My name is Sam , and this is my story.
I never knew my parents.
I only knew them as people I was born to , who raised me and took care of me. Who fed me , and put clothes on me. Who sent me off to school when I was old enough , and took me to the doctor when I was sick. I knew things about them , but I never really knew them. I never knew them like I should have. I was never close to them like I should have been , like I longed to be.
My mother was a teacher. She taught grade school. It was the love of her life. If you ever got her talking about it , you couldn’t shut her up.
Dad worked for an advertising company. He wasn’t always enthusiastic about his job. They worked hard to support us. They were both successful and always busy. I guess they never really had time for me. I can’t remember ever having a single conversation with either one of them while growing up. We were like a family of strangers to each other. I don’t remember ever playing catch with Dad , or other things boys did with their fathers. Most of the time we would rarely see one another , and even then we barely spoke. Instead , we would smile briefly at each other , as if were strangers passing on a street. More often than not , he would come home from work , turn on the television , and drink beer while he watched his favorite shows. On the weekends he would watch just about any sport that was televised.
During the summer months — when he wasn’t watching sports — he liked to go fishing. I only went with him once. It was the only time I was invited , and I never asked. I was ten at the time … and I remember what a lonely day it was. All he did was drink beer and talk about sports. I wanted him to ask me how I was doing in school. I don’t remember him ever asking me how I did in school. At least that would have let me know that he cared. And I wanted him to ask me about my friends. Truth was , I didn’t have many friends. Being alone was the norm for me. I was getting used to it.
I spent that entire day with Dad beside me , one of the few I could remember. But , I may as well have been alone. That was how I felt. He wasn’t interested in getting to know me. All he seemed to care about was sports.
I went through my childhood feeling lonely , afraid , and ignored. I felt as if no one cared about me. I felt ignored and unloved by my parents most of all. I wanted them to know me. Who I really was. My passions. My dreams , my aspirations in life. And I wanted to know them. I wanted us to be a family. Not a dysfunctional family of strangers that didn’t know how to communicate with each other. But a real family that knew and felt love. That expressed that love in every way they knew how. Were we that kind of family once? I don’t know. I don’t remember. I would like to believe that we were.
When the loneliness became unbearable , I would visit a secret place known only to me. It was in the woods behind the house. There was a clearing with a lake in the middle , ringed with trees. I would spend hours at a time there , imagining that the trees had a secret life of their own , and that I was one of them.
I was sixteen when mom passed away. She had breast cancer. She ignored the warning signs. I guess she was hoping that it was nothing to worry about. When she did finally see her doctor , it was too late. She died quickly.
I wanted to forget about school , at least for a while , and take care of her until the end , but Dad wouldn’t let me. He was the one who took a few weeks from work to stay home with her.
The day she died , I held her hand and cried for a woman I barely knew , but always loved. I silently asked to be forgiven for not being better than I should have been , and that someday I would find the courage to forgive myself.
After the funeral , I made a plaque in school with the following words inscribed :
Trees have a secret life of their own ,
they talk to each other ,
they laugh ,
they sing and dance ,
and celebrate all of the good things in their lives ,
they give praise to the Creator ,
and mourn when one of their own dies.
One day , I placed the plaque at the base of the largest tree , and left it there , hoping that someday someone would find it , someone who was lonely like I was , and would understand the meaning of the words. And the meaning of the words are , that life is too short to worry about what others think of us , or the material things we think we need to be happy. All we need is love , and hope. Love comforts us in times of need and despair , and hope drives us. It gives us the courage to continue when our lives seem empty. Without hope , there is no reason to live.
We are all born for the same purpose , and that is to help make the lives of others more bearable. It doesn’t matter if they are lonely , homeless , or mentally ill. What does matter , is that they need to know that they are important , that life is worth living.
It’s the only reason we’re here. To help one another , to share that divine connection we have , the source we all come from. It’s the responsibility of every human being to help those who cannot help themselves. It’s been said that God helps those who help themselves. But he blesses those who help others.
After mom’s death , Dad and I never really did connect , as I had hoped. We talked a few times , mostly about Mom , but not things that should have been talked about. There was no healing , and that left me feeling emptier than I ever had been before.
Dad remarried sometime later , and joined his new wife as a full – time member of the local church.
Three years later , I met my wife , and a year after that , we had our first child , a son. We’ve since had two more , both girls. The births of my children were the happiest and proudest moments of my life. I held their small , wrinkled bodies in my hands , and promised them that we would never be strangers to each other. That we would always be close. That we could always talk to each other , no matter how wide a rift there was between us. And , to this day , as they are now in their teenage years , we have never been strangers to one another , and never will be.
Dad passed during my thirty – fifth year. It was a heart attack. We flew home for the funeral. We had seen him no more than five or six times in fifteen years , and in all that time he had barely kept in touch. I guess the two of them were too busy to pick up a phone , or write.
After visiting Mom’s grave , we visited the clearing behind the house. I hadn’t been there in sixteen years. It hadn’t changed much in all that time ; it looked almost as it had the day I’d last seen it.
The plaque was still there , right where I’d left , leaning against the roots of the largest tree. I’d left it there sixteen years before , hoping that someone would find it and discover what the words had meant to me , and what they will always mean. Love is the answer. Love is the meaning of the words. Love of life. Love of family. Love of friends. Realizing that life , even in all it’s pain and anguish , is a gift. If you have love in your life , even if it’s the love of just one person , then celebrate it. Sing … dance … laugh … love. Be grateful that someone loves you. Life is so short. We don’t realize just how short it really is until we lose a loved one. If we don’t show appreciation for those in our lives today , then who knows what tomorrow may bring? A loved one may be gone in an instant , and things may remain unsaid. Things we may end up regretting.
Life is worth living. Even with all the crap that weighs us down , and holds us back , our lives still have meaning. You may not believe that when you feel hopeless and alone. Know that you are special , and that you are never alone. You were born for a reason , and that is to bring hope into the lives of those who have none. That’s where your life has meaning.
There were other words on the plaque besides my own. In the sixteen years that I had been away , someone had etched their own below mine , and the meaning of these words , to me , were clear.
A plea for hope.
I had found my hope , my redemption. My redemption was in the promise that I had made to my children. A promise that would be passed down to my grandchildren , to each new generation. A promise that would never be broken.
Sometimes when sleep is slow in coming , I remember those lonely words , so full of promise and hope , that someone had etched below my own :
“In forgiveness there is hope. There is hope in the knowledge that I will someday be forgiven. I can only hope that someday before I die , I will find that redemption.”
It helps me sleep.