“When you face the past, all you will see is that which has gone before. . . .
Let this be your turning point.
Have done with it, and turn to face the future.”
– Jacqueline Winspear, Pardonable Lies –
What has gone before has brought us to where we are now in life’s journey. C.S. Lewis once beautifully described himself: “I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books.” Of course there was much more, and I’m sure not all of it was pleasant. Still, he chooses this description to define himself. It’s so sensory it creates a feeling of wonder and hints at a deep underlying gratitude. Lewis, at least in this description, made sure that the good and beautiful rose to the top.
“I am a product of . . . ” struck me as an invitation to complete the thought in my own way. Here’s the positive, the part that leaves me with a grand sense of wonder and gratitude: I’m a product of Kool-Ade tea parties shared with cousins sitting around the rim of an old tractor tire. I’m a product of waiting for my mom to pick me up or for my little sisters to finish with lessons or appointments (which gave me time to think and people-watch and notice my surroundings). I’m a product of the hum of evaporative coolers; the scent of gardenias; the search for snails in the dirt; ever-present Texas wind, hot and dry in the summer, frigid and cutting in the winter. I’m a product of bold, expansive sunsets; a community swimming pool divided by a high wall separating boys from girls; only three channels of television; and new interstate highways (and no seat belts in cars).
We are also products of our parents’ past – and to some extent their parents’ past. My mother and I were talking about how she was raised religiously, and she said that growing up in the 1930’s and ’40’s, you believed what the scholars and authorities said. You did not question what they preached from the pulpit, because they had been trained. They knew Scripture. “Who were we to question?” said Mother. And that filtered down into the way I was raised . . . except sometimes my dad questioned. I could see his logic, and . . . well, here I am today, a questioner.
Families have micro-cultures. Some are emotionally distant, rigidly religious like my family of origin. Some establish an environment of “be-the-victim, lay-the-blame.” Some are loud and lay-it-all-out-there. Some are secretive and in denial. Some are open and encouraging. There are as many variations as there are families. (Plus the family culture is malleable and not static.) No matter. Each of us has to play with the hand we’re dealt. (Metaphor courtesy of my card-playing family.)
What I see now is that where we were raised, and even the family we were raised in, isn’t necessarily where we grew up. Sometimes it takes a different locale to grow us up. And to be honest, we never really stop growing up. If we’re going the right direction, life will always be a size too big. And from time to time as we move that direction, we’d be wise to pause to inspect the fragments of our past, leave behind the undue weight we attached to them, and round off their sharp edges.
It’s an ongoing process, lightening the load, rounding the sharp edges. For one thing, life goes on, and occasionally we go through muck. For another thing, once we’ve had the experience, it’s a permanent part of us. I’m a product of a restrictive, judgmental church (even Christians in other denominations were going to hell); the early death of my favorite grandmother; and being misunderstood and under-informed. I’m revealing the milder ones. Some of the heavier experiences I’m not ready to reveal.
But at any point in the journey, we can rearrange the backpack of past experiences and lighten the load. We’ll never change those darker parts of our past, but they can’t hold us back unless we give them that power. So what defuses the power? What lightens the load?
We’ll look at that in my next post. Until then, I wish you well on this unmapped journey! (And, yeah, that’s me with the jam face.)
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Text and jam face photo © 2016 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
Other photos courtesy morguefile.com.