Over the weekend, I travelled up to the twin cities and stayed at my parent’s house. My room I lived in starting at 14 still holds relics from my childhood. Magenta pink walls, the birch furniture I picked out as a birthday gift when I graduated from my white metal bunk beds. Spice Girls, Marilyn Monroe and my favorite pink basketball jersey with lucky number two are still hung next to my favorite inspirational paintings, “Cafe Terrace at Night” and “Dynamics of a Soccer Player”. Everything else is packed up in my closet or in my apartment in Los Angeles. As I sit on my old bed, I smother myself in nostalgia. I remember how I colored my world and things looked different from my windows. There was so much I didn’t understand, didn’t know and yet I wandered forth. I walked this uneasy line that felt comfortable, though nobody else seemed to see it. I always needed to feel out my property so to speak, figure out how far I could go, where is that invisible fence?
Now that I not only found the fence, but jumped over and walked the other side, I can appreciate my former more innocent days in new light. I see aspects of my family and our dynamics, I understand some underlying elephants a bit more in depth.
Saturday I spent the day with my Grandma, in an attempt to see my whole family and interact with those I’ve known my whole life, I decided to throw myself a birthday party. Nothing puts people in a better mood than a party. As my grandmother looked on in confused exhilaration, I took her to target to help pick out my doll. I then borrowed her hot glue gun as I ripped arms from one doll and glued them on to another, then I painted her blue, except the eyes. Since I was 16, I’ve made a Barbie cake, each year with a different theme taking effect in my life. So, for this year, I made a Goddess Barbie Stupa Cake.
My thoughts surrounding family this weekend swirl in clouds of anger, ignorance and blind bliss. I know everyone’s family seems to be dysfunctional in a variety of ways, but I see my family from a disconnected perspective these days. I’ve been gone awhile, not just physically, but also just mentally checked out. I needed to figure things out on my own and though my family means well, typically I felt they were disappointed with my choices and wanted to protect me from everything bad in life. In order to understand my own set of morals and values, I needed to figure out my standing without a strong influence in my ear. A lot of psychological self analysis has happened, a lot of words from both sides have accompanied anger and mis understandings flowing into reactions that can never be taken back.
My mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer a couple of months after I told my parents I needed space from their words. I decided to set aside my wound and gently allowed myself to forgive in a way, so that I wouldn’t regret not being present for my mom. My therapist at the time assured me that I could still acknowledge my anger with her while also holding space and support. So I did just that, I put my whole heart into being an ear, a hug and a smile ready if anyone needed it. I took my emotions away from my family and delved in separately because this was a different event not having anything to do with the way one lives one’s life. And an interesting thing happened, once I felt no pressure, once I was no longer the center of worry for my family, I could slide under the radar. I was able to stand up to everyone and say firmly, thank you for your concern, I’m going to follow my own desire or will for a bit. And they were so worried about my mom, that they didn’t argue even half of what they had in the past.
I did something that I knew deep in my soul to be right, I didn’t allow anyone to hold me back and I continued, following only my intuition. And now, the family is proud of me. I’m told that I’m a great writer, I was offered a framed picture of the mural I helped paint on the European Union Wall. My dad mentioned me in his sermon last Sunday, showed a picture of my work and told the whole church he was wrong for telling me not to go.
My head reels from a year ago when I was told that I was a disappointment, that my decisions led me to a place where my family didn’t approve. They didn’t understand my method, they didn’t understand my process.
Yet, I decided to keep my heart open. I decided to feel the hurt and anguish of smiling and holding the hand of a woman who declared that I would be dead in five years. I decided to hug my sister and my dad even though they didn’t think I could pull myself out of my hole. Love is a funny thing, it can make you say things you don’t mean, it can cause unwarranted fear and anxiety in moments of confusion. I’m used to my family not understanding my logic, it’s why I moved as soon as I graduated high school. I love my family and I know they love me, and I still needed to walk my own path, where they can’t follow. It’s accepting that each person must find their own purpose, their own will, their own walk in order to be content to live through life.
I’m working on how to balance on joy, to digest the good and the bad instead of running from one to the other. How to diffuse the energy of anger and meld it to excitement so that emotion doesn’t overpower one’s life.
I made a comment to my Grandma while we were baking, I asked her what she thought of how we tend to take out our anger and sadness on the ones we love the most, on family. She responded in saying it’s because those are the ones who will always forgive us, who will always hold us and will love us unconditionally, with a bond too strong to break. There’s a reason why I love and respect my Grandma so much. She’s 84 years old, strong, capable and active. Her history backs up her advice and knowledge of world workings. She has mentioned times when she was so angry with her family, or workplace or other societal issues, and she kept going, reaching a point now where she is healthy and still moving, albeit a tiny bit slower in the last year with added stress of my Grandfather ‘s dementia diagnosis.
