Wednesday, July 9, 2008
I just finished reading comedian, Steve Martin's autobiography "Born Standing Up". Without spoiling it for any who'd like to read it, he addressed the notion of making peace with one's parents before it's too late.
Recently a few of my friends and acquaintances lost their parents. All were under different circumstances and all had distinct expressions of their feelings toward the matter. I found a curious sympathy with one over the others and was satisfied that I had reconciled myself to my current relationship, or lack of such, with my parents.
I, like many, had my feelings hurt, in my adult years, by my parents. Whether I expected too much of them or was still too egocentric to see their side of the situation, I wrote them off, content to ignore their lives and move on with my own. I often look back seeking to justify my feelings, or searching my conscience for a reason to blame myself for how I feel about them. I have never come to a conclusion.
I should say that I have yet to lose a parent and I'm not asking that anyone else reconsider their feelings toward theirs, living or dead. I think I'm really just trying to escape any culpability for a broken relationship.
A few years ago, my mother underwent cancer treatment. I knew about the situation but avoided it all the same. I hope I wasn't trying to punish her for my pain. I really felt like an outsider, sort of blackballed from the family, both long before her challenges with cancer and now long after. I didn't want to try to pry my way back in under the pretense of sympathy for her condition. I didn't want her or others to have to confront their feelings toward me under those circumstances either.
But now, as I look back, I feel the weight of judgment on my head. I know I have to follow my conscience regardless of how I am perceived by others. I wouldn't be a good father, husband, or friend if I lived in constant doubt. I can't count on others to understand my responsibilities, no matter how much experience they have in the same arena. I know, regardless of the onlooker's opinion of my actions, I have a course to chart and follow.
I try to avoid quoting others, but Einstein was a pretty smart fellow who said, "A human being is part of a whole, called by us the 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." I am coming to understand that concept of living and love and compassion, though I fail miserably and daily in its practice.
On the one hand, I feel a thin but earnest desire to attempt a reconciliation with my parents, and on the other, a sense of impending doom. The doom is judgment, conviction, and further ridicule for my choices. I have to say that I am somewhat comfortable with the distance. It's not without its challenges but it's also something I can control and that suits me at present. I hope that one day I'll be able to express myself completely to my family and that I'll be received in kind. I also know that if I am to open up to speak, then I must also listen, and that could be painful. I know I have to acknowledge that I've hurt them too.
Fear of failure and condemnation are powerful motivators. I fear that I may miss my chance for reconciliation and suffer for it; or cause greater suffering to others by withholding my true feelings. I shudder to think of my parents dying with any guilt on their consciences over how they failed or succeeded in raising me, or neglected to forgive me. I don't want to deny them the opportunity to choose forgiveness or express their feelings. At the same time, I know they have the same choices to make that I do and my phone isn't ringing off the hook. I know I can't be held accountable for their decisions. I just hope that if they pass before a reconciliation, that I can live with my decisions and not look back with doubt. Damn it, I just don't want to face that. I love them and want peace, but at what cost? I refuse to romanticize an idyllic notion of "family" and deny that we are all very rough around the edges in favor of a pretended peace.
I want to be accepted for who I am. I am a man, a human person full of flaws, and sometimes full of myself. But I am also compassionate, generous, and gracious. I am happy with my certitude and forthright manner. I am just beginning to accept who I am and I cringe at the notion of exposing my true self to a person, only to have them lunge at me in anger and try to belittle my sense of self, or steal my peace away for the sake of revenge. I have lived so closed off to my own feelings, and now that I am beginning to accept them, I am very protective of them.
I suppose this is like most things in my life. When the time is right, the opportunity to address the situation will present itself. I'll fumble through it with all imperfection, and it will end when it ends, with or without fulfillment. I guess it's just important to be honest with myself and accept, without regret, that I'm just like other created things, broken, organic, and incomplete.