Baggage Check

Maybe we all go through life a little bit scarred.  Maybe we all carry around some of the baggage from our formative years that we just can’t put down.  Some obviously have a harder time with this than others.  Some may have had little or no trauma in their lives, and some may truly be scarred for life.

Now, in my mid-50’s (yikes, just when did that happen?) I can report honestly that I try not to let my past get in my way.  Sometimes it happens anyway.  Maybe it’s inevitable.

Just this week I have realized, all too pointedly, that some people may never outgrow the evils perpetrated upon them by their parents.  Their darkest moments as children may resurface decades later in some of the most unexpected ways.  Individuals, couples, and families may be struggling with powerful issues they can’t shake off:  insecurity, loneliness, abandonment.

Because I can no longer stop myself from writing, I am now in the midst of capturing some of my own childhood in words.  To put it in counseling speak:  my family of origin certainly did a good job of hiding some of its dysfunctional aspects from the rest of the world.  And now, decades later, these words are literally pouring from my brain through my fingertips and onto the blank pages on my screen.  Pouring from a faucet that is impossible to turn off.

A happier moment in 1967.

A happier moment in 1967.

There are a few people in this world who already know the story – my siblings and a handful of close, long-time friends.  And I acknowledge that this memoir is something I may never show to anyone.  Yet I can’t stop writing.  I am watching the re-runs in my head and trying to capture every scene on paper; the fabulous and the terrible.  It’s a wonderful and horrible obsession.  Maybe in some ways this is therapy.

Growing up is not easy sometimes.  The main reason is that parents are people, too.  Mine were not perfect, but only in this long distance hindsight do I see clearly how many struggles they really had.  It has taken an adult assessment to look honestly and critically and find some perspective.

So I write.  I have not chosen to tackle this very personal look at alcoholism.  It has chosen me.

But here is my greatest wish:  that my husband and I have passed along as few of our own demons as possible to our children.  They deserve better.  I would like nothing better than for them to think back on their growing up years as mainly happy and healthy.  I hope even their worst childhood memories are not too traumatic.

Each of us comes with some flaws.  Having spent a considerable amount of time facing down my own over the years, I will not bore you with those details.  In addition, I refuse to lay any blame for my own troubles at the feet of my parents.  Instead, I very firmly believe that stuff happens; and after that, life is what we make of it.   Sure, our choices may be colored by our past.  But as adults we have to own those choices.

So if I choose less drama it’s because I’ve already had enough to last a lifetime.  Peace is very compelling.  I wonder if someday I can find it within my own head.

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Doorway to a New Year

Here we are again on the threshold of a new year.  When the door opens we’ll enter a new, clean room, uncluttered by the past and holding nothing but hope.

This sculpture represents women from different cultures, coming together in unity for peace.  (Photo Feb. 2013, Chautauqua Institution)

This sculpture represents women from different cultures, coming together in unity for peace. (Photo Feb. 2013, Chautauqua Institution)

One of the bags I want to unpack first is the one carrying lessons learned from this past year:

1)  Creativity can be dormant for years and still resurface.
This is a biggie for me.  I tested some waters this year in writing and in photography.  In both cases, I have found those waters to be warm and welcoming.  The swims will still be long, but the motions of each stroke feel good and they are stretching some long forgotten muscles.  I look forward to navigating these previously uncharted waters each step of the way.

2)  I need to count my blessings more often.
It’s so easy to get bogged down in what we don’t have and what we want.  But I have my health, mostly.  I have a wonderful family and friends.  I have a job.  I have a pleasant home, food on the table, and decent clothes.  I have my mind and lots of ways to use it.  While some friends and family members have faced some pretty serious issues this past year including major illnesses and loss of jobs, I have been fortunate.

3)  Savor each moment of your child’s growth, even when they are young adults.
Our children don’t walk through developmental stages.  They actually run.  This year we celebrated the college graduation of our eldest.  It’s a huge rite of passage for her, and has been for us in some ways as well.  Savor each moment and take time to appropriately observe the milestones.  That graduation weekend is one of my fondest memories of 2013.

4)  When you raise your children to be strong and independent that is what they become.
This is what parents really want for their children, but then it happens and we need to step back for a moment and allow ourselves to look on in wonder.  We always felt that our job as parents was to lay some firm groundwork and set expectations, and then get out of their way.  We showed them how we conduct our lives, and now it’s up to them to conduct their own in places we don’t know with people we don’t know.  Make no mistake – ours haven’t QUITE made a full leap to independence yet – but they are well on their way.

5)  Keep your memories alive, but don’t live in the past.
This year forced us to say goodbye to some wonderful and influential people in our lives.  The loss of friends and family always stings, but we carry very good memories.  We are made stronger by our pain.  Each loss challenges us to move forward and to do good things.

So here we are about to step through the doorway.  I have tried very hard to pack away the “I can’ts” and will work hard to leave them where they are in the past.  I am carrying brand new “I cans” into the new year.  There is no illusion of perfection and I will make mistakes.  But even as we bring along the baggage of the past and some of the problems we just can’t shake, we can still make this new room what we want it to be.  We can rearrange the furniture to make it either comfortable or challenging – or a mixture of both.  We have choices about how we spend our fleeting time and we can work to make the best of what a fresh new year has to offer.

For me, I am longing to see where my creative pursuits will lead, and will redouble my efforts to focus on family, friends, and community.  Those are my main goals.

I wish you hope, joy, health, peace and happiness as you step into 2014.  Happy New Year!