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The peaceful conversations we had in that period of time were rare. But once in that ugly, angry time between separation and divorce, John and I were sitting at a table somewhere and he asked me how I saw him.
“I see you as an incredibly bright, funny, fiercely protective, loving man, surrounded by a coil of barbed wire,” I replied after about a minute of thought.
He smiled wryly and looked away. “That’s pretty accurate,” he said.
Last week on a long drive from west Texas to Austin, I travelled over a stretch of highway to the east of Marathon where there had been a freezing rain overnight. The grass along the highway, the limbs of the trees, everything was coated in a thin sheet of glistening ice. Even the barbed wired fences shone in their coats of ice. The monochromatic beauty was stunning and odd. I thought of John.
That figurative coil of barbed wire kept people at a distance from John. Who could not fear his explosive anger, the scorpion’s sting? But it also kept him ensnarled, unable to be loved for what he was. He paid a huge price for the painful protection.
I have spent a good part of my life trying to untangle the source of his anger. He struggled with depression and anxiety. He had physical pain from a deteriorating hip and various other injuries. He felt that when he was growing up his family placed unreasonable pressure on him to succeed—he was the one in his Irish Catholic family of modest means who was going to make them proud. All of these things made him angry. All of these things he carried on his back like a sack of rocks his entire life.
He spent much of his adult life in therapy, analyzing all of these things, trying to find medication that would treat the symptoms. Yet I wonder if the real path of healing for him might have been found in forgiveness. Could he have found some peace with his body that caused him pain? Could he have forgiven his parents, the priests and nuns who taught him, his brother who bullied him, the legal profession that squeezed the life out of him? Could forgiveness have brought him some peace before his untimely death from brain cancer?
And more than anyone else in my life, I need to forgive John. What does this teach me? How does seeing his life in this perspective alter the way I respond to the memory of him? I don’t want to see the barbed wire transferred to our children. I can’t transfer the barbed wire to encase myself. Forgiveness.