Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A childless parent's retrospective

Now that I'm into my 30s, I've been noticing a shift in the relational dynamic with both my mother and father.  When did I ever get the idea that at a certain point I would know all the things I would need to know about them?  Somehow I convinced myself that there is never anything more to them than what has already been disclosed, and that they are, in fact, done changing as people.  How I would despair if someone cast me with such rigidity!  Yet I am guilty of that very thing.

I recently looked back through my own scrapbooks, ones that I kept and ones that my mother kept before I took over as a teenager.  I read some of my old papers, looked at old photos, and it all seemed surreal.  Is that person, staring at me, wearing diapers and a pair of her mom's sunglasses drinking her bottle at an attitude replete with sass... me? Did I really write a letter in 4th grade to the school board trying to dissuade them from taking "The Giver" off of the curriculum? There's no way.

Why is it so hard to believe that person could be me?  Perhaps because when I look back at those pictures, I can remember what I was thinking about at certain points in my life.  What really struck me is that my thoughts were so simple.  And the great distance between that simplicity and where I am in my thoughts now seems impossible to traverse in anything less than cataclysmic eons, much less my 30-odd years of life.  I never second guessed myself so much when I was younger.  Maybe on math problems, but never in life decisions.  It's hard to believe, with the noise that runs constantly through my head now, that I could have had anything to do with the person I'm looking at in a picture.  I certainly didn't care so much about what people thought of me before about 5th grade.  Take some of my fashion choices: my standard summer uniform was rolled jean shorts and a supremely oversized t-shirt which had an 80% possibility of being handed down to me by, or stolen from, my older brother.  It's hard to believe there was ever a time I would have eagerly engaged people looking so absurd, without thinking anything of it.  Another fashion tip from fourth grade Karla: If you don't have a crimping iron, braid sections of your hair when wet, then when they dry, take them out and brush them.  End result: Bride of Frankenstein's blonde cousin.  Your crush in the other class across the hall will assuredly throw roses at your feet at recess and write sonnets about you on the bathroom wall.

Guileless, innocent, Eden pre-fig leaves.  It was sweet to look back on those things, a good reminder, but difficult too.  What happened in my life and in my mind to get so tangled up in myself.  And not just myself but the self I broadcast to the world.  It is in that small shift from thinking not about what is actually in me, but solely what is or might be received by other people, I think that is where I started to get lost.  Lord, that I would find my way again.

 Lately it has become very important to me to go through old photos and papers not just of mine, but of my parents.   The reasons for this on a surface level are pretty clear: they are older, there is a lot of stuff, I want to know what's there and how much, what it covers, etc.  But there's something deeper too.  There is a vast amount of material and I am slowly starting to realize just how big a chunk I've bitten off.  In true modern form, I've committed to nothing, making only vague overtures of my intended project.  Now, if never realized, this proposed categorization and organization of our history contained in their house, will not disappoint anyone.  But I thirst to know and uncover.  I've been reading through the lecture notes of a course my mom once taught and absolutely astounded at the clarity, depth, and truth of her teaching.  I am really proud of my mom! It's hard enough to type that, much less to say it to her.

So why all this going back? Why this desire to know more?  I think the nature of my love for my parents is changing.  Scratch that, it's even more fundamental.  It's the nature of love changing me.  As my understanding of love grows, it's bringing me out of myself.  I am understanding some of the things they did for me when I was younger in a new way.  And I also understand now that what felt like was being done TO me was being done FOR me.  It didn't always work the way they wanted it to, however.  We've, all three of us, damaged one another probably in more ways than we know.  We ourselves are broken, and that is also part of our nature.  Ours is not a pre-fig leaf reality.  We have eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The further I descended into my self-constructed isolation, the more I felt the distance from that little ball of energy that my mom said wouldn't let her sleep for the entirety of 1983.  I'm sure there are still some things that are the same now as they were then.  But I've lost track of those inalienable truths and in the process lost my true self.  Here is something true: I am deeply, mysteriously, eternally loved.  So are my parents.  So is everyone.  That is the foundation on which to build, and to discover.  Separation from that love, and belief in that love, separates us from the truth about ourselves.  Living from that "false self" place causes entanglements, shame, fear, regret.  I am never a better friend, daughter, sister, or colleague than when I am living from the nature of this mysterious and vast love, so freely bestowed on me.  And I am never at my worst more than when I live apart from it.

Going back and looking at the body of work my parents have recorded, and what they took the time to record about me, for me, I don't think I've ever looked at it before as I do now.  Why do we want to remember these moments? I laughed out loud several times reading my mom's papers because she is FUNNY, and SMART.  How did I miss that growing up? I went and read some of my dad's letters to me when he was stationed in Saudi Arabia.  He was lonely, missing us, and doing a tough job of providing for a family the best way he knew how.  How did I overlook his sacrifices? And me. Looking at myself before I cared about outward projection, the necessity of people thinking I was perfect and having to uphold that, no matter how true the opposite was.  The smiles in photos that didn't wonder about being too cheesy, or if the lighting made me look washed out, or if the angle made me look chunky.  I just smiled because that's what you do when you're having fun, or laughing, or experiencing joy.  How did I lose that joy?

It's good to have those questions come up, but not to obsess about the answers to them because what matters now is moving forward from that knowledge and gratitude, and being fully present in the moments ahead.  Those thrilling, heartbreaking, terrifying, ecstatic moments that God blesses us with, let's all walk into them with all of our senses, all of our faculties, all of our souls, open wide to what He has for us in them.  

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