He hasn't spoken to her in 12 years. He doesn't know if she's alive. He doesn't know where she lives. It's been twelve years since she moved and didn't leave a forwarding address. She had to do it. After years of trying, years of crying, she knew she couldn't stop his drug-addicted behaviours from destroying his life. To keep them from destroying hers she had to detach.
Tough thing for a mother to do. Courageous. I wonder how she feels. To not know for all those years what was happening to him. To not know if he was alive or dead. To carry the pain. To wonder if she could have done anything different. If she'd only... and then to remind herself, I cannot change the past and then to move on with the ache in her heart, always there, easing a bit, but always there. I wonder how she feels. I can only imagine. I cannot know.
He came into my office late last week and said, his voice strong, his hands steady, "I'd like to write that letter now. Is that room available for me to use?" I nodded my head. I wasn't sure I could speak. It was a big moment.
Earlier in the week he'd come into my office, his ego bruised from an encounter with a couple of clients which led to a difficult situation for him. We'd talked through the drama. He'd got it straight in his head what had gone wrong. Where he was wronged and where he had wronged another in the process. He knew what he wanted to do to make it 'right'. He was committed to doing the right thing.
He was getting ready to leave my office when he blurted out. "I want to write a letter to my mom. I'm afraid to do it."
"And you're afraid because...?" I asked.
"I haven't had contact with her in 12 years. Last time I saw her, I stole from her." He shrugs his shoulders, a flicker of angst flits across his face as memory surfaces. "I caused her a lot of pain." Tears well up in his eyes.
"She doesn't know if I'm alive or dead." He pauses. "I don't know if she's alive or dead. She's in her 70s. She had to move. She was scared of me.... I don't blame her. I was scared of me back then. I was a scary guy."
He looks at me from where he sits in the blue chair on the other side of my desk, his slim hands clasped between his knees. He throws his head back. He looks at the ceiling. He sighs. "I want to tell her I'm alive. I want to tell her I'm sorry. I want to tell her so many things and I'm scared. I'm 41 years old and I'm scared of my mom." He looks at me. "What should I do?"
"What's in your heart."
Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Yesterday, after a lifetime running from the truth, a courageous man conquered his fear. He wrote the letter he's been avoiding since getting sober a year and a half ago.
I went in to see him after a couple of hours. He'd just finished. He sat at a table along the window. The view looks out across the river valley to the tree covered hillside beyond. Houses peeked out from amidst the greenery. The sky above was crystal clear blue. His blue eyes were cloudy with tears. "I didn't know it would be so hard," he said. A tear falls onto the page in front of him. He laughs. "I'm such a cry-baby."
"I see you as a courageous man."
He looks down at the folded pages in front of him. He picks them up. Holds them out to me. "Here. Read it. Tell me if I said the right thing."
I hesitate to step into his private space. "Did you write from your heart?" He nods his head. "You've said the right thing."
He holds the letter closer towards me, like a penitent holding onto a rosary. "Please?"
I take a breath and reach for the letter. "I'd be honoured."
I try not to cry. I try not to let my emotions attach themselves to the words on the page. I don't have a script for this. I don't have a guidebook telling me what to do. What to say. My eyes fill with tears. I can't stop them. The beauty of his spirit shines through every pain-filled word on the page.
I finish the letter. His eyes never stop watching my face. I hand the letter back to him. "Thank you."
He looks surprised. "Thank you?"
"We all need forgiveness for things we've done. I once hurt my daughters enormously. I thought I'd forgiven myself, but I forgot. Forgiveness is a river. It is always flowing and sometimes, I need to dip into it to refresh myself. I've never had happen to me what happened to you. But your letter gave me the gift of knowing, whatever happens in life, whatever I do, forgiveness always opens the door to my heart."
"Do you think I should send it? What if she doesn't care? I mean, I know why she turned her back on me, but what if she just doesn't want to know what's happened in my life?"
"Mother's always care. She may have been forced to turn away, she may have had to do what she did to keep herself safe, but a mother never closes the door to her heart. Love for a child can never be shut off."
He looks at me. Glances back out at the trees and houses across the river. The cerulean arc soaring above. "I need to do the right thing."
I nod my head in agreement.
He doesn't know if she's alive or dead. She hasn't known of his whereabouts for 12 years. We google the town where he last knew she lived. His uncle still lives there. He writes a note to his uncle on the outside of the letter. Dear Uncle M. Please get this to my mother. I love her. I love you. He signs his name and tucks the letter inside another envelope addressed to his uncle.
Somewhere in a post office a letter sits in a pile of letters waiting to board the plane that will carry it to its destination. It is searching for a mother's heart. Hoping it is still beating in time and in love.
An ending. A beginning. He doesn't know the outcome. The outcome isn't what makes the difference. Regardless of his fear that he may be too late to find her, or that she will or will not be willing to read his letter, he's done the right thing. Another regret falls to the ground and he takes another step through the fear that was holding him back on his journey.
In life, we are always called to do the right thing. Sometimes, fear, anger, sadness, sorrow, grief and a host of other emotions limit our ability to step with courage into our fear and set ourselves free. To create new beginnings, we must begin at the end where we left off. We must do the right thing to step beyond that place where fear would tell us to do nothing. To do the right thing, as this courageous man taught me that day, we must be fearless.