I got home from school to find him storming about the house, drunk again. My baby sister sat in her bouncer, in diaper that was leaked down her legs. She was speckled with welts, her skin black and blue. She was crying for food while he bellowed at her to “Shut the hell up!” I crept closer to her, cringing away from him but doing my best to ignore his rage. I took my sister to the bedroom to feed her, change her, and protect her… I heard my other sister march in the door and I listened to him tell her how useless she was, swearing and spitting in her face. She got to the room trembling more from anger than fear. Once Mom finally came home from “work,” I carried the baby to her, only to discover that she was drunk too. She shrieked at me and I fled with the baby back to our safe place. We weren’t getting dinner that evening. Once again, I wouldn’t be allowed to do my breathing treatment. This was my daily routine. It was wrong but I was used to it. This is where my journey to love and forgiveness began.
Looking back I asked myself why I chose to be alive every day. I wondered why I chose to defend the younger children instead of myself, and why I always hoped that man would be a real dad to me. Now I know. Love is why. Love is the desire to give endlessly, to feel compassion and forgiveness unconditionally. With love comes forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting, it’s remembering and choosing to love the people who hurt you most. Jesus is the ultimate teacher of love for Christians. In the Bible, Jesus tells his followers to forgive “Not seven times, but seventy times seven times.” He doesn’t mean to forgive 490 times; he means that forgiveness is infinite. To love, you have to forgive, always.
Forgiveness doesn’t make everything okay, but maybe if my stepfather had been forgiven and loved, things would have been different. It’s not my place to judge or decide something is “wrong” with a person. A good reason doesn’t justify violence but the pain behind a person’s actions is too powerful for anybody to grasp without experiencing it personally. For that reason, love and forgiveness are all we can offer the world. Humanity doesn’t need our judgment, only our love.
Child Protection Services eventually took us all away. My family fell apart and I was separated from my siblings and friends and moved to my father’s house. I hated him for taking me away. The pain consumed me. Everything that mattered was gone. I had lost my children. I felt angry; always angry and always alone. I held my anger and hatred close while I was crushed by grief and self-pity.
Slowly my grief began to fade. I learned about a more difficult kind of forgiveness; the kind that requires perspective and chaos. Perspective is the ability to see things from another point of view; a bridge to forgiveness. Chaos is a beautiful disaster that demands a change in perspective. Chaos is a wake-up call. Sometimes when I want to love, life insists that I put myself in someone else’s shoes. That is what had to happen in order for me to recognize my love for my dad. Chaos brought me to love by altering my perspective and teaching me to forgive.
My first week at MMACHS, a phenomenal teacher told me: “Know who you are and what you love, always.” That was the moment everything started coming together. I decided to take Mr. Z’s advice: I started thinking about all that I’d been through, but I knew that wasn’t who I was. That thought changed everything.
I thought of people I admire and the love and forgiveness they represent. I thought of the monsters that disgusted me; people who, like my mother, turned to drugs and alcohol to resolve their pain, oblivious to the pain they inflicted on others. I was sickened by her and by the selfish people that never took a second glance at the broken little girl on the street corner; the cowards that saw children tortured but never thought to protect them. I realized I was overwhelmed by resentment and loathing for people and the things they had done to me. I had forgotten but never forgiven. I had to forgive. I had to let go. Love and forgiveness are the point of life; they are the center of everything. I had to learn to love the monsters. I had to learn to forgive my Nazis and restore their human identity in my mind. Despite our differences, this is where Elie Wiesel and I agree. We don’t forget what has been done to us. We can’t forget. But we know that holding a grudge will tear us apart. We are choosing to forgive our Nazis. There is always a choice.
Three kinds of monsters exist in this world; each offers a new form of forgiveness to be mastered and a new type of love to be learned. There are monsters that don’t mean to be, there are monsters that do, and there is a little monster in every one of us telling us to make fun of the girl with a lung disease, to tease the boy in smelly clothes, to deny a lonely old woman comfort… Nobody can truly be a monster until their monster becomes their master and they become the little person inside the monster. Even that though, is reversible. There is no way to fail at life. We all have a choice. Nobody can lose the ability to change their soul. You can always choose to forgive and love.
When I think of love, I imagine a snowstorm. When snow falls, I notice one single flake. Next, a couple flakes dot my nose and melt in my eyelashes. Moments later I am engulfed by the raging blizzard. Love starts with simple forgiveness, one single snowflake. I offer love and forgiveness here and there and before I know it, I am in an overwhelming sea of love. I don’t count the love I give. Counted love is false love. All I can do is give and give and give, and hope that, just maybe, I’ll save someone from feeling the pain that I felt. Mother Theresa stated everything I believe in one humble sentence. She said, “It is not about how much we do, but about how much love we put into doing it.”
Life isn’t fair, but everything happens for a reason; love. Pain and fear have taught me that irrevocable love is the essence of life. Every bump in the road is a chance to love others through your pain and in spite of your misery. This is choosing to give what can never be repaid. I choose to be the soul that brings love into the life of every person I meet. I choose to be the inspiration that saves a life and rescues a monster from himself. I am who I want to be. I’m going to continue being that person by, in the words of Edgar Allen Poe, “loving with a love that is more than love.” I will love with a love that lives and breathes through forgiveness. This is how I will change the world.
I am the vulnerable soul writing these words tonight. I am the lessons I have learned, the smile on an old woman’s heart and the songs I sing in church. I am the forgiveness and love I bring to the world. To love and forgive is the beginning of an endless journey. Love is the purpose for our existence, but you don’t reach a point where you have loved and forgiven enough. That point does not exist until the entire world has been loved by you and you have forgiven the entire world “seventy times seven times.”
 Mr. Zubizarreta said this to 4th period freshman cornerstone. August 2010.