By Samantha Lawlor, Survivor
For the first time in 13 years, I visited my father in prison. He had been transferred to a hospital and was literally on his deathbed. I was only allowed 10 minutes with him accompanied by a sergeant. Yet, when I walked into the hospital room, my life changed once again.
I saw a shell of a man who looked to be 103 years old. If it wasn’t for his mugshot on the hospital room door, I would have never recognized him. He was bald, using a breathing tube, positioned to face a blank wall, and had bedsores that reached the bone. He had endured multiple strokes and was dying from severe malnourishment and AIDS.
All four of his limbs had contracted up to his torso and decomposed so much that he was literally 3–4 feet long under his blanket, and he was handcuffed to the hospital bed. I wanted him to suffer for so long, but that day I got to see what suffering looked like.
I got to see what judgment looked like when you’re up close and in its face. I saw that he was suffering just as much as I was. And that it wasn’t helping either of us. I saw a father and a husband instead of the monster I had made him out to be in my head. And most importantly, I got to see a man who quite simply made a mistake. A big mistake, granted, but a mistake nonetheless. A mistake based on his own view of himself, others, and life around him.
He, too, was figuring out life the best he knew with the tools he had. I was able to see just how much fear he had to have been in for murder to not only sound good, but like a solution! I saw his actions and his point of view as separate from the human being he was.
Developing compassion for him is what allowed forgiveness to become available to me in that moment. I didn’t have to search for it any more. It simply presented itself to me in the wake of compassion. Yet, it all started with my ability to have compassion and understanding for myself first. Before that, I didnʼt have the capacity to care about others who were hurting, least of all him.
I had so much pain for myself and my life that there wasn’t any room for love and understanding towards another, especially one who had hurt me. When I walked out of that hospital room, I walked out on 13 years of hate, anger, resentment, and hopelessness. Those 10 minutes of compassion and understanding were stronger and more effective than all those years of hate and anger. It set me free.
Allow yourself to have compassion for yourself, for all the times you weren’t sure what to do, say or feel. Understand you didn’t get a handbook for life, just as no one else got one either. See if you can uncover some of the “facts” you created about yourself that are disempowering and no longer serving you.
Even if you truly believe they might be true, play around with the idea that everything we
know are beliefs we hold, and a belief can be changed. Try to imagine that others are struggling just as much as you are, in different ways perhaps, but struggling nonetheless. See if you can have compassion for those who have hurt you, just as you can have compassion for yourself. Ask yourself what’s more important, being right or having peace in your heart. Forgive yourself for all the judgments you may press upon yourself on a daily basis.
Then see if the love you can develop for yourself can extend out to others. Think about who you can make peace with in your life. Regardless of how they respond, taking accountability for your part, your beliefs, and your view of the world can often give you back your power instead of allowing others to hold it over you. Likewise, that level of authenticity can give people the opportunity to see that they can perhaps take control of their suffering as well.
I know that when I’m able to be vulnerable with myself, I can see that the “hurt people” who hurt other people are going through the same lack of self-worth, disguised as anger and superiority, that I know all too well in myself. And when I see others as mean and hurtful, there’s usually some belief that I’m holding onto that is just trying to protect my own self-worth, a belief that says, “I’m right — they’re wrong” or “I’m good — they’re bad.”
There’s a beautiful quote that says, “If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior towards you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time, cease to react at all.” —Yogi Bhajan.
When we truly love ourselves, we’re no longer interested in withholding love from others. We’re able to do both.