Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How to Fall Far from the Tree


7430 N. Ridge Ave., Chicago
 My husband and I walked the labyrinth yesterday at St. Scholastica Academy. It was a sunny, temperate afternoon, and we walked in silence, apart from each other, sometimes close together, sometimes on opposite sides of the circle. After yoga, I'd picked up my copy of Living Buddha, Living Christ and wanted to try a walking meditation. I read a section about inter-being, the idea that everything is connected to everything else, that a flower is composed of clouds and sun and time and soil, and that each of us is composed of others.

Hahn took this in an interfaith bent, highlighting the idea that Buddhism is made up of non-Buddhist elements and Christianity is made of non-Christian elements. But I'm wondering about interbeing as far as it relates to all of us. This is something that's said, right, that each of us is connected to or even part of the others around us, or even people we don't know. I was walking on that narrow gravely path thinking about connectedness, and why we need to connect, and to what.

Do you think it's important to be connected to your parents? Initially, it would seem vital. Psychologists talk about how important it is for babies to bond with their mothers, and the problems that plague children when that bonding is flawed or doesn't happen. Babies are born into the world completely helpless, right? They need someone to feed them, to hold them and keep them warm, to mirror them so that they can learn the difference between me and not-me. So if they don't bond with someone, there's a problem. They learn everything from the people who take care of them: how to eat, how to read, how to tie shoes and zip pants, how to make poopie in the potty and how to spell their name, how to make friends, how to tell the truth (or fail to), how to love, how to hate. So it's obvious that kids start out needing adults really badly, in order to survive. The adult has to meet the needs of the child, or help the child meet its needs, because children are incapable of doing it themselves.

What about the other way round? Do parents have children so that children can meet some need? Maybe they think not, but they wind up putting all sorts of their own needs onto their children that somehow went ignored. Suddenly a kid who's just trying to learn how to live is responsible for his parents, for their feelings and desires, and for their emotional reactions.

I've been reading another book lately, For Your Own Good by Alice Miller, about how so many choices and practices that have been commonly accepted as child rearing can actually be hidden acts of cruelty. I'm seeing so many similarities in it, so many places where what I feel now as a grown adult, and what I've felt in the past as a young woman, are being personified or exemplified. It is both a relief and a huge discouragement. I don't have much faith at all that my parents are willing to acknowledge the repression and negative patterns that exist in our family history, and even less that they'll turn a discerning eye into their own pasts and discover where they were abused and mistreated. If this is impossible, is there any room where we can connect to each other? What does it mean to "inter-be" with the two people from whom I most directly descend, who deny my history? What is to become of inter-being if we can't even say we see the same truth? My past is unchangeable, yes? So says every refrigerator magnet, wall hanging and greeting card out there: live in the now. And my parents' ability or inability to acknowledge our shared past is not the thing that keeps me or prohibits me from growing as an adult. I want it so that I can have a future with them. My future without them is my responsibility.

But why do I want a future with them? Should I? Is it right, good, worth it, to have an adult relationship with one's parents? I know people who treat their moms or dads as best friends, intimates, who tell them all and include them in everything. I know people who haven't seen or spoken to their parents in years. I myself have been putting in what I consider the bare minimum: I call on holidays or birthdays, I offer attempts to make annual visits (that I almost always hope never come to pass), I express filial concern and devotion at the appropriate moments in the script. But I don't have the relationship that I want with my parents, with either of them. My fear right now is that they're not capable of it--they are so wounded that they're unwilling to consider what problems may really exist in our family, and I won't be able to treat my parents like intimates, or even like friends. Instead I'll treat them like obligations and nothing more. I find that idea so dissatisfying. So sad.

So I give the process of honest reconciliation a go. I approach them thoughtfully, grounded in my own feelings and my own needs, with an idea not to wound and destroy our family, but to be honest about what it is and what I want it to be.
So far, it's not going well. As if.
But I'm still here. And I'm still me.
I am I am I am

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you.