My Tree of Forgiveness Has Deep Roots

Yesterday, I bought John Prine’s new album, “The Tree of Forgiveness,” and now I can’t leave my home until I recover. You could try to listen to “Summer’s End” as a divorced woman of a certain age without crying, but it would be futile.

“Just come on home
 Come on home
 No, you don’t have to be alone
 Just come on home…”

Sadly, there is no world in which my former husband would plead with me, in a gravelly voice, to “come on home.” In the words of John Prine, we did not “end up sittin’ on a rainbow.” When our long marriage ended, it was all over: currently, we are not even friends.

It wasn’t one critical, unforgivable thing that tore us apart — it was a thousand little things left unsaid, a thousand missed opportunities to build the deep love and security that comes from knowing your partner has your back, always.

Neither of us ventured into marriage naively. We trusted each other. I loved him and he said he loved me. But, as it turned out, I gave up the best thirty years of my life to a man who decided, after twenty-eight years, that he was mistaken—and these are years, decades, that I won’t ever get back. But now that we’re no longer part of each other’s lives, forgiving him is something I’d like to do. I really would. And, I know forgiving him is something I will eventually do, because I know where the roots of my forgiveness lie.

I grew up without a father. Because of this absence, choosing a man who would be a good father, a man who would never, under any circumstances, abandon his children, was the most important thing. And I found him: the father of my two children was, and is, without any close competition, the best father I know.

The man I loved and married stayed up nights with colicky babies asleep on his stomach. He paid attention to his children from the time they were tiny infants. He taught his kids to read, to speak Spanish, to play guitar, and to play practical jokes. He taught his teenagers to be kind and loving to their great-grandmothers, and to let those tiny, badass ladies win at Scrabble. He loved and encouraged and facilitated his way through parenting two very different children. In short, he gave each of them just what they needed.

I don’t want to minimize my own contribution. Like a lot of moms, I had pretty good instincts with my infants and toddlers. After that though, there were times when I felt lost — like I needed to read a really good child behavior book every day for a month, just to catch up. But then, I realized that all I had to do was watch my husband in action. He was the parenting role model I needed. After a few years, I started trusting my own strong intuition and I became an even better parent. Not better than him, just equal.

I recently began dating a man that I thought I might fall in love with. One day, he asked me if I still loved my husband, and I answered, without hesitation, “Yes, and I will always love him. He’s the father of my children.”

When I asked him the reciprocal question, he replied, “No, I don’t think I love her — but she was a great mother, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”

I think that love and gratitude often overlap — but each of us must love in the ways that feel right to us. I can still love even though I have been hurt, and I think this makes me strong and powerful. Mostly, I believe there are many different kinds of love, that it’s okay to feel them all, and that love is why we are here.

I no longer feel romantic love for my former husband. I don’t have sex dreams about him, thank God, or intimate memories that niggle into my head at inappropriate moments. But I still love the person I chose to marry, and I still love the man who helped me raise our children. I just don’t have any clear idea of who that person is these days since he is married to someone else and lives three thousand miles away. I don’t know if there is any small part of him that loves any small part of me.

My roots run so deep that they’re a little reluctant to let go. As if to make this point clear, I recently had a curiously domestic dream:

In this dream, my former husband and I were moving into a new condo complex in Washington, D.C. where he currently lives with his new wife, whose name is Lisa. He began setting up his office and computer while I arranged furniture and stocked the bare condo with comfortable bedding and family photos. After it felt reasonable cozy, I went shopping for the usual staples you’d need in a new kitchen and all of his favorite foods. Arriving back at the condo, I put it all away, tidied up a few last things, and then went to say goodbye.

I sat on the edge of our bed and looked him in the eye. I laid it all out: “Everything’s all set up. You should be fine here. I’m going back to Montana soon. Can you do me a favor? I’d prefer it if you didn’t have Lisa (the new wife) over until I’m gone. I mean, you know, out of respect for me.” And then I woke up — I think because this was startling, even to the Theta brain waves of my dream state.

Theta is the realm of the subconscious, but it’s pretty simple to interpret this hopefully final dream: I have accepted that I am no longer part of his life, but I want him to be taken care of—and for thirty years, that was my job. I have accepted that he has moved to a new geographic location. I have even accepted that he has found someone he loved enough to marry. But I have not entirely accepted that I need to let him go. My roots run deep. They are hard to pull up.

Forgiving him is something I’d like to do. I really would — and someday I will. And I’m sure there are a few things that he’d like to forgive me for, too. After all, anger and resentment are not easy to live with. But, together, we created a family, and for that, I will always be grateful. Beyond my well-explored pain, there will always be an undeniably tangible connection to him. Together, we shared the incredible experience of being capable, loving parents. This is the deep root of my forgiveness.