Yesterday, I wrote a gratitude post, to which this is a companion.
My aunt was an early positive influence in my life, when so much around me was negativity and despair. I still miss her, although she passed away over twenty years ago. She was the salt of the earth, as some describe that sort of honest, grounded, but very giving person. She helped to bring me out of my snobbishness about education, showing me that common sense and a good heart were often more important in navigating daily life. I thought of her as a grandmother, although in many ways, she was more a mother to me than my own mother. She taught me various kinds of needlework, wheedling the “fairy child” out of her hiding place to bask in her attention. I didn’t realize at the time, but she loved me, and in so doing, countered much of the negativity I felt about myself.
Although my mother still lives, she is absent from me. Her lifelong depression, which made her distant from me when I was small, has been subsumed into the raging bitterness that rules her now that she is in severe dementia. I regret that I didn’t listen more to her lessons on gardening, botanical names, and the occasional herbal remedy she remembered from her grandmother. That part of her brain, which she shared with me far too seldom when I was a child, is locked away. It is there in the frail, wasted body burning with anger, only speaking when there are words formed as weapons to shred the last remaining positive memories I have of her, but I can no longer find the path to it.
Despite present reality, I treasure the knowledge I gained from my mother, the fragile bridge that she managed to forge with me through her depression to pass on something of value to her. When I was about four, she gave me my own small garden, where I insisted I plant a piece of rosebush accidentally torn from a wild rose. My mother doubted that it would survive, but she helped me prepare the ground and watched me thrust the rosebush into the dirt, watering and watching. Despite the odds, that rosebush flourished, growing over ten feet up the side of a nearby tree, festooned with wild roses every summer. I feel a kinship with that rose, and I appreciate my mother letting me try, even while she was convinced I would fail.
Thanksgiving is a time to cherish those around us, but also to remember those who had an impact on us, in many ways making us who we are. Who are you thankful for, and why?
I’ve included a very cute video of a puppy playing with his favorite toy below this post on gratitude, above my ROW80 check-in. I hope you enjoy!
After writing about some of my family in the last post, I wanted to express my gratitude to some other family members: my aunt, my brother, and my sister. I am very grateful that my aunt found time to spend with her niece, and that my brother and sister have endeavored to stay connected with me despite the centrifugal force that characterizes my family. My mother’s sister was nine years older than my mother, with no intervening children; my mother always looked upon her as a mother, and I saw her more as a grandmother. A big believer in idle hands leading to devil’s work, my aunt taught me how to knit, crochet, embroider, and tat when I was very young. She was teaching my oldest sister, but I hung around like a pest and learned as well. She came to see us every month or so; we were always glad to see her, because she knew all sorts of stories and could bake the best pies and cookies I’d ever had.Even though she always made me keep my hands busy with knitting or tatting while we talked, I looked forward to her visits. I felt as though she could see me, when very few other grownups could. She despaired when I became a perpetual student, often shaking her head at my explanations of why I studied all these things. When I finally got married and settled down with my instant family, you would have thought she had been the matchmaker, she was so proud. And when we added more children, she was ecstatic that I had given her more children to love.Two days before my youngest son was born, Aunt Ellene felt ill, describing it somewhat like indigestion, but worse. The hospital gave her heartburn medication and sent her home. Three hours later, she passed away from a massive heart attack. My mother debated delaying her planned trip to help me with the new baby, but she came the day he came home from the hospital, missing her sister’s funeral, because that was what my aunt would have wanted. My son is nineteen now, and I still miss talking with Aunt Ellene over our knitting or embroidery.
My brother didn’t become a human being until I was 11 and he went to college. He actually corresponded with me; when he was home on vacation, he still acted like a jerk sometimes, but that behavior diminished through the years. He married into one of those huge families that gets together for birthdays and holidays and weddings; I have never asked him directly, but I suspect he felt the same kind of attraction/curiosity at the concept that I did when I first saw this unaccustomed behavior. No matter, he threw himself into it wholeheartedly, leaving my father to shake his head in consternation at how he and his wife travel cross country to see their kids and grandkids. I stand back in admiration.Last year, my brother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and had one lung removed. I had not realized until that point how much I thought my siblings were immortal, nor how hard it would hit me. He is still fighting, but it is a long path through the woods. He cannot fly anymore, but he and his wife pack up the car and still travel hundreds of miles to see their families. I am so grateful that he has tried valiantly to establish the sort of relationship with me that his wife has with her siblings. I am thankful to them both for showing me that it could work when I was still young enough to do the same for my own family.
One of my sisters is four years older than I am; reportedly she told my father that I was not the fun kind of baby doll, and would he please take me back. No luck, sorry! After this bumpy start, my sister and I started to bond her senior year in high school. I stopped being the “faery child” who did not seem connected to the world, and started being able to see her. During her college years, we shared hopes and dreams, despite long periods where one or the other of us would pull away to nurse our wounds in private–she, an abusive marriage; me, an early failed marriage, the abyss of graduate school. Even now, she calls me regularly; I promise to call her, and forget (I am a very bad sister). She and I are so different in so many of our world views, but we get each other, especially given our shared history. I am grateful that she continues to knock on my door and pull me out of my little world now and again.
While there is still a lot going on behind the curtain, I haven’t much to offer. I am uploading hundreds of photographs from the past several years, creating a pool to use in my blog from those and others that are not copyrighted or restricted. I am slowly shoehorning three blogs into one, and endeavoring to find my voice and my niche. The hardest part so far is to find what might be most interesting about my odd pockets of knowledge or interests.
