The engines fail, the small plane hits the ocean and people are thrown out. Waves crash over the man’s head. His daughter must be near but he doesn’t know where. His shoulder isn’t working right and he is tiring fast. Sea water chokes him. Using all his strength and all his terror, he manages to keep his face above water and once or twice shouts encouragement, hoping his daughter can hear him.
They both survive. But his daughter’s legs were badly broken. She’ll never be the promising dancer now, and he weeps for his failure to keep her safe.
I could be that father. My children got hurt because I failed to be….What did I fail to be?
Listening to the story, others smile softly and shake their heads. “But he couldn’t do anything. He was in shock, he was drowning. He did the best he could in the situation. After all,” they say, “he’s not a god. He’s not not super human.”
But the cruelty we commit on ourselves is exactly this: We think we are supposed to be gods, especially to those we love.
Am I able to forgive myself for not being a god? As parents and spouses, we believe in the fantasy that our love will heal our spouse’s pain and will save our children from being wounded.
But then life happens.
Yesterday I watched a family video from 25 years ago, one made by my kids while they were playing around. The images slammed my face back into the waves. I thought I had forgotten it all, but instead, I was carried back to those very moments—except that now I know how it all turned out.
The images themselves were lovely. But it was like looking at New York’s skyline on September 10th, 2001.
I know we were all in the water together. I was doing my best, but it did not keep everyone safe. In fact, in some ways the fact that I was drowning turned out to be the karmic mallet that pounded my kids to smithereens.
Life happens, and it is real. Wounds happen, even when we are doing our very best, even when we love and are loved in return.
A woman born in a dirt-poor family becomes a successful businesswoman so that her children will never suffer as she did. She feels driven to succeed because of her inner wounds. She is swimming as hard as she can. But her children end up abandoned emotionally.
A man marries a single mother, thinking he can love and support her. But the emotions are too intense, too frightening for him, and only beer seems to numb him enough to make the days tolerable. Addiction takes him over, and as he drowns, damage is done to his wife and children.
It was me in the waves. Can I forgive myself for almost drowning and for failing the ones who were smaller and weaker? Can I forgive myself for not being super human? Can I forgive myself for, in fact, being ordinary, being human?
I can because I know that healing comes from unconditional love. I can kneel in meditation and accept that, even as I am, I am whole. It is okay. The father in the waves is perfect, even as he fails to save his daughter from any wounding. He did the best he could.
The mother who belittles her children is caught in the waves too. In her case, she is swimming as hard as she can against her own father’s belief that all children are sinners who need severe correction.
The depressed father who can’t feel joy is caught in the waves. The father who beats his son for dressing in girl’s clothes in caught in the waves. The mother who sells herself to stay alive is caught in the waves.
I think now about all the judgments I have made against others. I realize that each of them was swimming in waves that I could not comprehend.
That is my aloneness—that I do not really understand the pain of others. I weep over the cruelty of what I have done to others and what I have done to myself.
The weeping might take some time. But after a while it ends. I clean myself up and sit in meditation.
The teaching comes, as it always does.
I accept healing for myself. I stand ready to be love now, today, in a way that I was not able to manage 25 years ago.
I am not perfect, but I am whole and growing and able to be present for others. Maybe I am perfect after all—but it’s not super-human perfect. It’s just me today.
I hold out my hands to you. I look into your eyes.
We have some healing to do. We can float together on the waves.
We can join, and it is more than enough. This is the healing we were born for.
So come….Take my hand.
–by Jean Gendreau