43. About Mothers

February 23, 2019

I’ve had two “mothers” in my life. The first one, my biological mother whom I have finally grown strong enough to call any such m-name, and I now refer to respectfully as “my birthmother Ann.” When she was my familial mother, she was called Mama. She was not able to love me or want to know me. She loved my brother more than was healthy for her or for him. I never really knew her, and that was my wound, the knowing that she didn’t want to know me.

You could say I had a terrible mother until I was thirteen and a half, though it wasn’t really all her fault. After the divorce, my birthmother’s alcoholism kept getting worse, and she sank deeper and faster. I think the divorce had shattered her, and that was why she turned to alcohol addiction, the most common way people use to escape and forget. I can see that now, but then I was just a kid, I didn’t know. When she fell down drunk and broke her arm, she lost her waitress job. We moved three times in two years to smaller and worse apartments, finally to a cold abandoned house that was actually boarded-up. It was October and the only heat was one small old open-flame gas heater, the kind that by then, the 1950s, were illegal and unsafe. Most of the boarded windows were broken out. The wind howled through the boards, and the cold seeped and flowed over the casements and under the door jamb like invisible slow icy blood.

It was in November about a year and a half after the divorce, I was two months into junior high school, and then one morning when I walked out the sheet-ice sidewalk to go to school, I saw Daddy’s car parked there. He and Helen were in it. They called to me. They asked if they could come into the house, so I took them in. When they saw the way I lived, the dusty barren silent house, and the empty refrigerator, Helen was visibly shaken. She and Daddy stood together talking very quietly. She had tears in the corners of her blue eyes. It didn’t take long, and then they packed up my clothes and belongings in a brown paper grocery bag and kidnapped me. In total surprise and bafflement, I did not resist.

My true mother is Helen, whom I call my angel Mother, I love so much that I get sweet grateful tears every time I think of her, and I feel her spirit beside me in the room. She loved me. She wanted me. And she wanted to know me. She loved to do things for me, teach me things, how to make baking powder biscuits that were like big delicious clouds, from scratch, how to sew, and she showed me how to have dignity and a modest grateful genuine personal style. She rescued me from my lonely and desolate life in tha condemned house, though she never would have even met me, except that by some inexplicable link of the cogs and wheels of the universe, she met my dad and they fell in love, a love so deep and cherished and beautiful that it lasted all the rest of their lives and beyond.

From the first ime we met, she liked me and I liked her. I was very shy but she respected that, and she was gentle and patient. Daddy had taken me to see her on weekends, to play with her two daughters. She had let me help her prepare the marvelous hot meals she made for all of us to have together when Daddy came, after work. Then he would bring me back to where I lived, to an empty house or apartment, where there were no hot meals, no meals at all except school lunch. During the week I stole Twinkies and meat from the big Safeway store, and fruit and vegetables from the baskets of wilted or spotted produce they set out back for the garbage truck.

It was the heart of my real mother, Helen, that rescued me from that desolate marginal life with no future, and gave me everything. In the space of one day, I had a new life, a new school, a new home. Suddenly I had the most beautiful wonderful, generous, smart, loving, mother on earth, and she wanted me. She loved me from then on, to the very last moment of her life.

She and Daddy got married and filed for custody of my brother and me. After that, I only saw my birthmother three more times. Helen encouraged my brother and me to keep in touch with her, and arranged visits with her for us, because she respected that we were Ann’s children by birth. The visits were painfully awkward for my brother and me, and for Ann most of all. She was ashamed I think, and must have felt defeated and lost and sad.

The next time I saw Ann was my wedding day. So much was happening that I did not actually speak to her or she to me, but she was clean and sober and she looked healthy and prettier than I had ever seen her. I was glad for that. Then the last time I saw her was after my own divorce. She got on a plane (for the first time in her life) and flew to Minneapolis to see me. I knew she was seeking some sort of reunion, and that must have taken enormous courage, but it failed miserably. We were both strangers. There could not be a reunion where there had never been a union, and the encounter ripped open old wounds I thought I had forgotten, ones I had hidden from myself all those years. She left, but after that we wrote letters and shared a fraction of ourselves as adult friends. Most of what I know about my birthmother and her mother my beloved granny, I learned from those letters.

