Making peace with childhood ghosts

Daniel realizes the far reaching effects a 49-year-old fight has had on many lives

fist20fight1BY DANIEL D. WOO, 2nd of two parts — I immediately found Chapter 18 and read it; here’s a paragraph:

“It is a summer evening, down in a green hollow, at the corner of a wall. I meet the butcher by appointment. I am attended by a select body of our boys; the butcher, by two other butchers, a young publican, and a sweep. The preliminaries are adjusted, and the butcher and myself stand face to face.

In a moment the butcher lights ten thousand candles out of my left eyebrow. In another moment, I don’t know where the wall is, or where I am, or where anybody is. I hardly know which is myself and which the butcher, we are always in such a tangle and tussle, knocking about upon the trodden grass.

Sometimes I see the butcher, bloody but confident; sometimes I see nothing, and sit gasping on my second’s knee; sometimes I go in at the butcher madly, and cut my knuckles open against his face, without appearing to discompose him at all.

At last I awake, very queer about the head, as from a giddy sleep, and see the butcher walking off, congratulated by the two other butchers and the sweep and publican, and putting on his coat as he goes; from which I augur, justly, that the victory is his.”

After reading this, I emailed Jack. saying in part:

“I am sorry about that infamous fight in Willow Glen Park.  I have not forgotten that fight.   I was too sensitive then about race and also didn’t have enough sense of humor.  When the “Boo for Woo” club started, I was very mad and incorrectly felt that this was Chinese-baiting.

My parents were highly sensitive about being Chinese and constantly impressed on my brother and myself that we had to stand up for the “Woo” clan and then “Chinese” in general.  Today I think this was very screwed-up thinking.  Although I felt it was too much of a burden, I had not yet fully appreciated how off such a view of life was.”

Judaic forgiveness: Jacob and Esau reconciling after decades of distant hostility (Genesis 33:4)

Judaic forgiveness: Jacob and Esau reconciling after decades of distant hostility (Genesis 33:4)

Jack emailed me back the next morning with his telephone number.  He said in part:

I really appreciate your responding to my message.  I’ve done an awful lot of dumb things in my life, but far and away the one that I’m most ashamed of is that incident.  Believe it or not, I think about it a lot.

In Judaism there are four elements to obtaining forgiveness from G-d for a sin, let’s say, for stealing something:  you have to acknowledge in your own heart and mind that you did wrong, promise G-d that you won’t do it again, give back the stolen item, and tell the person you stole from that you’re sorry.  The last one is often the hardest.  If you do all four, we believe G-d will forgive you, even if the person you wronged never does.  Maybe one day we can put it to rest.”

I immediately emailed Jack:

“As the years went by, I didn’t blame you.  I realized a long time ago that I made an unthinking, unmindful response about things that were not really the real problem (which included a great amount of misguided anger growing up in an angry, dysfunctional and sometimes violent household).

I’m glad you contacted me.  I tried to find your name through google a few times the past few years, but I had forgotten how to spell it correctly.  I have a 10 am conference call and will call you afterwards.  I’ve adopted a spiritual practice, part of which involves contemplation, meditation and prayer.  Sometimes I use different spiritual writings for reflection during meditation or prayer.

forgive-41One of the books that I’ve been going through is by Sylvia Boorstein, a Buddhist and Jew who wrote “That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist.”  I’m just finishing one by a British Quaker and Buddhist.  I’ll be glad to talk to you soon.”

Later that morning I called Jack, and we spoke for quite some time.  Jack said that he moved back to San Jose and for well over a decade he drove by Willow Glen Park on the way to work and every time he drove by the park, he felt ashamed.

Jack said that he had not done anything else in his life that made him more ashamed. I told him that I had forgiven any part that he had in this fight long ago, and that the amends were mine to make. We talked for about an hour, and the conversation gave him some peace. I also felt some more spaciousness.

Since our conversation, I have reflected on the fact that the anger and fear that surrounded the fight in that grass bowl lived on in Jack for almost 49 years in ways that I had not considered or foreseen.  His words told me that my anger harmed him more than it did me at the time. And I have no means of knowing how much of this may have in ways consciously or unconsciously affected others.

Read part one of this series: A lawyer’s tale of race and reconciliation

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4 Responses to “Making peace with childhood ghosts”

  1. Thank you for this sequel. I did not understand the journey and reconciliation until I read this chapter. Very, very nice.

  2. Christine Wushke Reply 14. Jan, 2010 at 6:27 am

    Thank you Daniel for your amazing talent!

  3. I’m deeply grateful to you for sharing your insights into this childhood incident……I learn so much from you, and I thank you for that!!

  4. Thank you for sharing this story. I always have Hope that racism can end in the people’s conscience.
    Someday I will write more of my insight to the issue’s of racism, as it has gotten better, yet a lot of thinking could still be changed.
    Changed in white people mainly,and forgiveness in themselves for thinking white race is somehow superior.
    Also income levels seperate people, and perhaps it is a little idealistic, however I still see that improvement can be made in the conscience of all people, regardless what race, income level, or Faith one practices.
    Inter Faith: Working together, and learning from other Faiths, and cultures. Raising the conscience of humanity.PS. I am a white woman whom has embraced other culture, and Faiths,yet has not been an easy journey. It has given me wisedom, and helped to shape my own insight, and yes I need to write more of my own stories too. This is inspiring. Thank you, Renee