People's Darkest Parts Don't Define Them

While my legal divorce is finalized, another major milestone of annulment still remains. As with other steps in this arduous journey, it’s full of paperwork, preparation, and learning how to navigate waters I’d rather not. Riddled throughout the annulment process steps are the hard feelings that continually rise again.

I recently met with the priest at the parish we were married in to better understand the annulment process. With sweaty palms and relative ignorance, I arrived at the parish administrative building and apprehensively followed him down the long corridors to his office—dreading the sharing of a story I was getting tired of telling.

Nonetheless, we sat down as if we were catching up at a coffee shop in comfortable leather chairs angled next to each other. He leaned forward on one armrest and asked me to simply tell him a bit about myself. His approachable demeanor and kind smile put me at ease as we slowly ventured into the story that brought me to this point.

He listened intently. He acknowledged the hardest parts of my story. With no judgement or influence, he plainly described multiple paths I might take next. I nodded my head in understanding.

Then I sobbed. I didn’t want to embark on yet another hard, long process. I still harbored anger and I was tired. As a relatively new single mom with a full-time career and a start-up business, drafting essays about why my marriage wasn’t valid and submitting them to a religious tribunal didn’t top my desired to-do list. This wonderful priest compassionately let me have my moment, offered a box of tissues, and then said one of the most helpful things anyone has said to me in this journey—

“People’s darkest parts don’t define them. You just happened to be a consequence of his.”

The statement stopped me in my tracks. I felt many things in that moment as that simple statement sunk in. I felt sad. Used. Embarrassed. But greater than any of those, I felt validated. It was a honest way to wrap up all the feelings of hurt so succinctly.

I also felt compassion for my ex-husband. His deceit wasn’t all of his being, nor did it have to define all that he was (certainly including the father of our little one).

Lastly, and with a deep breath or two, I felt hope. My sincere hope is that those dark parts won’t in fact define him, and that he is finding a way to bring light back to where it’s most needed so he can be a healthy parent.

For I’m trying to do the same.

We all have shadows. We all have regrets and mistakes. We all have places in our lives that can use healing. The earlier parts of this journey brought out ugly parts of myself via pain, hurt, and bitterness. I can barely recognize myself in some of the messages that were exchanged. Despite their overwhelming takeover, for a long time, those parts certainly didn’t reflect all of me.

So if our darkest parts don’t define us, what does? I believe our truest parts are those that do bring light—the parts of us that show up through love, compassion, empathy, friendship, kindness—those that extend connection to others. I strongly believe no matter the circumstances, these important parts can always be found. Likely when we need them most, they will show up. As for those consequences we might have left behind, I’d like to think we can do the hard repair work and bring back our brightest selves for a new start.

Catherine Hinz