This is an excerpt from Jon Dorenbos' new book, "Life is Magic," which is already an Amazon best seller. It is available online here and in bookstores now.
Dorenbos is the Honorary Alumni Captain presented by Santander for Sunday's game against New England and will be in Lincoln Financial Field's HeadHouse Plaza to sign copies of the book before kickoff.
I was in a lot of pain but didn't miss a down. I'd tape up that ankle or get that injection and burst out that locker room door onto the field. Off the field, I was still the life of the party, still the guy keeping the locker room in stitches and together, which is no small feat when your team is getting its butt handed to it just about every Saturday.
But ... something was wrong. It wasn't a thought so much as a feeling. Maybe it was related to the fact that we weren't winning or that I was pretty banged up every day. But I think it was more spiritual than that. There wasn't any one thing wrong that I could put my finger on; it felt like I was struggling to get in touch with myself, like there was an emptiness inside. Making a big tackle or entertaining a group of friends with my magic would quiet it, but the feeling kept returning. Therapy taught me to interrogate myself: What's this about?
I didn't know the answer, but one day, back home for a visit, I was drawn to the sands of Huntington Beach, California. I found myself sitting cross-legged in the exact spot I'd often return to in the years after Mom's death. It was this very spot where, when I was 15, I'd gone into the ocean and realized that the St. Christopher's medal Mom had left for me had snapped off the chain around my neck. My piece of her gone, I'd taken to telling myself a comforting story about this particular loss: "What a life that St. Chris medal is having," I'd tell myself — aloud — in this very spot, gazing out at the rays bouncing off the Pacific Ocean waves. "It's swimming with dolphins and catching rides with humpback whales. Pretty cool." It was one of the first times I consciously told myself a story that turned a negative into a positive.
Ever since, this was our spot, me and Mom. I'd often come to it, right at the base of the lifeguard stand, to hear myself talk to her. Sometimes I'd update her on my life: What girl I was hanging with, how the season was going. Other times, I'd tell her what my sister Krissy was up to, or I'd relay some funny story about Aunt Susan. Now, having been led to our spot by that vaguely unsettled feeling, I found that the words just started to come, as if on their very own, and it was some real talk.
"You know what?" I said. "I want more in this life. I don't want to be somebody who lives in circumstance. I want to be a person of vision."
And what's been keeping me from becoming a person of vision? Sitting there, I instantly knew the answer. Suddenly, mysteriously, I was able to identify the cloud that had been hanging over me.
For years, I'd told people that I'd forgiven my dad. But had I? And, if not, why not?
"Mom," I said, my throat catching and burning, "don't get mad." I remember looking up and realizing that part of what I was feeling was ... guilt. To become that person of vision meant that I'd have to forgive my dad. Really forgive him. And what I was wrestling with — that cloud — was really fear. Fear that forgiving him meant I was being disloyal to Mom.
"Mom, don't get mad," I repeated, tears starting to stream. "I'm not picking sides. I swear I'm not. I'm not forgiving Dad for taking you away from us. I'm forgiving him for being lost and for making a mistake. Because I, too, have been lost and made mistakes. I'm forgiving him because I don't want him to affect my life going forward. He's not in my life anymore. You still are. And you're going to be in my life forever."
I looked around. Someone was walking a dog. A couple of dudes tossed a Frisbee around. Man, I'd been bearing all this weight, and I hadn't even been aware of it. "Let me get rid of carrying all this around with me," I said — pleading. "I just want to keep the goodness of you. If it were me in heaven, looking down on my son, I'd be like, 'Hell, yeah, rock on, bro. Do what you gotta do.' If I want to be the man I think you'd want me to be, I gotta ditch this cloud that's always following me around."
I sat there a good while, feeling close to Mom. Finally, I stood, took a deep breath, turned, and began making my way back to my truck in a nearby parking lot. As I walked, I could feel myself actually getting stronger. I noticed a bounce in my step. I literally felt lighter. I broke into a smile when it dawned on me: Mom pulled me here. She wanted to kick me in the butt a little: Dude, there's something weighing on you. Just let it go, man.
I didn't know then just how transformative real forgiveness is. "The weak can never forgive," Gandhi said. "Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Today, I can't tell you how many people tell me they can't forgive someone who has wronged them. I tell them to stop keeping score, man. Forgiving someone doesn't mean they win. To the contrary: letting go of bitterness and guilt frees you. Do it for yourself.
That's what I learned that day on the beach. Gandhi had it so right. By the time I got to my truck, I felt ... stronger. I swear the cloud had lifted. I felt like I'd just grown up a little. As I began driving, I talked to Mom again. "I'm going to be okay, Mom," I said. "Whatever happens, I know now I can figure stuff out. I'm always going to be able to figure stuff out."
Copyright © 2019 by Jon Dorenbos. Excerpted with permission by Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Click here to purchase the book now.