Monday, November 19, 2012


“…but now, when I think back to all that happened afterward, I get angry.  Because she may indeed have felt sorry, but regret is not repentance, and that is what we have not seen in Beulah, repentance that owns its part—that is, like the Word tells us, at once sorrow and self-knowledge and a changing of the mind.  (emphases mine)  
Fire In Beulah by Rilla Askew

My intentions went awry.  Too early to shop at Good Will for the pants I need for work tomorrow, so I retreat to the apartment to write.  Pants I used to fit into easily now don’t.  Shit.  And I’m really not eating that much.  I do drink regularly, though, and I’ve wondered more than once that if I quit I’d naturally lose some weight.

Rereading last night the events surrounding Scott’s birth.  There's a lot to forgive there.

Martha and I talked a little at breakfast about Family as a sacralized notion.  I don’t really like the word, ‘notion’, but I don’t know what to call an abstraction that has become sacralized (god, have I been using that word a lot.).  An Article of Faith, maybe.  I think it is from that perspective that my father is coming  as he plans the Orcas Island family trip next summer.   I suppose that’s why divorce is so frowned on in his world.  It’s because it besmirches the abstraction of Marriage as another article of sanctity.   

It’s funny to think of these ideas of Marriage, Family, God, Country as a sort of pantheon of Beliefs which I get an image of as being a smooth front presented to the world.  What goes on behind those fronts is another matter altogether.

My insistence is that what’s inside match the front, so that the bunny is solid chocolate, not hollow.  I live with people who are determined that it is the exterior that counts; it’s more important than how anyone inside feels.  “We are a happy family, and that’s an order!” is kind of the imperative.  If you don’t FEEL happy within the bubble, then there’s something wrong—with YOU.  You are morally bereft if you don’t participate in the happy family, by trying to make others happy, and being happy yourself.  And if you’re not happy, then it’s selfish to let anyone know, because part of making other people happy is doing a good job of convincing them that you are.

I can just see how the worlds collide.  The abstractions that underpin Family, Marriage, God, Church, Country contain lots of unwritten rules about what is a trespass.  My dad felt trespassed by Connor’s innocent use of the word “balls”.  Some cherished notion of sanctity was violated.  Somewhere it is (un)written that there are Words that are inherently bad, so bad, that anyone who says them is  polluted.  And that he, as Elder/Grandfather, has been dishonored because 'the word' was said in his presence.  Thus ‘respect your elders’ was violated.  Honor thy mother and thy father.  

It seems that there are those who take advantage of the Sanctity of Family and Marriage and operate manipulatively under cover.  My grandfather comes to mind—he used the umbrella of Family to operate like a jerk, and have it tolerated, because of the sanctity of Father.  He used the abstraction to get his own way with impunity, because to oppose him was to damage the institution.  It appears that in each family bubble, there are some who feel free to run rampant and not apply the same rules to themselves as they apply to others.  

It seems like there are a whole lot more families that are in the hollow bunny brand of family, than the solid.  I want the solid.  I want to be with my parents and enjoy it, not because I’m supposed to, but because I do.  

Whistle-blowers are often mistreated.  It’s easy to see why:  they have undercut an illusion that all is well.  People are mad at them for undermining their delusions, not at whatever it is the whistle-blower has uncovered.  The Secretary of Defense of the United States, Donald Rumsfeld, was small enough to publicly name the soldier who did the right thing and turned in the pictures at Abu Ghraib.   The soldier is now a pariah in his home town and can't go home.

I suppose in a way, that’s what I've been spending years coming to terms with and what has fueled my writing.  I’m working through a realization that my family wants a hollow bunny, and I want a solid one.  And me living from a solid-bunny world in their hollow-bunny one is bound to cause some discord.  I think all my life I’ve realized that there are certain abstractions I’m supposed to be living, and there are feelings about them I’m supposed to be feeling that I’m not.  (I remember  as a very young child admitting to myself that I didn’t ‘love’ God.  I felt so sad, and so bad when I let myself know that.).  (I also remember, as a college student, having an awareness that I may have to ‘leave’ my family; that the life I was choosing would be unacceptable to them and they may cut me off.)  I guess as a very young child it didn’t take long to realize that it was best to go along and pretend.  Then I felt unworthy when my feelings didn’t match what I was supposed to be feeling:  worshipping God?  Prayer? 

One solution was to try to conjure up an intellectualization of what ‘worship’ feels like; what ‘loving god’ feels like, what ‘patriotism’ feels like, and then ‘feel’ them through will power.  In my quiet moments of self-honesty I found they weren’t enough to sustain me, these ‘feelings’ that required such energy to maintain.

