BARRETT: Forgiveness: the most liberating thing we can do

Tom Barrett

I’ve never seen my mom cry the way she did that day. Tears cascaded down her cheeks and flowed to the church floor, tracing her staggered steps. But these were not tears of grief, nor were they tears of joy. She struggled to smile at the family and friends who flashed photos of her unsteady strides, but the normal set of facial expressions couldn’t quite capture the emotions flooding out of her. Slowly she made her way to my dad waiting for her at the altar as she did 20 years earlier. But on this day, she was escorted by a man who wasn’t there the first time: her father.

When my mom was 14, her father moved out to Arizona without saying goodbye to her other sister. After coming home from fighting in Vietnam – an experience he still politely refuses to speak of – my grandfather had a quick temper and a heavy fist. Both still very young, he and my grandmother could not work through their problems, and they divorced. He moved to New York, but he still made it across the Hudson nearly every weekend to visit his daughters. Then one weekend, the visits stopped. He had decided to move west.

He later explained that he couldn’t bear the thought of having to say goodbye – to endure the sight of his daughters’ glistening eyes reflecting the guilt he must have felt. But after his departure, the occasional phone call and the annual birthday card were the only things for a couple of decades that reminded my mom that she still had a father. Like any child would have been, my mom was hurt, confused and angry. And, like any child who never has the chance to rid herself of her hurt, my mom carried this bitterness into her adult life.

She found herself happily married with children but still jaded by a lingering hurt. As the years went by, she lost sight of the source of her pain and convinced herself that it was just part of who she was. She found herself unhappy – with herself, with her family, with her job, with everything – much of the time. She would cry and not know why. Her built-up resentment would take shape in shouting matches about dirty dishes and missed garbage days. In her weakest moments, she would lash out at everything except for the one thing that planted this seed in her.

Eventually my mom saw a therapist and began pinpointing the source of her dissatisfaction. She called my grandfather and told him, “This is your chance to be in my life. Take it or leave it.” With the increasingly frequent phone conversations, the healing began, but much was left unresolved.

Then my dad came up with the plan. On her 40th birthday – also the year of my parents’ 20th anniversary – my mom and dad would renew their vows. My mom didn’t know, however, that a special guest would be waiting to walk her up the aisle this time around.

Completely unaware of the surprise waiting behind the door, my mom casually walked up the church steps. As soon as she crossed the threshold she was greeted by the 6-foot tall, tan skinned, white-haired man whom she had not seen in over 20 years. No sooner had their eyes met than the tears began to pour. With these tears came liberation – liberation from two decades worth of resentment, confusion and pain. With these tears came a chance for a new beginning – a chance to make amends for the mistakes of the past, to make weddings and birthdays; a chance for my grandfather to be the good father he is capable of being. With these tears came forgiveness.


Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].