After our family gathering, I headed off with my dad to visit my grandfather. They finally relocated him earlier this week into a memory care assisted living unit around the corner. For as long as I can remember, he hasn’t liked being touched, or being helped. He always wanted to appear strong and healthy, like his army days he referred to but never really talked about. He never thought that he would live long enough to be considered an old man. Now, he’s almost 91, 60 years older than me. He repeatedly wipes his dripping nose, refuses to get out of bed in the morning and sits up late at night, staring into space. He used to read constantly, devouring books on religion, philosophy and science. Now, he questions anyone who tries to help him, a cloud of paranoia covers his pessimistic world view.
On Sunday morning, I accompanied my mom to church, after my dad’s last sermon, most of the church is aware of my work in Nepal. I was stopped and talked to for a good portion of the service, slipping in just after my dad started his lecture. This week he discussed the outward appearance vs what we actual think and feel inside. I listened with an open heart, trying not to focus on the references to God as much as the general topic. I grew up listening to my dad’s sermons, in fact I credit him with my grasp of religion and the Bible in general. I was a very religious person up until just before my divorce. I felt like it helped me feel closer to my dad, giving me insight into his world and thoughts. I prayed almost every morning and night, attended church services and volunteered and participated in bible studies and other programs. I thought that because I was doing everything right in that realm that I was saved, that God would smile down on me and that my life would one day be simpler.
But sometimes outward impressions don’t match what you feel inside, which begs the question of what is true? First impressions are a way that we judge others, but if the outward and inward appearance doesn’t match, where does that leave us?
I love people watching, I love to create life stories about strangers and their outfits, but I also like to create life stories about myself, based on how I look each day, as if I had never met myself. Then, I ask if it matches my inner feelings.
Complex relationships, dysfunctional families, means of coping, all topics that everyone has experience with, a different perspective from each angle. All of our experiences give us opinions and lead us to conclusions. It’s our own self judgements, our human experience that give us our stories. When we believe something to be true to the extent that it colors our world, it affects the truth, so how could we all possibly hold the same truth, we all peer out from different angles.
I see the way my Dad holds his values compared to his sisters, what I hold to be truth in my hands versus what my own sister holds. It’s different, but just as true. So how do we balance these truths, emotions, actions, knowledge?
I can tell you that I meditate on my own perspective of love and truth, I attempt to disconnect my logic and emotion so my world isn’t colored in sadness, anger, lust or happiness. I try to see myself as I would any other person. It helps me to realize how similar we all are, to remember emotions and thoughts are the same, we just experience them in changing orders. My thoughts are no more impressive or better than yours, but because they are mine, I hold them in a brighter light, they are closer to the center of my existence.
I am the only one that can really comment on my own life story, just as I could never correct someone else’s thoughts or feelings in their journeys. We all must walk our own path, we all must face and conquer or turn away from our inner existence. It’s a personal choice, one that nobody will know the answer to. This seems to be the biggest conundrum for me in life this far.. understanding why people decide to be blind, how people can’t see their blindness or if people can ever really be blissfully blind.
I was once blind, though I didn’t know that it was all just brainwashing from years of subtle abuse, abuse that looked and talked good game, that fed on my shame and vulnerability after trying to rid myself of a heavy burden and tricking me into thinking I could share it instead. I ended up with a burden that I didn’t understand. In order for me to open my eyes, I needed to understand. One of the first things I wrote in my first journal was “I need to know on a deeper level why I chose him”. This drive for understanding led me to a place my family couldn’t understand, friends couldn’t understand and even I at the time didn’t fully grasp it, but I know without a doubt I always stayed true to my morals and values. I might have floundered on a line, but I only see as clear as I was able to experience I am only me today because I was there then. I had to hit a wall in order to understand that the wall existed in the first place.
But really, everyone is doing the best they can, we all mean well, we all want the best for each other, especially for those we love. However, love can cloud our perceptions too, we can be angry and want to hurt our loved ones because we hurt and we want to share in pain and anguish. We might say things that are true in our paths, but not in another’s, simply because we want to prevent suffering when in reality, sometimes we need to suffer in order to grasp a concept, or to accept peace.
It’s a balancing act. Joy is feeling sadness and feeling happy, joy is being content that we have emotions and experiences. Joy comes from accepting what is hard and letting go of control, of living blindly, grasping at untied anchors we unwittingly think will always be just outside. Joy for me is knowing I made the best decisions for me each step of my life, and even after all the arguments and anger, I’m still able to be here, eating dinner with my mom on her second to last night of radiation. And we are able to laugh and I am able to tell her plainly that I’m still hurt, that if it weren’t for her cancer I almost walked away from my family.
Tonight I asked my mom if hers was a positive cancer experience. I know, cancer isn’t positive, we aren’t supposed to say anything good about it, except I can’t help thinking that for our family, this might have been good, it brought me closer, it enabled me to detach from their love shackles. She responded and said, all in all, it wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought it would be.
So, after all is said and done, I think we look back and see that in the face of adversity, of suffering, we overreact and treat our loved ones worse than is needed. Maybe our perspective shifts after our balance is centered again. Maybe love is the hardest most complex relationship we will ever have. Maybe love hides the truth, maybe we can’t see to true love when we don’t feel it from within ourselves. And maybe it’s the un-matching of our appearances, that if we don’t understand our own love and our own truth, how can we see each other as mutual love, especially if we know the other will ultimately always be there.