Friday, September 20, 2013

It takes time to get to a place of forgiveness

From today's Briefing:

For a long, long while, I’ve held a grudge against a single Central Texas county.
Bell County was the locale of many rough patches in my younger years. I go back to visit occasionally, though never with much joy in my heart. No matter how much I adore the people who live there, my Bell County stops are perfunctory.
It’s foolish, no doubt. There’s nothing inherently distasteful or shady about the place. I’ve simply allowed bad memories and unfortunate experiences to tarnish the image.
Memories like living in a trailer and wearing hand-me-downs, worried about real and imagined scorn from peers.
Like fretting some days about having enough food.
Like feeling isolated, marginalized, neglected.
While all of those experiences were actually mine and certainly shaped who I am, they don’t control me now. So I’ve been working on letting go of my unfounded dislike for an entire county.
Then, in one dramatic swoop, the longstanding grudge disappeared.
The antidote: heartfelt words from a dear friend who shared his own Bell County experience.
In 1975 — four years before I would first move to Central Texas — a family of seven landed at the tiny airport in Temple.
Mom, dad, four children and a tiny baby arrived from Vietnam, seeking refuge from war at the invitation of a Baptist church.
The people of this church enveloped the family with love and support, provided the family with a home and helped the family adjust to a radically different culture.
All of this important work, this tangible proof of the inherent goodness of the human spirit, took place only miles from that trailer where I’d cry myself to sleep at night.
My friend recently revisited Temple and the church that opened its doors to his family. After his return, he emailed me a black-and-white photo of his family’s first day in Temple — a glorious snapshot of hope and mild trepidation, with telltale 1970s high-waisted pants and splashes of plaid.
About this photo, he writes: “A reminder of where I came from. A reminder of my humble beginnings. A reminder of God’s blessings.”
Those words struck my heart. Those words wiped clean my Bell County slate.
They also reminded me of my own blessings during my time there.
Even when life at home was rough, I was loved. And when I needed support I couldn’t find at home, I could find it with my grandparents and at my best friend’s house and in every classroom at every school I attended.
Some of my most memorable teachers were a part of this community — like Mr. Finney, who let me sing in the choir despite my uneven warbling, and Mrs. Creek, who encouraged my love for reading.
For far too long, I’ve let some bad experiences overshadow what really matters: When there were crises, there were always people to help. When there was darkness, someone nearby was shining a light.
I’m actually looking forward to my next trip to Central Texas. I plan to drive in with a cheerful spirit, to wave at the church that played a crucial role in rescuing my friend, to bid adieu to hard feelings, to welcome joy while letting go of expired pain.
And to say “I’m sorry” for taking so long.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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