what it felt like to wait for a call to forgive while I simultaneously remembered that I didn’t do anything wrong by having expectations that my father would be there for me.
It was in that moment that this freedom turned me into a great contortionist! I forgave myself for needing a call, turned off my phone and took a two hour nap on the beach. Surrounded by sacred stones and no other voice than the one inside of me, I was assured that this freedom was a call I could receive.
Forgiving my friends for forgetting to call on Father’s Day was a natural act but forgiving me and forgetting what it’s like to live in impossible situations was an act of artistry of Cirque De Soleil proportions.
The Three Calls highlighted that I now have the capacity not to force a situation regardless of bad timing, not to seek external affirmation, and not over-analyze. With the Freedom to Forgive and Forget, I barely remember what it felt like to be bound.
All I can think about is what it feels like to be free!”
To purchase Enlightened-ish and learn more about how grief can lead to spiritual awakening, click on the links within this post or here, to see reviews/commentary.
Gail is an author, poet, blogger and activist whose new book, Enlightened-ish chronicles her spiritual awakening experience after witnessing a suicide, grieving her father’s unexpected death and leaving a spiritual community. Her first book, “Coming Out of the Closet without Coming Apart at the Seams” was published in 2004. Gail has appeared in FOX DC News,SkyNews and Our America with Lisa Ling as an advocate for ex-gay survivors and young people. Her freelance work has appeared in God Allows U-Turns, Encounter Magazine and Outlook Weekly. “For Gail So Loved the World” is her blog, where she discusses spirituality, politics and social and emotional intelligence from a global perspective. Her spoken word pieces and drumming meditations are available on YouTube and she schedules private speaking engagements where these performances are shared. Gail is the only lesbian known to hold a Bachelor’s Degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Currently, Gail resides in the Washington, DC Area and serves her local community as the Executive Director of a nature-based early learning center.