“Come with me, my child.”
I glare at the shining spirit. “I’m old—not really a child any more.”
It shakes its gleaming head. “Just a figure of speech, my… er… friend. Come. We have things to see. Take my hand.”
I reach out and take its hand, but I’m shaking. Even a radiant spirit can be damned startling.
Everything around us melts. We seem to be flying low over a snowy landscape. There’s a city with bright lights. As we float to a stop, I gasp.
“But this is my old house, where I lived when I was five!”
The spirit lifts its ghostly arms and we pass through the walls into a living room. There’s a Christmas tree and a piano. And there I am, small me, coloring a picture. My mother is staring into the fire, and my father is watching football. My little brother is leaning against Mom’s side, and my grandmother’s lips are pressed into an angry line as she knits a sock.
I sigh. “I was very alone. Do you see how alone I was?”
It sounds strange but I can feel the spirit’s warmth reaching around me like an arm. “Yes,” it says. “That’s what you felt and it was real.”
“It wasn’t fair. My childhood should have been better.” I stick out my lower lip just a little bit.
“No doubt of that, my child… er… friend.”
“It’s why I’m angry sometimes.”
“I see. Yes. But of course, you’re not really that child any more.”
“Well, I am. My inner child is still there.”
Its laughter makes an odd echo, like a dolphin thumping its tail in a huge underwater cave. “Your inner child is a divine being, yes, and is eternal, a part of heaven to be sure. But…”
“What do you mean ‘but’? I got hurt!”
“But you’re an adult now. You’ve lived a bit of life. In fact you’ve lived a lot of life, and you know what happens in real life.”
I think it’s trapping me somehow, but I don’t see how, so I say nothing.
“Why do you think your mother is staring into the fire?” it says.
“Isn’t it obvious? She’d rather be in her thoughts than pay attention to me.”
“Ah. That’s what the child saw and felt. Try something else now—We’re both spirits here, and you’re a wise ghost. Try looking again, using your adult eyes. What do you know now about your mother’s life at that time?”
“Well… the marriage was bad. I know that. They never divorced but my dad had girlfriends. We found out after he died.”
The spirit nods. “Go on…”
I want to argue. “But look—Why is she cuddling with my brother? I was right there! I needed love too.”
“And what did you find out as an adult about your brother?”
“Oh… yeah. Well, none of us knew that he was sick yet. That came later.”
“You think your mom didn’t suspect anything? With the bruises and the nosebleeds?”
The lump in my throat makes it hard for me to talk. “Okay, but what about me? I mean, I get that my brother got sick later. But just because Mom’s life was hard doesn’t mean I didn’t deserve love.”
The spirit’s smile was incredibly sweet. “Of course not. Not at all. But your parents were real people, not storybook characters, not super heroes. Why do you think your dad had girlfriends?”
“Well, how should I know?”
“Let’s go back farther.” It wraps its cloak around me and we fly again, over the country, over the ocean itself. We finally stop in a small village in Scotland. The huge pit head of a mine looms nearby.
“Scotland? Wow… Is this where my grandfather grew up?”
A man stands in the glow of a doorway and pulls a woman to him.
“Hey, that’s my grandfather. But wait—That’s not my grandmother! What’s this about? Granddad had other women?”
“He did. It’s just how they did things in that family and in that time. Marriage was a business arrangement really.”
“But my grandmother was so sweet. It wasn’t fair!”
“What do you know now that you did not know as a child?”
“Ah.” I sigh. “My father had girlfriends just as his father had done. But my grandmother was lonely.”
“…And that’s why she was so hard on us all. And her constant criticism made it harder for my mother to bear, especially when she was already so sad herself.”
I watch as my grandfather trudges home, pushes open the door and sets some coins on the table. My grandmother picks them up and puts them in a jar on the mantle.
“All right. Take me back to my own family, would you?”
The snow tickles my cheeks as we swirl back through time and come to rest in the somber living room.
“I see it now,” I say.
Its voice is very deep. “What is it that you see, dear one?”
“I see that they were doing the best they could….Yes, I was lonely. But there were things going on that I could never understand as a little child.”
“I see that it wasn’t that they didn’t love me, and it wasn’t that I didn’t deserve love. But life just happens, and people get hurt. Maybe they wanted to love me and didn’t know how. Maybe it was just the best they could manage.”
“Can you forgive them?”
I sigh again. “Yes… maybe. But why should I?”
Somewhere a bell chimes three times. “Because opening to love really matters. Because getting wiser always means getting kinder.”
A kiss brushes my cheek. “Because your healing makes the world whole. That’s the lesson. That’s the essence of it all. Nothing else matters. Forgiving them heals you—and what heals you also heals the world. Opening to all love is the divine essence. In the end, all we have is each other.”
Overhead I hear the sound of wings, and the spirit’s voice melts away. “That’s all there is. That’s what’s holy. That’s the light in the darkness.”