My adult son and I had a misunderstanding, but neither of us realized it.
He thought that I knew all the details of a trip he arranged for his family to come to the city where I live. He thought he told me everything I’d need to know about their visit. He calmly assumed I was fully informed; he didn’t anticipate any problems. We had a nice relationship, my only child and I, we got along great. “Love you, Mom,” was always the last thing he said to me. “I Love you, too,” was always my goodbye to him.
Like him, I thought I had all the details about their trip, but unlike him, I wasn’t calm about it; I was furious. What I thought I knew was leaving me feeling kicked to the curb, neglected, insulted, and abandoned by my family in favor of other people who were, at the last moment, joining them on the trip that was allegedly to see me.
The news of the add-on visitors was a surprise to me, and not a happy one. The trip was supposed to be my chance to see my family, whom I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. There was no predicting when we’d get together again, at least not like this—just the five of us: me, my son, my daughter-in-law, and my grandkids. The people who were now coming with them lived close to them in their city four states north of me, close enough that they could all see each other any time they wished. Plus, seeming to add insult to injury, instead of staying a short drive from me, they were all renting a house located about as far away from me as they could get, way across town.
I could take a hint. They didn’t want me.
They wanted to fill their trip with other people; they wanted their friends to form a distancing bulwark between my family and me. They wanted to make it inconvenient for me to drive to see them, and for them to load up the kids to drive to see me.
Those were the conclusions to which I jumped.
I told some friends, who were sympathetic and furious on my behalf.
“You go right ahead and be angry!” one of them encouraged me.
For the first two days of my family’s visit, I made the long drive through heavy traffic to see them. I smiled with brittle falsity. The other family was always around. They mentioned something about bad weather back home, but I wasn’t interested. The kids played with each other, ignoring the grown-ups. I didn’t stay long. I withdrew to my apartment and remained there in martyred simmering silence.
By the third day of my absence, my son sensed something was off.
I thought, “What took you so long? A bat could have sensed it—in the dark, with broken radar!”
“Mom, is anything wrong?” he asked me in a phone call.
I lied, and said no, everything was fine.
“Do you want to come for dinner with us tonight? Or go to the zoo with us tomorrow? Or both, of course!”
“Oh, darn, I can’t.”
“Are you sure everything’s all right? You sound different.”
“I do? No, just a bit of allergies, that’s all.”
For five days of their trip, I stewed in my secret fury.
Worse, I refused—refused—to take any opportunities to dissolve the rage inside of me. I didn’t talk to him. I didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t give him a benefit of any doubt. I didn’t drive out to play with my grandchildren. The Other Family had kids of the same ages; why would my grandkids want to spend time with old me when they could play with their little pals? I fumed like that for five miserable days. I could have picked up my well-thumbed copy of A Course in Miracles, and searched for deliverance in its pages. But I didn’t even try. I refused to open the book. Refused. Consciously. It was the first time in years that I hadn’t taken the help and comfort the Course gave me. I didn’t want to feel better. I clung to my anger like “Gollum,” in The Lord of the Rings, hugging his “Precious” to himself. I hadn’t been this angry in years. I couldn’t even remember the last time. In fact, this decade had been the happiest and most peaceful of my life, up to this point. I was truly shocked to discover this sulfurous pool of bile in me, but I still refused to stop swimming in it.
I chose my misery, and I knew it was a choice.
I loved and cuddled it like a child with her favorite doll. Except this doll—this idol—had a hateful glare, a bitter smirk. She was a doll out of a horror movie.
I was angry, by God, and I was right to be.
They had done this to me!
Maybe I would never forgive them.
It’s harrowing now, even just to write this down, and to see how close I came to folly, disaster, and separation from love.
(Eventually, I’ll laugh at it—kindly, at myself—but I’m not there yet.)
Lucky for all of us, on the sixth day of hanging from my bloody cross of martyrdom, I had on my calendar a Zoom session with a local Healing Circle that operates on the principles of A Course in Miracles, of which I am a long-time student. I love the group, and even in my sick anger, I wanted to be there for it. But alas, throughout the half-hour with the healing circle, I was distracted, still angry, restless, unable to concentrate on our healing mission. At least I was there, I told myself. I had shown up. In the Course, Jesus makes a big deal out of our tiniest willingness. Don’t worry about your small strength, he advises, promising that he will add his great strength to our little bit of willingness to turn back to God.
