my birthday tributes

June 8, 2017. My 65th birthday. As humans reckon time, an important historical, social, and personal benchmark.

I am in a contemplative, and, in part, melancholy mood.

Yes, I am happy (not a word, given my intense early-in-life-and-unto-this-day-awareness of an inner shadowy specter of sadness, I oft employ) to be alive at this time in this world with, all things told, a preponderance of blessed memories, present contentment, and future hopes.

Yet, thinking of my immediate family, I ponder being an orphan and wonder why, beyond the reality of my being the youngest of the four, I am alive, whilst they are not.

WRA 1976

My brother Wayne. Between the two of us, the finer human being. Daily he abides with me in the harrowing (sorrowing) absence of his presence and the hallowing (sanctifying) presence of his absence. I love you, Wayne. Because of you, I have a resident, resonant sense of my better self.

Lolita & William c 1940My father, William, and my mother, Lolita. It took quite the while for me, well into my forties, to see through the veil of my childhood and adolescent disappointments, ever looming, actual and imagined, as haunting reminiscences of the deprivations of my want and need, to behold and honor how rich and real was your love for me. I love you, Dad. I love you, Momma. Because of you, I am.

“you and I…from blame to responsibility” – a personal reflection on human behavior, part 5

A companion development of my moving from selfishness (now, less of the time) to selflessness (now, more of the time) involved my taking responsibility for my thoughts and feelings, my intentions and actions, in a word, for my responses to life. During much of my adolescent and (though I hate to admit it, honesty compels the confession) through my early adult years, I was fond (well, not fond, but, at the least, favored) blaming others.

During my periodic fits of self-pity about my shortcomings and failures, my parents were a prime target of my attempts to negate my accountability. Words of rebuke silently resounded in my mind (for rarely would I speak aloud, save in the privacy of my solitude): “You made me this way…” “If you hadn’t done (this or that negative thing), I wouldn’t have turned out this way” or “If you had done (this or that positive thing), I would be better!”

When that didn’t serve to alleviate my guilt for what I’d done that I ought not have done and what I’d not done that I ought to have done (and my shame for being one who did things he ought not and didn’t do things he ought), I always could aim my blame at that ubiquitous and uncontrollable trio of circumstance, chance, and change.

When that didn’t work, there always was God (whose omnipresent eternality made for an ever-available scapegoat!). In moments of greatest grief, I’d cry: If God is all-powerful, then God, allowing evil, can’t be good and if God is good, desiring the welfare of all, then God, unwilling or unable to restrain evil, can’t be God.[1] (Yet, in railing at the heavens for the existence of evil, thus, raising theodicy’s age-old question and critique, at least I was focusing less on my personal worries and woes and more on the world’s sufferings amidst natural calamities of earthquake and tempest, plague and famine and the human-manufactured horrors of war, racism, and the like.)

Over (looking back, Lord, have mercy, it took a long) time, I now daily exercise a useful, faithful ability (behavioral muscle!). In the words of the trite phrase, I “know where others and I begin and end.” In the light of this self-differentiation, I readily can distinguish my responsibilities (and my abilities and liabilities) from those of others. Hence, I am less susceptible to falling prey to the dual temptations of the threat of tyranny in becoming an object, a victim of the unhealthy, unhelpful behaviors of others and the sense of superiority in taking charge of the happiness of others.

More to come…

 

Footnote:

[1] A paraphrase of the observation of the character Nickles in Archibald MacLeish’s modern retelling of the biblical Book of Job, J.B.: A Play in Verse (1958).

emancipation – a son’s reflection on his mother’s death

There are some things, discerned through my experience as a pastor, for years having paid attention to what people have told me about themselves, and as a person, for longer paying attention to what I’ve told myself about me, I’ve come to believe are true.

There are no perfect parents. (“Perfect” meaning to intuit and respond to every desire and need of children always in ways most fitting for individual development and fulfillment.)

There are no perfect children. (“Perfect” meaning to receive what is offered, both praise and discipline, with the openness of understanding, the obedience of acceptance.)

There are no children who arrive at adulthood (though, yes, one hopes, bearing many gifts and graces bestowed during formative years) without “holes in the soul” – those valleys of unfilled desire and need, things one wishes to have received, but were not, which, paradoxically, sometimes can appear as hills, mountains of things one did receive that one wishes not to have been given. All of which means that children as adults need come to terms with themselves – the fruits and failings, the lights and shadows of others, and how it all manifests itself in their being and living.

I am reminded of words of the song, You Are Not Alone, from Stephen Sondheim’s imaginative musical, Into the Woods, based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales:

People make mistakes,
Fathers,
Mothers.
People make mistakes…
Everybody makes one another’s terrible mistakes…
You decide what’s right.
You decide what’s good.

All of this comes to mind and heart two days after the death of my blessed mother Lolita. In my blog post, my Momma: a portrait of a lady – a personal reflection on the occasion of her death, I spoke of her as “soft-spoken and self-effacing…(with a) penchant for diffidence.” The blessing of my mother’s reticence was her genuine care for others. Truly, she was a practitioner of the adage that unless you can say something kind, please refrain from speaking. However, the blight of her quietude, being conflict-averse, was that she did not intervene to protect my brother and me from our father’s angry, at times, alcohol-fueled outbursts. O’er the years, I have come to understand my father’s melancholia and outrage rooted in his lack of vocational, indeed, life’s opportunities as an African American man of Cuban heritage born in 20th century’s first decade. Still, his manner of addressing his inner anguish left severe scars on my psyche, deepened by what I considered to be my mother’s silent collusion.

For much of my life, I have held in conscious awareness my bitterness about my upbringing and its sour fruit – my mistrust and, at times, my aversion to closeness with others. I also have labored long to overcome my angst, which has involved the discovery (and rediscoveries) that I cannot fill the holes in my soul with more work, more good deeds, more glasses of wine, more plates of food, or any other excesses indulged in the vain attempts to anesthetize my inner pain. I have learned to be wide-eyed, open-hearted, open-handed, that is to say, honest with myself so to confess: With help and, yes, hurt along the way, I, without blaming others, claim that I am who I am and will become who I will be.

Still, at the moment of my mother’s dying, I experienced emancipation. At her bedside, without conscious thought, I began to recite the prayers At Time of Death of my Episcopal Church tradition, sometimes referred to as Last Rites, which end:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, I commend your servant Lolita. Acknowledge, I humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

Praying for her soul to be received, I had to let her go, which included forsaking all resentment. In that instant, forgiving her of everything, I sensed liberation from all past pain. The memory of my bitterness remains, but its sting, even a tingling ache is no more.

How can this be? I’m not sure. I must reflect at length and at depth. Will it last? I don’t know. I will discern as I go. What I, right now, do know is that I feel…I am free.