Two quotes inspired me for today’s reflections. They come from two most unlikely sources when my association of their fame against the backlash of my nature is concerned. But then again, my aim for now is to dwell on negative judgments.
As were he to refer to our glorious time before my mother died – tragically, too early for most of us in the family, Mario Puzo states the following in his final novel: “The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other (The Family).” As soon as my mother’s death became a reality – one that we all preferred to deny for as long as possible, our family began to fall apart. In its facade and at its core. Never again to gain its indivisibility. My father’s wife did everything to keep the family together – a kind-hearted and understanding person, and tolerant to my father’s outbursts of dissatisfaction with his life after my mom. My brother’s wife, on the other hand, intensified her initially somewhat suppressed self-serving maneuvers to manipulate any and all happening in the family. I had not known our family history to include any break up among siblings. Until my own case happened. With her elaborate preparations.
Negative judgments: We give them. We are subjected to them. And I am no exception. Within our families, however, we would be best of, if we remained – in Puzo’s words, loyal to one another, hence strong. My brother chose to accept his wife’s stance on my divorce. I do and must, of course, involve myself in this fault, blame, judging dynamics but at this point only to the extent to note that I have given her the opportunity to attain material for her conduct: I had taken an erroneous step. Though, a grave mistake, the first and the only one since she had joined our family many decades ago. And, we had known each other from the age of eighteen on. My one mistake since. For which my daughter has forgiven me, having accepted me for who I had become during that time – a flawed individual at her worst (so far); nevertheless, she has not doubted the authentic I in me – the one she has known since the first aware moments in her life.
For my brother’s wife, my moment of internal crisis amidst a life-altering event – my divorce proceedings had become a fruitful ground to design, accessorize and materialize a judgment sentence on me. With her fulfillment of what may have been her intent all along, per my father’s prolonged conviction; namely, to demonstrate my lack of perfection to my brother – as he only perceived it about me. In order to be the only remaining purity in the family. In due process, I was stripped of my right to any privacy. Any attempt I made to preserve my individuality within the family court she had drawn against me, proved in vain. The re-presentation, or better, misrepresentation of my true self had already taken its successful place: In the judgment of my brother, their two sons and her aunt – all of whom always thought very highly of me, I had failed my entire life. Several years passed since. I still don’t believe to have recovered from the irreversible character assassination I thus suffered.
Exceptions aside, the irony is in the extent to which we lend our family members our trust in their non-judgmental acceptance of our lives, befitting but also poor decisions, our actions or the numerous aspects of ourselves. The immensely painful hit I gave myself through my experience of the serious misstep I have taken at the time was evident throughout my ordeal. My entire being was shaken at its core. Yet, I was not once asked by my family members of mention above to let go of my suffering. Nor was I ever told my life to be mine, with or without mistakes of any degree or nature.
In his article, Columbine: Parents Of a Killer, David Brooks writes about an e-mail the father of one of the shooters sent to him: “[…] the striking thing about his note was that while acknowledging the horrible crime his son had committed, Tom was still fiercely loyal toward him.” The same sense of loyalty did not come to me from my family. And, my judgment lapse was nothing to compare to a murder in the slightest.
A friend also heard – from me – my mistaken life step in each and every one of its details. With my then most private literary reference from Sue Monk Kidd: “A worker bee weighs less than a flower petal, but she can fly with a load heavier than her. But she only lives four or five weeks. Sometimes not feeling is the only way you can survive.” – Thinking that I hadn’t been as open as needed be, I also decided to reveal to her my other secret Kidd quote: “Someone who thinks death is the scariest thing doesn’t know a thing about life (The Secret Life of Bees).”
I was yearning for her understanding of my internal pain, needing to lend her insight into my state of helplessness – in the same manner I had tried to do with the mentioned members of my family. While only negative judgments came my way from them, my friend made sure that I heard her one message only: This is your life and I want you to be happy with it. No matter what you did or will do, I love you. I am your friend and will be on your side regardless of how or why you blame yourself for anything at anytime. Giving me the courage to talk to our other shared dear friends, she enabled me a self-empowering exit out of my own imprisonment of fault, blame, self-blame, and negative self-judgment. Not a single one of my friends ever left the seriously weakened me to my vulnerable self in my time of severe despair. My generous-hearted friend in whom I confided first, thus, gave me a life-size present at a time when I needed it with great desperation: unconditional loyalty.
At this moment in time, I find myself having to try hard to remain the unquestioning believer I used to be whenever the subject came to the unrivaled value of the family construct. It doesn’t take me even the smallest effort, however, to voice my conviction with regard to the vital importance of friends. Jim Morrison is quoted to have said the following on the subject:“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.” I am one of those utmost lucky for having experienced and continuing to experience such precious gift of life from all my friends.
May the Thanksigiving holiday surround you with loved ones who stand by you in unconditional loyalty, celebrating your freedom to be yourself as you delight in theirs.