Accepting a Broken Past

Have you ever experienced an event so broken that the past and future became so tightly bound it became impossible to have a … present?  A moment so broken that time stands still and memories don’t mend?

Moments like these can shape our outlook on life and rob us of our happiness.  Broken memories can create a pattern of negative thinking and behavior forever driving us into same sad ditch.

Just like Captain Ahab’s Great White Whale, in Moby Dick, a broken memory is never really past, but eternally present.

Let me share with you the story of my Great White Whale.

It happened on a summer evening in July of 1962.  I was 13 years old.

My father and I were on our backyard patio getting ready to barbecue a chicken when an angry argument erupted.  When Dad drank he became angry and when his anger reached a certain pitch he became physically violent.  He soon reached that pitch and I readied myself for what was about to follow.  But on this occasion something snapped in me and my response was different.  Rather than taking his beating, I resolved to resist and when a fight ensued, it was Dad who found himself on the floor.

The whole affair ended with Dad slowly getting up, casting a long, icy, silent stare in my direction and exiting with nary a word.

Dad passed away three days later on a business trip to Spokane. We never said goodbye, and certainly never repaired our broken relationship.

It was a broken memory moment that pursued me like Captain Ahab’s Great White Whale.

“Your Past is always your past. Even if you forget it, it remembers you.” ~ Sarah Dressen

What ensued illustrates all too well how the past, when left unaccepted, howls out to us like an unattended baby.  I became trapped in the conviction that I had committed the unpardonable sin of causing the death of my own father.

  • I spoke of it to no one
  • It was my secret, my burden alone

Soon thereafter I discovered the anesthetizing power of alcohol.  For the next 23 years I attempted to annihilate my guilt one drink at a time.

Then a remarkable thing occurred: I discovered the remedial power of acceptance.

Six months into my sobriety I spoke for the first time about these events.  I discovered I was not alone, that others had experienced similarly painful events and resorted to addiction as I had.  I was not alone in my secret nor alone in my shame.

Then, through listening and watching the work of others I began to see

  • A way out
  • A road to forgiveness
  • A path to reconciliation

To erase the mistakes of the past is to obliterate your world.” ~David Brooks 

My AA sponsor remarked to me that when I spoke I seemed to be

  • Editing the story of my life,
  • Accepting some things,
  • Discarding others, and
  • Lying about the rest

What I wasn’t doing was accepting it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

He suggested I’d never know peace or happiness until I wrote a large, unambiguous YES over the whole of my life.  The salve that was to soothe my soul was acceptance.

As Dad rests in peace I, too, have found a peace with him.  I realize I would not be the man I am without him and he would not have been the person he was without me.  In all our glorious, turbulent, broken togetherness we have been restored as father and son for the ages.

All is good!

Past Perfect!

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2017 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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