Many of us have childhoods that are at best speckled with fleeting pain and at worst riddled with so many puncture wounds that if you held it up to the light it would resemble a less than elegant lace doily. Very few of us escape growing up in the soil of a past that is not slightly damaging and unholy. We do our best to wiggle around and beyond the sadness attached to our childhoods (our lives?) –the unmet expectations, the confusion, disappointments and mixed messages yet I think most of us would agree that the influence of our past can be felt as sharply as if it all occurred yesterday.
My mother is loving and kind yet anxious and perpetually worried if “it will all be OK.” My father was gentle and compassionate but eventually crumbled beneath the pressures of life and in his mid 40’s self medicated with alcohol. He died of a heart attack in 2005 and was only 55 years old. I always say I lost my father twice, once emotionally due to his alcoholism and the second time physically when he passed. I was only 18 when my father became “ill” and I think it is fair to say his alcoholism gutted not only him but me as well. My spirit bearing a resemblance to that fragile and lacerated doily I felt plagued by self doubt, distrust and abandonment issues. I know my pain is not original–we all have a story to tell. A cross we bare.
Yet, at almost 40 years old and nearing the time when my father began to deteriorate, I understand more than ever how fallible and flawed we are. How becoming an adult or parent, for that matter, doesn’t make you impregnable to making mistakes. I see how the eff-ups of past generations are passed down to each of us and how we do the best we can with the insights and tools we have.
You and I, we could spend a lifetime untying the knots of our past, but at some point we must realize the knots are no longer ours. They belong to our parents, and grandparents and our grandparents parents. The lineage is complex and lengthy and effortlessly passed from one generation to the next until one day some courageous and insightful soul pauses and says: “This is not my story.”
What if we could dissect our parents voices and stories from our own? What if we could end the cycle and retell our stories and in the retelling the new story becomes our truth? What if we could practice making the past just that–the past we grew up in but no longer the earth we plant ourselves in? I’ve tried to become more vigilant about noticing when I am reliving my father’s fear and hopelessness and my my mother’s insecurity. I notice the feelings, as best one can, and then ask myself–“Is this me or is this my father?” If the cadence and tonality of the emotion feels like him I make another choice. Often I will say to myself: “This is him not you. You have a choice and you are allowed to be cautious but hopelessness is not your home. Proceed with love.”
We have a choice and at any point we can reflect on our childhood influences and declare: This is not my story.
We can begin again.
I truly believe we get a thousand second chances and then a thousand more.
It’s undeniable that over a lifetime we will pull memories up to examine their shape and color but the more I do the more I discover that
I only need to love the girl my father left behind and my mother cherishes deeply.
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