On a crisp winter night, my siblings, a few cousins and I were camped out in our living room dimly lit by the Christmas tree lights. Our peaceful slumber was abruptly disturbed when the front door came crashing in.
Splintered wood from the door frame torpedoed through the air. The razor-sharp winter wind flushed throughout the living room, cutting through our thin blankets and pajamas.
The only heat remaining came from the blazing fury of the hulking shadow stomping through the doorway. It was my uncle. He stormed straight into my aunt’s bedroom. The smell of hard liquor trailed behind him.
He disappeared into the darkness of the bedroom and we heard something shatter. The six of us kids huddled in the corner of the living room. We looked at each other and read each other’s thoughts — “Here we go again.”
Virulent, growling curses and thumping sounds, followed by frantic screams and desperate pleas for mercy singed our ears. Our pounding hearts quickened and the chaos unsteadied our breathing. Then the entire apartment shook from the force of 120 pounds slamming into the wall. The apartment went silent.
As one of the oldest children huddled in the corner — eight years old — I felt ashamed for cowering in that corner instead of answering my aunt’s screams for help. I was conquered by the fear holding me in a chokehold. It made me furious with myself. And like a verse from the song “White Man’s World,” by the great Tupac Shakur, I promised to “get my weight up with my hate and pay ’em back when I’m bigger!”
Nearly two years out of college and into my profession, I was convicted for killing a young man who abused and threatened the life of a woman in my family. This time, I was conquered by unresolved and overdeveloped pain of the past.
Painful and traumatic events of my past poisoned my thinking and emotions, and I failed to make a good decision. The results of my actions — life in a prison and the loss of a life — is an example of the consequences that some of you young people are creeping up on fast.
Hurt people often end up hurting other people. Many of you young people who have the constant feeling of anger or make many violent decisions suffer from unresolved and overdeveloped pain of the past.
Whether it’s because you were abandoned by your parents, bullied, abused or mistreated in any other way, it can be a source of pain and anger you carry daily. Failing to resolve the pain of the past will negatively impact our destiny, and our actions may plant the seed for unresolved and overdeveloped pain in others.
Letting go of the pain and anger is challenging work. It requires forgiveness and acknowledgement that the event of the past doesn’t have to determine our future or our value.
Some of us think that forgiveness means to forget, to risk being vulnerable and victimized again, or that it’s a gift granted to someone who is deserving of it. Forgiveness isn’t a gift to others. Whether we hold onto the pain and anger or choose to move past it, our decision has no real impact on the one who mistreated us. The value of forgiveness is solely for the forgiver.
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that we stop holding them accountable, accept them into our circle and trust them, or that what they did was insignificant. Forgiveness simply means that the pain that resulted from someone mistreating us no longer dictates our decisions in life. It means we stop allowing that pain to consume our time and thinking.
The thinking that someone’s actions have negatively altered our destiny or personal value can also contribute to the refusal to forgive. Regardless of what happened in the past, we must realize that we are, as Dr. Verna Price says, “loveable, valuable, important and powerful.” And the quality of our future is still within our power.
I don’t have the right to tell you how fast to forgive or move beyond your pain of the past. The pain is valid, and you have a right to be angry. But I hope that some of what I shared in this column puts you on the path of forgiveness.
Jeffery Young welcomes reader responses to Jeffery Young #213390, 7600 525th St., Rush City, MN 55069.