Road to Gratitude

September 15, 2017

Here's a sample published story: 

 

Road to Gratitude

 

As an only child of separating and then divorcing parents, I didn’t understand where I fit into the world around me. I lived in an adult world where hopes were broken and futures were uncertain. My parents were suffering, moving, changing jobs, struggling and healing.

 

And there I was from age six on, jointly owned, and holding on to one of their outstretched arms, but only one at a time. For many years I was confused about almost everything: who, what, where, when, why and how. No one offered me any explanation that made sense.

 

But there was one thing I wasn’t confused about: nasty people. And the nastiest of them all was my paternal grandfather. He was mean to many people, not just me, and he exploded with rage if I was too loud, or if I didn’t speak up. 

 

One summer evening when I was thirteen we were having a formal “adult” dinner at my grandfather’s house. Since I was the only grandchild I was included with my seven aunts and uncles and my grandfather.

 

What this really meant was that we would all sit at the large round dining room table and listen to my grandfather talk. And talk and talk and talk. He wasn’t interested in anyone else’s conversation, unless he asked them to reply, but he would control those discussions too by interrupting when he had heard enough. Even at thirteen I knew that these dinners were dreaded by all.

 

I was a pudgy prepubescent teenager. Food gave me solace when I was feeling sad, and I felt sad a lot. What I didn’t realize then was that my grandfather had no respect for, was even disgusted by, over-weight women, something it appeared I was on the way of becoming. All of the other women around that table were slim.

 

At the end of the meal my aunt brought in a plate of chocolate chip cookies for dessert and placed them down in front of me. Knowing no adult would want them in front of them.

 

My grandfather immediately changed the focus of what he was saying and screamed: “For God’s sake don’t put those down in front of her! She’ll eat the whole damned plate!”

 

Everyone turned and looked at me pitifully. Tears instantly leaked from my eyes. I asked to be excused--no one could leave the dinner table without being given permission to stand up from my grandfather. My reprieve was granted.

 

As I scurried away I heard my father defend me.

 

“Dad,” he said. “She still growing, it’s just baby fat.”

 

For years I held onto the anger I felt about my grandfather’s malice, never losing a chance to say a spiteful word about him whenever his name came up. 

 

When I was in college my grandfather died. Not long after I was recounting to my father one of the many stories I had regarding his father's ruthlessness.

 

After listening to me rant yet again he said, “Jen, try to forgive him. Do you realize how much energy you're spending feeling angry? It’s just not worth it.”

 

These were shocking words to hear—especially since my Dad had suffered far, far worse physical and mental abuse than I had under the same hands. 

 

It took me five years to put my Dad’s words into play. To take them in and let them transform me, to really apply them to my emotions. Forgiving my grandfather took practice, took reminding, and took going over my feelings and adjusting them. 

 

Finally, one day it happened. When I thought of my grandfather I felt not even a sliver of anger. For the first time ever, when I thought of him, I felt free… and thankful.

 

My grandfather was the first person I ever forgave, and like so many things, the first time you do it is the hardest. Since then I have had to forgive many more people, and I am so thankful that I know how to do it. 

 

Today, I like to think that part of my father’s family’s legacy is not to be cruel, but to forgive and feel gratitude.

 

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