That’s all I had to offer: a tiny spark of willingness.
I felt that I had failed the two people whose names had been given to us for prayers and meditation that morning.
But then a healing happened anyway—to me.
An hour after the circle ended, I began to feel a thread of desire to open my Course in Miracles book. It was the first hint of light on my personal horizon. I opened the book at random and managed to force myself to read two paragraphs before slamming it shut again. I didn’t make a note of which page it was; I don’t remember a word I read from it. But I had made a tiny choice in the direction of love.
It was enough, that tiny willingness, to let Love in again.
I began to want not to be angry. I started to want peace of mind and sanity. I wanted to remember what a kind and thoughtful person my son usually is, and to give him every benefit of all the doubts I’d allowed myself to feel toward him. Surely I had misunderstood something; it would be completely out of character for him to treat me as I felt treated. I wanted to forgive. I wanted to go beyond forgiveness—to find out that I was wrong, and there was nothing to forgive.
I knew we had to talk about it.
But I didn’t want that to happen until all of the anger washed out of me. I wanted to be cleansed of the corruption I had allowed to creep into our loving and trusting relationship. I wanted to able to approach my son happily, with faith, and with all of the love I had failed to show him over the previous week. I didn’t want to go into it still angry; I was afraid of doing lasting damage.
That was a Tuesday.
By Thursday, I felt cleansed enough to call and invite him to lunch on Friday. I had not only calmed down, but I was also back to feeling like the self I thought I was, not the furious, jealous creature who’d spun her web of ugly fantasies through dark days and nights.
When I met him at the restaurant, I was so glad to see him!
We hugged. And then we sat down, ordered lunch, and talked about all of it. We found out there were a lot of details that I had not known, and had no way of knowing, but which he thought I knew. I found out why he’d arranged the trip in the way he had at the last minute. He thought he’d told me, in the last-minute rush, that their friends’ had storm damage and had to lift a huge oak tree that had fallen on their home, and then replace the roof, among other damage. He’d canceled their prior reservation nearer to me, because the second rental house was big enough for both families, and cheaper, too, to help the other family during their costly emergency. The other family was in shock from the storm that came close to killing them; this trip was letting them recover mentally and emotionally. Every reason my son gave me was a good and sensible one that had nothing to do with me. I told him how I’d felt, and he was appalled, and I saw him start to feel bad about it. I immediately assured him that he had done nothing wrong; and that it was all in my head. Illusions. Illusions. There was no reason for me to be angry at anyone; there was no reason to blame him. He was innocent. I was, too. He didn’t blame me for jumping to evil conclusions; he said he could see how a person might do so in the circumstances. He said, “It’s hard when people have expectations, and things don’t turn out the way they hoped.” I thought that was amazingly generous of him, and reminded me that he had given up his original plans, too. I wished I had given him the benefit of the doubt, and I saw how my anger stood between salvation and me. He wished he had pursued sooner and deeper the reasons for the disturbance he had sensed in me.
We’d had a failure of communication, and that was all it was, and now we were laughing and relaxed together again.
I spent a lot of time with them for the next two weeks.
It was wonderful, with nothing but happiness. Their friends were delightful, and I thought it was wonderful of my “kids” to invite them while their house was undergoing renovations that would have been hazardous for their children to be around.
It was a hard experience, yes, a hard lesson, for sure.
But why had it all gone wrong in the first place?
As I pondered it later, and asked for guidance, there came a moment when I had an epiphany about a particular incident from my childhood when I felt ignored, powerless, and unwanted. I saw how those feelings reoccurred at other times in my life. I also saw how those feelings were interpretations on my part, and not necessarily the truth.
This latest episode had presented me with yet another opportunity to face an old problem, and to make a different choice about it. What had come around before had come around again, with a happy ending for the first time.
I see now that I didn’t recognize and value my son for who he really is.
I see it is impossible to do that if I can’t recognize and value myself for who I really am—like him, a perfectly loved and loving child of God.
I want to see everyone like that; I want to greet them with the welcoming thought, “Oh, I know you! You’re a child of God, like me.” And that will be the end of misunderstandings.
“It is your thoughts alone that cause you pain.” (W-190.5:1)
“[The world]…will change entirely as you elect to change your mind and choose the joy of God as what you really want.” (W-190.6:4)
“And so again we make the only choice that ever can be made: We choose between illusions and the truth, or pain and joy, or hell and Heaven.” (W-190.5.11:1)