Learning from the Past to Connect with the Present

My parents divorced when I was two years old.  That is not unique.  Plenty of parents divorce.  But this was 1960.  My mom and her new husband JD put my sister and I in the back of the family Buick and headed north, away from Texas toward my mother’s parent’s home in Pennsylvania.

I never saw my biological father again.  It was as if he never existed, and I was too young to know any different.  In fact, until I was twelve years old I believed JD was my real dad.  I overheard a private conversation between my Mom and JD and discovered the truth.  To avoid punishment, because I shouldn’t have been listening, I kept the discovery to myself.  I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t confront or throw a tantrum.

But I did what I think most twelve-year-old girls would do – I fantasized about meeting the man whom I was part of one day and calling him ‘Dad’. I didn’t know the circumstances of his divorce from my mother. I didn’t know he was prone to violence.  And I didn’t know I was too late and that a woman he had pushed too far had picked up a gun and shot him three times in the back.

When I was sitting at my mother’s kitchen table this past September I asked to see a photo of my dad.  She looked at me, sighed then walked back to the end of her double-wide trailer and retrieved three thick scrapbooks.  Over the next four hours I looked at images burnished by time of people I never met but somehow felt connected to.  I searched faces hoping to find someone who looked like me.  Maybe I had Annie Barber’s nose; or maybe my blue eyes came from a cousin in Colorado. Mom told me about their talents “he was a musician”  “she loved to paint”  “your Great Aunt Mimm was a real cut up” and then, when we reached the third photo album, “here’s your father.”

She handed me a black and white photo about the size of a matchbox.  A man wearing flannel pajamas holds a tiny baby to his chest.  The baby is me.  There’s a small Christmas tree standing on a table behind him, and evidence of torn wrapping paper.  I was born in November.  I am one month old.

My reaction caught my mother and I by surprise.  I did not inherit my mother’s talent for stoic rationalization.  I began to sob.

“What are you crying about?” she asked.

I could not stop looking at the photograph.

“I’m trying to figure out where I fit in.”  I took a breath and sucked back my tears.  “I don’t know where I fit.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

Of course she didn’t.  This was something I had to discover for myself.

I continued to examine the image.  I searched his dark eyes for any sign of anger.  I examined the angle of his head – did he seem annoyed?  And then I looked at his hands.  His huge hands cradled me carefully.  In that moment, as the click of the shutter captured darkness and light, my father loved me.

So often in our Yoga practice we are asked to ‘stay present’.  We’re told to not venture into a past we can do nothing about and cautioned against veering into a future we can’t predict.  But if we don’t understand how our past has shaped us it becomes more difficult to understand the choices we make in the present.

In order to be fully grounded and engaged with our authentic self, we must keep a connection with our past.

How has your past shaped your present?  How does your past influence how you feel about your future?