Ann died at age 76, in Dallas where she and my brother both still lived, though he had refused to ever speak to her again for 50 years. He buried her immediately, before I could get there. I don’t know where.

My brother and I have been estranged ever since I left home for college. He had been a bully and torturer for the first 13 years of my life. That our bithmother allowed it,  hurt me even more. Abusing me was a strange pleasure for him, and I think he never did learn how to love. He would have five wives, and when each one left him, he always said it was their fault, and I think he somehow believed that. When Ann died, I was the one whose responsibility it was to clear out her apartment and dispose of her belongings. Returning to Dallas, after nearly a lifetime, I no longer had any real need to be afraid of him, but I still carried an irrational deep fear and dread of him. I had never hated him. I had accepted the victimization from him that our birthmother allowed and never punished. That was the way the world was, I thought. I didn’t know I deserved any better.

Ann didn’t know she deserved any better either. The path to divorce between my parents was unknown to me as a child, but now that I’m grown, I can guess. Life is complicated, not easily analyzed, and often wrongly judged. She was a good and decent woman who had wounds of her own from childhood that she taught to me unknowingly. She never meant to hurt me, or anyone. I never meant to hurt her. From age 2 she had been repeatedly physically and emotionally abandoned by her father, her stepfather, and her own mother, a traveling home healthcare nurse. My birthmother had never learned how to expect love. Whatever the reasons, she loved me too little, and she loved my brother too much, and both of us were damaged by this for life. Love has power, it can either harm or heal.

Ann’s inability to love me had cut deep permanent wounds into my sense of self, and this must have been her experience as a child too. Even though my true Mother’s total and unequivocal generous love healed the wounds, it could not take away the scars, which still are sensitive, easily torn open again. But now I understand that I am partially disabled and have learned to take care of myself for this, and I am no longer ashamed of it. Some days are harder than others.

The truth is, everyone is wounded. All of us are held hostage for life by the untruths we learned in our first years, unless and until we find our own way to the truth. My healing catharsis- and I recommend it- was to write a book about my own rocky path of unlearning the untruths. Although some of them still remain to hurt me and hold me back at times, they are not hidden anymore. I know that I have an invisible  handicap, but knowing it makes it easier for me to manage and to function with minimal disability.

I wish the same for you, for all of us in the family of humanity. Not one of us is without wounds and scars and flaws. Please accept, respect, and love this in me, as I do in you.

42. How You See It

December 7, 2018

When I try to do something and fail, that seems to suggest that I can’t do it. Suggest, but not prove. This is where I have to decide, and choose between letting it go, or trying harder. If I try again and fail again, the suggestion gets stronger, so the determination must get stronger, or else rationally I should choose to let go of that endeavor and move on. Does that make me a quitter? Or a failure? That’s my choice too.

Everything that happens in life is open to interpretation, and ultimately the only interpretation/ opinion/ belief that matters is yours, because that is the only one that actually has any true power or influence on your life.

The children’s rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” is good advice, though not entirely true. Words can hurt, a lot, but can not conquer you, unless you choose to let them. You always have a choice. Are you going to let somebody “out there” set your course in life? Will you choose to let their opinion change your own inner knowing, that you are much more than they can see? Are you doing that now? Why would you do that?

Once in a casual conversation, a firefighter friend told me “you can do it if you set your mind to it.” I wanted to be a firefighter but as a woman, at 5 foot six and 112 pounds, the odds against it were enormous. Three years of hard work: pumping iron, running bleachers with a backpack full of sand, biking 40-mile-a-day rides, and many failures later, I became firefighter, and then an officer. Though I started late, I served eight years of active duty first-response Fire and EMS, with a remarkable record of work well done. My friend was right.

This is a truth: We can often learn more from failing than succeeding. The experience of failure is painful and humbling, but it is the ultimate challenge to our inner strength. It can develop character and courage, depending on how you look at it, how you choose to see it. Everything in life is open to an unlimited number of interpretations. The one that matters, is yours.

