It’s a line from a song that got me thinking today on my drive home from Georgia. The whole song reminds me so much of my mother, especially that particular line. I get hung up on it all the time: how different I am from when she was here. It hurts so much to know that if my own mother saw me on a street or in a store, she probably wouldn’t recognize me, and not because of anything dramatic. I’ve simply grown up. I’m not the little girl she knew. Being around other my friends and their mothers like I have been for the past few days always causes me to remember that my situation is so different, that my “mother” isn’t my mother, and to dream up “what-ifs” as I’m lying there trying to conquer some sleepless night in an unfamiliar bed. So pardon me for approaching the subject again, for examining it closely and picking it apart, and for writing about it- I know it gets old.
But this song. It’s really sort of spectacular, and it fell through my musical cracks, but I rediscovered it on a lost (now found!) cd while I was road tripping this week. I listened to it over and over, as I often do, meditating on the lines, and this one stood out. Of course it made me think of her- duh. But it wasn’t just her- it made me think of my father, too, and for that matter, all of them. Each of my siblings has had his or her own share of obstacles, some brought on by themselves, some overcome, and some that are still around. Everyone but me- all of my issues either are or come from dealing with everyone else’s issues. I’m not sure if it’s the role I was born for, or I just saw this need when I was kid and rose up to fulfill it. I am the hope, the maverick, the fighter. I am the one who defied the odds, who turned out right, who went to college instead of jail. It hasn’t been easy; everyone else’s problems have become mine as I struggle to prove them all right, because after all, I am the one who can and will be someone, and that’s what they’re holding out for. I know that it’s my job to keep the peace and smooth the trouble away, all while giving them something to be proud of.
I’m sounding rather haughty, I know. But hear me out. This is the thing: this a real role in my family, and I got it, whether it was always meant to be mine or I was pushed into it by guilt and shame. But how did I learn? How did I know what to do, and what not to do? Who to trust, and who to run in the opposite direction from? What kind of person I should be instead of who was easiest to be?
I learned it from them. All of them.
I know I’ve said it so many times, but my mother was an outstanding person. I know I tend to look back through a lens that is tinted with longing and pain and “missing out,” though, and she had problems. She succumbed far too easily, and hid it for far too long, and tried to be far too many things instead of admitting she couldn’t. She stayed with my father when she probably shouldn’t have and went on for years like everything was just fine when everything was all wrong. She should have found the strength to confess, to stop, and gotten everyone out of the whole situation, because that was her job, instead of the cooking and ironing and cleaning and carpooling that she took on. She lost herself in all of that, and I lost her, too, because of it. But there were so many good parts and good memories and maybe they outnumber the bad, or maybe I’m imagining, but it doesn’t matter. But she taught me how to laugh and chatter and get along. And in her death, she taught me more than she could ever hope. Because I didn’t succumb, and I didn’t hide, and I did get out.
In the same breath, my father, in all of his selfishness, has taught me what it means to love. I’ve talked before about my father’s love for me, but I’ve realized that that’s not for me to worry over. I wanted so much to form that ideal relationship with him, where he really is the parent and I really am the child, but it’s never going to happen, and once I accepted that, I could get to forming a real relationship with him. And so, his mere presence in my life has taught me all about love and forgiveness. According to 1 Corinthians 13:5, love “keeps no record of wrongs.” So then, I chose to love my father, forgetting all of the hurt he has thrown my way, or at least trying. I answer my phone when he calls and visit him when I come home and let him into my life. It’s not easy or fast; in fact, it still carries a lot of tension and pain as I open those doors. Ignoring him was incredibly easy to do, but after awhile, I missed him. So, I’m doing my best, and I have to assume he’s doing his, because that’s what it means to love. Does he stills hurt me? Yeah. But that’s okay. It’s alright.
And all of them. All four of them- all my older siblings- had dreams, I suppose. They all forgot them or lost them or threw them away as they discovered things that made life seem easy: alcohol, prescription pills, cocaine, marijuana, theft, lies. Things that got them by for the moment and covered the pain for a little while, but all too soon, it resurfaced and they would need more and more and more of their chosen vices to stifle it again. Some of them have overcome, have beaten it, and my pride overflows when I think of it. Some of them haven’t, but I have hope for them, that they can do it. Sometimes I just want to scream, “If I can do it, you can do it, because I have to do with all of YOU!” But that wouldn’t help. now would it? I’ve tried to have relationships with them, but it adds toxicity to my life, and they use me, and that I won’t stand for, because I am trying to become something here. But I love them all the same. They’ve taught me about perseverance and standing up again and that sometimes, you’re just barely hanging on, and everyone is going to find themselves there. They taught me that you can let go and fall into the canyon, or you can pull yourself over the ledge, as hard as it may be, even if you might fall down again eventually. They’ve taught me to try. When i wasn’t sure if I could do some of the things I’ve done, like move into acceptance over Mom, or forgive Dad and build a relationship with him, or even move away and enroll in a large university, I looked to the things they’ve done and said, “Okay. I can do it, too.”
And so, I am me, and I decided to be this person, to say no to what nearly everyone else in my family has said yes to, but you should know that who I am is largely because of who they are and what they showed me. Their lives seem messed up to so many, examples of shame and wrongdoings, but I can see the beauty in struggle. They are wonderful, beautiful people, and I am so lucky and strong and proud because of them.
I quoted 1 Corinthians 13, the “love” chapter that every knows. But beyond the definition of love is another verse that delineates my life as I discover what being an adult is all about:
“11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I bec
ame a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
I’m learning to forgive. To love. And to learn.