An exception was the time that I embraced fundamentalist Christianity.  This time the feelings felt realer, and I was surrounded by a lot of others to help me keep on feeling them.  I wonder if that really is what happened when we moved to Virginia, was that I lost that support system—and that indeed was the spring from which I drew my feeling of relationship with God.  I hadn’t believed it, because that was the explanation of my family:  without the church, that church, basically my religiosity would go away.  At 14 years old, I thought that my relationship with God was enough, and should be.  My relationship with God shouldn’t depend on a certain group of people.  That was how I saw it.  This is the first time I’ve ever quite understood the significance of that group.  I do remember having an episode in Virginia of what I called, a ‘satanic attack’, where the core of my feelings about god were shaken.  (I’d started reading the Old Testament, which was pretty harsh.  And when I realized that the white people who came and exterminated the people they found on this continent were using the very rationale that the Israelites had used to invade Canaan--in fact, god gave them that rationale--, I was horrified.  I couldn’t reconcile this.  That may have been my first experience of my faith being shaken by some element of moral contradiction in the bible, and I was wary about threats ever since.  I remember in Northglenn in social studies a unit on interpersonal discussion and feeling so afraid that listening to others in the way we were being encouraged to do would cause me to lose my faith.)

 In Virginia I reached out by calling a Nazarene church to talk with the pastor's wife “Mrs. Brown”.  She was very kind and gave me the name of a girl my age I could call to talk to.  I talked with each of them, Mrs. Brown more than once, I think.  And then I was coming out of the office that had the phone (back in the days where they were connected to the wall) and my father happened to be passing at that moment and he wanted to know what I was doing in there.  Maybe it wasn’t an accident.  Maybe he’d actually heard me talking.  Maybe he even heard what I was saying; I don’t remember what it was, now.  When I told him I was talking on the phone he asked who with and I told him “my Friend”.  I don’t remember at which point I went to hug him and he pushed me away and told me he didn’t understand me.  And the sound in his voice said he didn’t want to, either.  It sounded like a giving up.  It was that kind of “I just don’t understand you.”  I’m appreciating a little the situation the 14 yr old me was in.  Just moved from a place she loved, with friends who loved her too, and a support system for her developing spirituality.  The days were long in Virginia and pretty unbroken, except for some trips over to my parents’ friends’ house to use their pool, or to use the pool at the military base nearby.  A lot of book reading and television.  Some babysitting—the mother kind of Bohemian who introduced me to Siddhartha and gave it to me to read.  I didn’t, because it scared me. > So I was bored and shaken by the old testament stuff I was reading and struggling alone to come up with the answers to the questions that were being raised.  I was judging myself for how I was feeling, and I felt like I’d lost my connection to god.  My father indicated that he thought I was to blame for my loneliness because I’d “never made an effort” to go and meet some people my age in the neighborhood of the house we were living in.   We were renting someone else’s home, which had forbidden areas that we’d never had before.  We were only to be there for the summer, then my father was going to Viet Nam and we were going to Colorado to live and be near grandparents and relatives. 

I realize now that my father was probably hurt when he found me on the phone.  I’d reached out to a stranger instead of him.  He couldn’t understand that; and he treated it as if I’d done something wrong.  He pushed a vulnerable and confused 14 year old away from him and never ever returned to say he was sorry.  He probably thought I was the one who should be sorry.

Anyway, that was the context where I did have a ‘satanic attack’ which basically was a sort of peaking of psychic pain and I would cry and cry.  I can see now that my parents thought that the church in New York had scared me, and that I thought the literal devil was coming to get me.  I think that’s what I said when I went to their room in the middle of the night after crying and crying alone for a while.  I did reach out to them then, and I think I said, something like ‘he’s’ –I can’t remember the exact words.  Maybe I said ‘he’ was ‘tempting’ me, or ‘testing’ me.  I almost get hold of the word, and then it disappears..  It wasn’t my word, it was the word or words in a small booklet I’d read by an evangelist.  I kept it in my little diary; wonder if that’s still there.  Maybe it was, ‘testing’.  Maybe it was ‘trying to tempt me away.’  They wanted to know who and I said, ‘Satan’.  So they probably didn’t realize I was feeling under attack at a spiritual, core beliefs level—not a literal devil.  That would make the things my dad said at some point make sense; where he criticized the church I’d given my heart to, said that God doesn’t want us to be ‘scared’.  He thought the church had ‘scared’ me with visions of hell.  That misunderstanding intensified my isolation.

I’m just realizing how very alone I felt, and actually was.  But that was when I started seriously writing.    Some enduring part of me was born in that time.

I should probably pause here and go over to Good Will which is surely open now.

Before I go, though, I remember that that time felt like a very terrible time to me.  I felt forsaken by god.  The doubts I was feeling were tearing me.  I remember finding bible verses that gave comfort; I read religious books.  Bought one at Walgreen’s bookstore:  “How to Find Peace With God” by Billy Graham.  I bought another; can’t remember its name.  For a while I looked back on that time as a sort of standard to measure psychic pain against.  I saw it as having been, really, really bad and I feared ever feeling that way again.

