Tuesday, 22 November 2011
GC, Day 22 - Letting go
A few weeks ago, my second cousin in Pakistan told me that my parents would be visiting him for Eid. I'm not sure what made me ask, but I requested that he take some photographs and send them on. It was curiosity, in part, but I think part of me also wanted confirmation that I had made the right decision.
Pics were taken, C popped online yesterday, promising to email the pics. This morning, my smartphone claimed several emails had arrived. I scrolled through, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw the promised one. What would I feel on seeing the pictures? What did they look like? Did they know the pics were being taken for me?
I got into work, waited for Outlook to start up my work account, loaded my personal one and clicked on the first picture.
From left to right: Uncle Zafar (mother's brother who, in an irreverent moment, I thought looked like a South Asian Mennonite), my mother, my father. I haven't spoken to them in 7 years; I haven't seen them in over 10.
I have always read pictures - you can give me one picture from a wedding or an ordination, and I can tell you if the couple or ordinand should have gone there; give me a set, and we'll be talking dynamics very quickly. I drink pictures in; they're the next best thing to real people-watching. It is this habit of mine that makes me so cautious in pictures - I know how easy it is to read people in them if you are not invested in things being a certain way: an event being happy; a pillar of society being good.
But what of these pictures, ones in which I have such emotional investment? I am struck by the deep unhappiness in my mother's eyes, but not surprised - I saw that coming when I was young. I find myself wanting to reassure her, but not touch her or get too close to her. I can't quite trust the rage behind the...'checked out' feeling; the sense that she missed out on happiness, on living, despite having had a materially comfortable life. I ache for her, but I don't think I can be in relationship with her, not yet, perhaps not ever. Not unexpected.
What is more unexpected is my father's uncertainty, the sense of being lost which emanates, never apparent behind his perpetual rage - and the frailty of the man who was always bigger than I was, stronger. He is frozen in his prime to me, in his strength, his 30s and 40s, though I am suddenly flooded with memories of moments of weariness when his head was in his hands. I remember being told of his sisters' deaths by another member of his family, and of his closeness to at least one of them - even now, I am only almost certain there were two, and not one, for he would never speak of a sister.
Suddenly, I realise that he has kept losing the women in his life: his sisters, his wife through a loveless marriage and, by not being able to love her, his daughter. It breaks my heart. But what shocks me is the overwhelming desire to hold my father until he finally cries. And I understand why I've chased the men I've chased - those in whom I see the frightened little boy they protect by assuming a persona of anger and rigid control, with the occasional addiction; men I need to save. I understand why I find male grief unbearable, why it overwhelms me. I couldn't save the first man in my life or ease his pain; maybe easing the pain of all the others will make that feeling of helplessness end. Finally, I can stop chasing, stop trying to save those I cannot.
I want to understand my mother too; want to feel for her as I do my father, but the sense of betrayal is deeper and more complex - and that's okay. It is enough (and a huge step) that I want to speak to her, to reassure her. That is what it needs to be.
So I find that the two people I have spent my life trying to get away from are the two people I find myself wanting to heal. I finally understand that though my experience of them was and is very real, I don't need to hold on to the story of them as irredeemable. They can simply be people who were twisted by anger, in whom there was no room for self-awareness and love, who suffered a very human tragedy they were never able to escape. What they gave me was beyond measure: an ability to be in the darkness, to know that I can overcome anything, a drive to grow beyond the trap they lived, a hunger for freedom for myself and others, to make sure no one in my circle ever feels alone and unloved.
And I am free. Free to love deeply and intensely in the way that I know I can, that I know I need to. Free to parent children without the fear of becoming my parents. Free from believing that I am unloved and unlovable - something my friends have proven to be a lie for years, yet something I never felt until now, because I realise that the way I've reacted to the pictures is the way only a person who loves and can be loved reacts.
There is a spaciousness, a place waiting to be filled where the story and its attendant emotions of anger and pain used to reside - but I don't feel the need to fill it. I light a candle to Our Lady in gratitude and know it is time to be still, to be with this in love.
So I breathe, close my eyes, and move easily into Hoʻoponopono, picturing my parents and repeating, 'I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you...'
...and wait for what dreams may come.