41. Who We Are

October 29, 2018

It’s Monday. I begin again. First waking thought:
I’m grateful for my life, grateful to be who I am.

And then, thoughts about how we are all, in our individual lives, each of us like a cell, with a “permeable membrane” as my physiology book says. A part of, but never apart from, the body. Each of us a conscious cell in the body of a conscious universe. And now, some of the most brilliant minds of our world have told us that there actually exist other bodies — other universes.

I think of us, each a conscious being, and yet how different. Like the cells of the body, each has a specific function and purpose for being. I have said we all come here, to this mortal life, both to teach and to learn, whether knowingly or unaware.

Myself, having often blundered and stumbled, but mostly moved innocently and trustingly along. There have been some dark and painful times. I came through them, and found that I was stronger and wiser because of them. There have been many times too, when I danced and laughed and loved, beautiful and young. In this lifetime, I think I  may have been too much alone, and yet I scattered my love anyway like wildflower seeds, all along the way. As a child I rejoiced, running through the rain.  As an adult, spiritually, I still do.

One of my sisters, “the family saint,” who has lived her whole life like a child, not consciously aware. But she is happy. Ignorance can indeed be blessed. She is a good person, a simple flower in a small protected garden, never exposed to very much life. She is a daisy who believes she is a rose, and so she is powerfully proud and satisfied. Believing truly is the master key, and is the capacity that most shapes our physical life and experiences, whether the belief is conscious or deeply unaware.

My brother, who never knew who he was, and now never will. Not like anyone else in the family, more like a miniature Donald Trump, he has always been unsatisfied, believing that life and people owed him much more than life gives, and no matter how much it gives, these personalities are never satisfied or truly happy. My brother has spent his whole life, since the moment of his birth, supported and sustained by women even though he could not love them, nor his children, nor anyone. Always a parasite, always a clever manipulator, a bully, a controller, and perhaps unknowingly, a predator. I have written in my book that he had learned this as a primary life-lesson when he was a small child, but I wonder now if it went deeper than that — maybe even a life-role decided before birth. If so, I am so grateful that my soul did not choose that life.

And my birthmother. My book is a hymn of compassion for her. Life was not kind to her, and she deserved beter. I never knew her, and she never knew me, and it seems like her purpose in my life was to give me a physical portal into this place and my first great wound, of unwantedness. There was surely no conscious decision on her part, no intention to do either of these things.

And Mother, my rescuing Angel, who did not give birth to me, but gave me life. She was always meant to be my mother, and truly was, and is, and evermore shall be. I am so grateful for this immense life-gift of grace, my loving mother. My heart aches with joy at the thought of it, the remembrance of her love, and the certainty that it still goes on even now.

My Dad, a good man, beautiful both in body and soul. Always a private person, nobody really knew him well, except Mother, until her love brought him out into a new openness and expression to all of us who loved him.

I could name, if I chose to, all the people who came and went through my “permeable membrane” of existence here, but I don’t need to. And that would be too many books to write in this brief lifetime. Besides, all that they taught me, all that they gave me, is absorbed and assimilated into my Being now, some of it consciously, and some not.

Oh Life, what a magnificent mystery you are. with infinite numbers of stories. Some are beautiful and some are terribly not, and only the Author of you, knows their full meaning.

40. Let It Be

July 26, 2018

After so many years of trying to be better than I am, stronger than I am, I have finally learned to let myself cycle through the emotions that come, including the ones I don’t want, the ones that hurt, the ones that are unworthy of the person I want to be that I know is the greater truth of me.

In the decades of my life, sorrow, rightful resentment, anger, even hate, have taken hold of me more times that I dare to say, and cramming them down into the dark bottom of my mind did not extinguish the feelings. Instead, it gave them the perfect environment to wretchedly quirm and fester there. That did not feel good, and did not heal them.

After a lifetime of doing battle with unwanted and unworthy emotions, I have come to the acceptance of the reality of the human state: I am imperfect, and big parts of me are wasted on battling the truth that I am only a traveler here. I am unwise but teachable, and we have all come here to learn. I am abundantly flawed with attributes I wish I didn’t have, which provide me with learning opportunities to become less of what I don’t want to be, and more of what I know I can become.

The truest and best parts of me have never been sullied or changed by the upstart flashes of the worst parts of me. When I remind myself of this, it sets my feet on solid ground, and I can accept that in this moment’s storm of ugly emotions, I am not stuck and God has not abandoned me, I can and will ride it out, and I will return again to the essence of me that is really who and what I want to be.

If I must rage for a while, I let myself. I give myself a private rant or a private “pity-party,” whichever I need, set a specific time limit (10 minutes, 24 hours… as appropriate.) And then when it’s done, I forgive myself for it, and I re-set, re-boot, and start over.

Knowing that I will be stronger and kinder the next time, I begin again every time I need to, but I make myself do it without holding onto any residue of shame or guilt. Forgiveness releases me and everyone else involed from the trap of whatever it was. The ugliness has vented itself and dissolved into the nothingness from which it came. It was a temporary flash of something that is not true of who and what I truly am at the depth of me, that the world may not see.

Each time I surrender to my sorrow, my rage, my resentment, my self-pity, I may dissolve in tears for a while. I let myself. When my little drama of spirit, my dark night or dark moment of the soul has expressed itself and passed on, I comfort myself. I forgive myself and release all feelings of shame or weakness for these eruptions, the kind that I used to judge and punish myself for.

In my secret heart I accept, forgive, and pledge to love this part of me, even with its imperfections, just as I would forgive and love the little child within me who never really meant any harm, but just didn’t know any better, and has not learned everything yet.

With every honest acceptance, repentance, and forgiveness I give myself, it gets easier to love the person I honestly am, and the miracle of this is that I am enabled, almost effortlessly, to be kinder, more respectful, and more forgiving to almost every other soul-expression and mortal being that I meet in the journey of my days.

This does feel good. It does feel happy and stress-free, the polar opposite from those other suppressed emotions I squashed down inside myself before. Now when those feelings come, I know how to handle them and they do not handle me. I acknowledge their realness and validity, and I accept that this is expressing in me, and I forgive myself for feeling what I feel.

I go to a private place where I can let the feelings come, I let them come, and then I let them go. They cannot stay, as long as I don’t give hidden harbor to them. I have learned now, that I can purge them. For a little while, with a reasonable time limit, I can let myself rage, I can let myself cry, and when that’s done, I get up feeling a lot lighter, and surprisingly clean and refreshed. When I go on about the business of my life, sure enough, I do better.

39. Snapshot: Three Women

June 12, 2018

There’s a little photograph I keep on my refrigerator door. In it, three women are sitting in a porch swing on the plain unadorned wooden porch of a farmhouse, somewhere in rural Illinois. The women pose with proper grace, smiling for the Kodak camera, with their hands folded neatly in their laps.

The house is quite small, made of clapboard neatly painted white. It’s summer. Emerald green fields of corn stretch out behind the house and seem to go on forever, all the way to the horizon. This is the front of the house, and the two windows that face the road are plain and functional too, and there are no curtains. The porch shade is more than enough from the midday sun, and there are no neighbors near enough to look in.

It’s Sunday after church, and the women are my mother and my two sisters. They have traveled all the way from Dallas Texas to Bloomington Illinois for Mother’s 50th high school reunion. This house is a place where Mother lived a long time ago as a child, and the current residents have welcomed her to the old homestead and invited all of them to stay for dinner.

In this small snapshot I can see through time, to past generations of strong farm women, practical, hard-working and generous. I love this little picture for its sweetness, its honesty and simplicity. Mother has left us now, gone from her place here on earth to a higher calling. Both of my sisters still live in Texas, both have grown children now. My own path has taken me from Texas to the East Coast, to the Midwest, and finally to the West Coast of Northern California where I call home, a long long way from Illinois. I take the picture down from its magnet on the fridge door and hold it in my hand for a moment. I hold these women in my heart forever.