It’s true my relationship with god was never quite the same, though I tried to make it be for quite a number of years before I gave it up.  When I did surrender, it was actually like a physical sensation.  I remember having read in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” about Phaedrus having felt a ‘slipping’ inside.  That was how I characterized the sensation inside me.

Perhaps what I had nearly 6 years ago was one of those experiences—a peaking of psychic pain, a satanic attack.  It came after a while of thinking I could make things work with Gary; with his mother.  For a while I believed I could cover myself with a membrane where their behavior wouldn’t penetrate and wound.  If I could make myself impermeable to the things that were making me so miserable with them—their expectations, their demands that they get their own way and be able to act with impunity and expect me to be the one who would give way, and betray no hint that it was their demands I was giving way to—if I could do that, then at least 50% of the conflicts we were having would be gone.  I thought I could do it then.  In fact, I was ready to stop counseling.  I thought I’d achieved what I’d come into counseling for.  I thought I’d achieved what I was lacking—some inner serenity and a certain ability to slow time to observe in slow-motion what was happening so I didn’t have my options limited by my reactions.  I blamed myself for that.  I began to realize that I had to become nearly enlightened to be around them.  So that if Gary treated me as if I’d just done something wrong when I hadn’t, rather than react I might be able to say, “would you like to restate that?” or something artfully deflecting.  Or I might be able to say, “What are you really wanting?” or “what are you mad at?”

I guess those were my choices to paths for staying.  Go numb, or get enlightened.  Let Gary have the privilege he seems to be claiming, and his mother claims—the right to never have their actions questioned while they did things that were hurtful in service to themselves.

He honestly doesn’t seem to think that it’s an unreasonable demand, not even request, that someone else see the world so perfectly through his eyes that they would behave as if they were him.  He doesn’t seem to see that it's not reasonable to treat questions like challenges—mutiny, even.  Or criticism.  And he doesn’t seem to realize that these are the things that caused the erosion of the bonds that tied me to him.  And, Marriage, Husband, Family, as sacred abstractions aren’t enough to keep me in it.

And so that puts me at odds with people who see the Institution as primary, and that people exist to serve the institution, and not the other way around.

Perhaps this is part of the next evolution of culture.  That’s why the quote from “Fire In Beulah” appealed so much to me.  If institutions and Religion and God and Family and Marriage  and Church are meant to keep human beings together, paradoxically, they are perpetuating separateness.  Because the much vaunted ‘forgiveness’ (which is usually demanded of the victim with no demands on the perpetrator) really only works when it’s a meeting and unity of two.  It’s the self-knowledge, repentance, and genuine sorrow of the one who owns what they’ve done and sees what effect it has on someone else that initiates a process of opening hearts and restoration of unity.  I was thinking about going to the grocery store a little later and wanting to go through the self-serve check-out to avoid meeting whats-his-face snotty checker when I was reminded of an odd encounter I had years ago at a mountain shop that used to be at the Uptown Center.  It was a family-owned business.  I think it might have been a misunderstanding between a son and me where we had sharp words.  I think I walked away—it had to do with my crampons, they were in that shop for some reason.  Maybe to get new strapping.  Maybe I asked when they’d be ready and he assumed I was criticizing him because they weren’t ready already.  I think I paused outside of the store, then went back in.  Perhaps I realized the nature of the misunderstanding; something made it seem like a good thing to turn around and go back in.  I think I did it right away.  I don’t think I just came back later to get the crampons.  And we both had a genuinely smiling reconciliation where he admitted his mistake and I mine.  There was real joy, real unity there with a stranger I never saw again.  But I realize that to be so honest, and vulnerable--that’s what’s demanded of the new humanity.  Evolution has funneled humans into community in order to survive, and religion is a mechanism that evolved to keep humans in community (if tribally).  Ironically at this point it perpetuates separateness.  I had more oneness in the moment with the guy in the outdoor store than I’ve had with people who are supposed to be close to me:  Dad, Mom, Gary, Gary’s mom.  That’s not to say that those moments of true meeting and forgiveness haven’t happened with my own family, but they didn’t keep happening.   They were the exception.  What's unspoken is, ‘we can’t bear to see what we’ve done, and so we’re going to blame you if you try to make us, and what we want from you is that you forgive us without our having to see what we’ve done or participate with you in the forgiveness process.’

I suppose the best I can do is live my solid-bunny world within their hollow-bunny world, and have faith that I will be able to deal with the fall-out.  And I'll cherish a hope that I can find other solid-bunny people who want their relationships to be authentic.

No comments: