But I digress, before I even start! sheesh some people are incorrigible wanderers! Today I finally got around to doing something I've been jawing about for a while. My mother who is 94 provided me with a koan (one of many). For a long time I just thought of it as something to complain about, take personally, and feel angry about. She often sits for long periods without talking, supplying one word answers to questions. It can make visiting tiring and boring, to be very frank.
Finally instead of feeling put upon I asked myself, "self, what can we do about this?" And the answer materialized. My niece had asked about family history, my daughter was interested in her Jewish roots. I could record the story of my mother's life, the family history. It might get her talking, perhaps get her to focus on happier moments, provide some background information for grandchildren and give us something to do that didn't include watching dustballs gather.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that my mother recently said "come visit and I'll tell you the story of my life and why I'm so queer." This reminded me that it was time to get on with the recording project. So this morning I fiddled around with "Garage Band" and figured out how to record onto my laptop. In the afternoon I went over, set up and asked my mother to start where she wanted to. Turns out she doesn't know much about her mother or father's early life; dad left home early, mom was an orphan. But she had a lot to say about her own early life, much of it I knew.
Her mother died when she was 3. A step mother appeared on the scene when she was about 4 1/2 and life was not much fun. Step mom was jealous of daughter, dad didn't want to get in trouble, so my mother felt unloved and abandoned. She spoke about it in more detail than I recall hearing in the past. She also added another dimension which I believe was born out of a heart to heart chat I had with her a while back (and wrote about in this blog).
She talked about her stepmother's jealousy of her, and how her father chose not to show her any affection in order to avoid fights with his wife. He also told her she seemed like someone who could look after herself so she was on her own with the stepmother. We're getting the "no fun" picture now aren't we? Now I always remember my mother complaining bitterly about her stepmother and her childhood. If you had to assign a flavour to my mother, it would be bitter, perhaps with a sour note. My dad he was the salty and sweet one. And me, well I remember nipping into the cupboard for a swig of vinegar, as a child, so go figure.
Whoops, I had to follow the trail of breadcrumbs back to the topic! In my recording mom talked about how her childhood experiences caused her to close herself off, "put a wall around myself," she said "and feel unloved, abandoned and an outsider". Last month I finally had the courage to tell my mother that my experience of her was that I felt she was always angry at me, always wanted me to make her happy and that she didn't really enjoy my company. Of course she was surprised by this. I think she did a little self reflection at this point because I could hear it today. "As I got older I wondered how I got to be the way I am and I could see why, but what I never saw was the effect it had on other people. I just didn't make that connection."
There seemed a lot of Dharma in my mother's story. Yes her childhood was not a picture of love and support. But in truth this is not the problem. It is through our confusion (one of the 3 poisons: greed, hate and delusion) we come to wrong conclusions about our circumstances. My mother told herself the story of how sad her life was over and over. When we do that we convince ourselves that we are solid, fixed entities. My mother said "this is how I was, locked inside my wall. I just couldn't change." It is tough to bust out, it's scary and can seem impossible. We often need help here, some wise guidance that tells us change is possible, don't give up on yourself, you can do it differently. If we're lucky we are guided to the truth, to a coach, to a fan club, to the Dharma, perhaps. It's true that it's not easy but we can bust out of that place where we feel locked in. And that is true freedom. If this were a Western, the sheriff would arrive jangling a big set of keys and open the door. The secret is the door has always been unlocked. We just never tried the latch. We are busy cowering in the corner, telling ourselves stories, comforting ourselves with milk a cookies or perhaps whiskey and cigarettes.
So at 94 my mother has made some new discoveries about her life. That's the good news and the bad news all rolled in to one. There is hope for us yet and sometimes it takes a long while for us to look with clear eyes and see that we have been standing in our own way.