The day job is heading into high gear, the rush before the holidays. I’m facing longer and longer days, but enjoy most of the work. I feel the tidal pull to get back to writing, which is only slightly sated by doing the day job writing. Soon!
If you can take a break from NaNo or your other projects, please go encourage some of the ROW80 folks here.
Today I am happy to present a guest post from Shan Jeniah, whom I met through ROW80, and had the pleasure of meeting IRL.
When I first accepted Elizabeth’s invitation to write a guest post, I had no idea what I wanted to write.
A week or three later, while I was driving somewhere, alone as I seldom am, the wordfeelingconcept flashed across my mind, with a vivid visualemotional awareness of Elizabeth, and I knew what I wanted to write about…
( I know that those invented words above aren’t real, and that they might even be gibberish, to some. But I’ve spent the last few years learning to distinguish the unique ways in which I and others experience life, thought, feelings, and the like, and, for me, this was an inspiration that flashed across a wide band of perceptions and awarenesses, all at once. Hence the words that describe what happened in my mind at that instant).
What was the word with all the diverse plumage?
Kinship, and a memory of the only time I physically met Elizabeth – sitting with her at the same table I sometimes share with my oldest, deepest friend.
Kinship, and the way the words she writes fall with soft power into my mind and my heart.
Kinship, and how we arrived at the cafe from different directions and at the same time.
Kinship, and the loveliness of her smile; kinship, and the way her eyes met mine, directly, but comfortably. Only an honest person can meet a virtual stranger’s gaze with openness and warmth.
It strikes me that I share that type of connection with most of the people in my life these days. We have conversations that range from the political to personal, erotic to profound. Sometimes, it’s nonsense chatter – but chatter that builds connection, and soothes spirits worn from too much depth.
Too often, kinship gets tangled up in the definition and connections of DNA – as though our kin are those to whom we are blood-related. And, maybe, then, people are wondering, as I did for many years, why they don’t feel a deep connection with their kin, why they seem to have so little in common that every meeting and interaction leaves them empty and cold – or worse, enraged or as though they had been attacked, perhaps shredded to their core.
When I think of kinship, I think not of those who share my genetic legacy, but those with whom I share connection based upon a mutually held belief that the relationship is beneficial, and who will accept that we are each as we are.
This interpretation of kinship was largely missing in my own upbringing, at least amongst my family of origin. There is a tendency there to look at life from the outside in – new acquisitions; rules and punishments; homes and cars; and outside accomplishments. The surfaces of things must look good, evoke a sense of success, hard work, and pride, and, hopefully, envy in others.
My own tendency to look at life from the inside out never quite fit, at the best of times, and, ultimately, it has led to the dissolution of several of these relationships. I tend to favor poetry, philosophy, and the pursuit of passion – the depths and breadths of life – rather than the surface. I love spelunking and scuba diving, mountains and canyons and forests and oceans and deserts, and pondering questions to which I will never learn the answers in this life.
Something about me led my mother, when I was 9, to refer to me as her “closet philosopher”. But I was closeted for a reason. Often, there were harsh consequences imposed on me simply for being who I was.
Sometimes, when people learn that I am estranged from most members of my immediate family, they express sadness or a suggestion that we seek family counseling to heal the relationships.
These people mean well, but they don’t understand.
My growth has been a lifelong deepening and widening, usually below the surface, where it is not easily seen. My perspective has shifted, and I will no longer hide the fact that I am not as I was, with them, or that my inclinations are very different than theirs.
We drive old cars, live in a humble home, shop more often at thrift stores and yard sales and on eBay than in department stores. We’ve chosen to allow our children to grow and learn in a natural way that focuses on autonomy and partnership rather than parental authority.
And, somewhere along the way, I have become a vital threat to these family members, because, despite living very differently, we are a happy family.
The surfaces they value obscure the wide and the deep of my life. I have become poison to them, and there can be no reconciliation, because to accept me as I am would force them to question their own choices in a way they are unwilling to do.
I have many kinships, all of them with people who have room in their worldview to accept that mine works for me, and consciousness enough not to assume that living a fulfilling life based on my own needs and desires equates to demeaning those who choose differently.
True kinship must come with mutual, unforced respect of the integrity of the other self; and its undeniable right to be just as it is.
I am fortunate to have so many souls in my life with whom I can relate in this way, and to be able to learn and grow from my kinship with them.
And I am thrilled to remember the ease, warmth, and honesty that I felt, that day with Elizabeth, and to have the promise of other meetings and interactions in the future.
May you all find your kindred, and treasure them as they treasure you…
Please feel free to comment here or on Shan’s blog here. For more about what you will find there, here is an excerpt from Shan’s About page:
I am myself. Like most other selves, I don’t condense well into a few simple lines of text. Like a schoolbook, these words can only trace the shape of me, hint at the light and shadows within.
There is far more to me than you will see here, on this page.
There are words that apply to me, although they don’t define me: writer, mother, lover, adventurer, wife, reader, seeker, learner, mentor, partner, intuitive, delver, playful spirit, ambassador, advocate, talker, listener. strewer of joy into the lives of others, singer, sensualist, awakening, passionate, faithful, spontaneous, strong, daring, caring, sharing, wide-eyed wanderer.