“I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind I’d still be in prison” – – Nelson Mandela
In California, roses bloom in January. Not here. Not here. Not here.
I sit with my hot chocolate and look at the drifting snow and 18° weather. I’m reflecting on the past year, my diagnosis of CIDP, and asking God what that means for my future. It’s a mysterious future with hours of submersion in cultural waters carrying unexploded bombs of bitterness.
It’s like finding a World War II land mine. Family stories never stop. After years of begging the universe to make my family normal, or at least in my next life give me a normal family, it occurs to me that my family is normal. For what it’s worth, it’s me who lives outside the culture, enjoying the explosion of hidden fireworks that somehow foster the courage to love even more.
My brother and his wife have separated, and the children are the ones who suffer. I see myself in my 13-year-old niece; a child with a passion for art—food and ice-skating and writing. I see a child struggling between the promise of her passions and the chill of being blown into the winds of abandonment. In this case, it’s her dad who is the chill. And I love them both. It’s not right. Prodded by cultural misinterpretations based on religious fear, dogma, and wrong understanding there is a sect of craziness that is trying to make this separation normal.
Millions of children grow up with single parents. And while I really believe that my family put the “dys” in dysfunction, my parents were never missing in action. The child in me wants to believe that for better or for worse, folks can stick it out. My grown up self knows that sometimes it’s easier to walk away although somewhere, somehow there must be dignity.
I am lucky. I’m old enough to witness the rescinding tide of fitting in. I am bolder, happier, and becoming, yes, whole. But for a child, fitting in is everything. A 13-year-old girl wants her family to be normal.
It is not an easy climb in the struggle against cultural forces that create and defend narrow definitions of family, womanhood, race, or work choices. We are moving uphill against cultural norms that sanctify secrecy and codify hiding our feelings. These norms threaten us with collapsing the walls of love and personal dignity.
According to me, freedom exists only in sandblasting away cultural definitions that keep us bitterly imprisoned from our own truth. It’s not easy to choose authenticity. But in the end, if we want to be whole, authenticity is what we must choose. I pray that this is the realization my niece comes to.
Now… about the words I chose for this post:
Self reflection. Years ago, during a meditation, I heard these words inside myself: “Can you embrace your own heart? Can you bow to your own self? Can you love the essence of your own being?” I was deeply moved because at the time I bowed to everyone but me. Those words have fueled my journey ever since. I discovered the truth about anger and bitterness: Anger is exhausting. The Buddha said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
I constantly reflect on my choices in life, and I am happy to say that there are very few choices I regret thus far. I embrace the consequences of my choices, and this gives me more energy to be true to myself. It replenishes courage.
Have my choices made me happy? Do I treat my friends and family with kindness, openhearted listening, and respect? Do I live with and give compassion? If so, I have learned something. If not, I have learned something.
Can I enjoy the moments of simplicity before me?
A beautiful tray of chicken and roasted vegetables drenched in a sauce of cloves, garlic, and spices sits before me. I made this meal with hands that vibrate with nerve pain. But I made it, and I am happy. Yum.
I cannot hold anger and happiness in my heart at the same time. I cannot be married to cultural definitions and explore the depths of my own soul. I have tried; it hurts.
Self dignity. Do I love myself? Am I committed to maintaining a world that is fair, just, and kind? Can I be honest and kind in my speech? Disciplined in my eating? Am I grateful for my own presence in the gifts I offer to my world? Whatever I do, do I do it out of love? If so, I can maintain my dignity no matter the circumstance.
Happy New Year. May 2014 be filled with joyous reflection and abundant dignity.