Why Some People Be Mad at Me Sometimes by Lucille Clifton
They ask me to remember But they want me to remember their memories and I keep remembering mine.
I’m reflecting today on a recent conversation with a dear friend and writer who knows a great deal about the loneliness and grief of childhood trauma. Over many years we have shared our personal stories. We talked about our lifelong quests for a sense of safety, home, and, as he calls it, “kin.” Each of us has dug deep and lingered long in the company of our blood relations, seeking to understand and seeking their understanding. We talked about the confusion inherent in setting aside the truth of our own experience in order to claim the safety of the story, the memory the family has created in its place.
My friend’s story tells of a young boy who struggles mightily with how to get free of the power-hold of an abusive father without losing the very father he loves. That same conflict haunts and pains me. For adults who grew up in a family where beatings, sexual assault, put-downs, humiliation and ridicule were excused as the occasional (or frequent) missteps of the dad or grandad who “really loves you,” there remains, often for decades, a protective story that guards the abuser and sacrifices the hurt child grown to adulthood. What becomes of that child’s understanding of love? What should that child, grown now, accept and what should they walk away from?
My own story is that of deep longing for an understanding, nurturing and reciprocal relationship with my family members. Sometimes I feel all I am made of is longing. At one time I thought I might interest a loving family member in partnership in something like what Adrienne Rich urges: “That we know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth, the possibilities of life, between us.” That ongoing attempt at mutual understanding, love and respect… to share in that, is what I have longed for. I came to a gradual and painful realization that I had taken every measure possible toward fulfilling this longing and the only peace available to me was to accept that it was not to be.
I relinquished longing. I hardly recognized myself once I left longing behind. To fill its place, I embraced a mantra of acceptance, contentment and serenity. I became an active and silent seeker, opening my eyes, ears, heart and mind to a life not shadowed in grief. For me, the result is deeper sleep, less compulsion to control others, broadened perspective, soul-filling song and movement, less outrage and resentment, more empathy and compassion along with greater generosity. I practice gratitude. I sing and dance without shame. I laugh out loud. I sit close with my eyes on yours, your hands in mine. Sometimes now, I feel beautiful, seen, welcome and embraced. But contentment and tranquility are not my constant home.
Each day, upon waking, when my heart fears some loss or remembrance, I place a loving hand on my own heart as if it were a needful child. I breathe deeply acknowledging my present reality. I practice longing only for the life that is mine, right here and right now. In these moments I gain strength and a sense of equilibrium to accept the day ahead and all that it will bring. I wander to my window and see the Cathedral and then the lights of the High Bridge. I read a passage from a little book that inspires me. Today I find these healing words. “Grief can change people; we may become more detached, quieter, more feeling, more deeply appreciative of life’s gifts. One of these gifts is silence – the silence of tranquility” [Karen Casey, The Promise of a New Day].
Deborah Padgett is a writer and visual artist. Her novel, A Story Like Truth, is available online and at SubText Bookstore in St. Paul. See padgettstudios.com.