Peace and Reconciliation

images-2I landed in Ireland around the same time that peace and reconciliation was breaking out. It was a wonderful time. It coincided with the Celtic Tiger – that period of great economic growth – and people were happy. There seemed to be more space in everyone’s lives. Yoga classes and wellness centers were popping up like the thorny yellow gorse on the Donegal hills in springtime. It seemed everyone was in training to become a massage therapist or reflexologist, myself included. All of this happened in part because the air was temporarily cleared of anger and hate. It was a little easier for hearts to love and for hands to reach out.

Peace and reconciliation can be a far reaching movement that builds communities, as it was in Ireland twenty years ago. It can also be something that we struggle with on our own.

My mother is an elderly woman with whom I did not speak during my entire decade in Donegal. From 1994 until 2010 we were completely and, I was certain, irrevocably estranged. This is something of which I am not proud. As someone who has worked most of her adult life to walk a yogic path, this shames me.

When I did, finally, reach out it was because I believed I was strong enough to be a good child. But despite my dutiful phone calls and yearly visits, the pain I still feel from the real and imagined wounds of my youth prevent me from being the woman I want to be – the daughter all mothers hope for.

Maybe the peace and reconciliation I need in order to shape a compassionate relationship with my mother is, like yoga, a practice. What holds my heart back from giving her the love she craves is this: My mother is a racist who glues herself to Fox news. She does not seem capable of finding the good in people. The good in the world. She is also an elderly woman who lives alone and depends upon social assistance to keep her in the crusty single-wide trailer she has lived in since I left for college over forty years ago.

Two days ago the rent she pays for the land on which her trailer rests was increased by twenty-eight dollars and she is terrified of losing her home.

I will, of course, help her. I will help her because I do believe that people are good. I believe there is good in the world. And I’ll help her because I know that there is no peace without reconciliation.


The Strike

pall-mall_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqzyQdcCpPOOS38rrQ0wuMX6qLSLVZhK3e2pU3liKIgNIIsn’t it funny how just when we are beginning to believe that our feelings or thoughts will remain the same forever, they change like the direction of the wind? How does that happen? Is it the food we eat? An unexpected smile from a stranger? A happy memory that floats to the surface or a dream that sweetens and soothes our subconscious? Maybe it’s the perfect yoga practice or a soothing few moments of quiet meditation.

All I know is that there has been a welcome shift. I have too many good things piled on my plate to spend time in the stinky muck of overcooked wallow.

I didn’t find it easy to write my last post’s pity fest. To be honest, I haven’t found writing easy at all. The world is overwhelmed and overwhelming. Stepping away from a writing practice was my way of holding space for others to tell more important stories.

But all stories are important. Even the small stories because they are the stories that bring us together. They are the stories we’ve all experienced.

When I was a girl – I may have still been in elementary school – my mother decided to go on strike. She set up camp on the orange Levitt Brothers sofa in our living room with our black and white television console, the afghan my great aunt had crocheted and the coffee table pulled close. My mother piled the coffee table high with supplies including several good novels, a few packs of Pall Malls, a ceramic ash tray and her ever-present plastic mug of black percolated coffee. She was never without that mug. It was white with a turquoise rim. The inside of the mug was stained dirty brown by endless cups of Maxwell House and so, from time to time, she would scrub it clean with Ajax.

My mother’s strike lasted at least a week and possibly two. During this time she refused to cook or clean.

My sister and I were old enough to walk ourselves to the bus stop in the morning and to heat up a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup at night and in all honesty our mother probably roused herself enough to make certain her children remained alive. It’s possible, too, that Margaret and I enjoyed the brief respite from rules and order.

What I remember most about my mother’s strike is coming home from school in the afternoon and seeing her stretched out on the couch watching Mike Douglas.

I also remember the cold silence that rose above the sound of the television and that made me walk through the house as though I was walking on shards of shattered ice.

As a girl I didn’t understand the anger between my parents or why my mother might want to teach us the lesson of what our lives might be like without her. But now, looking back, I think she believed there was no outlet for her unhappiness and no cure for her invisibility except for that orange Levitt Brothers sofa, her stack of books, a lukewarm cup of coffee to go along with her smoldering Pall Mall and Mike Douglas in the afternoon.

This is the point in the story where I am supposed to describe the lesson we all learned from my mother’s strike. The thing is, the strike ended and nobody noticed. I came home from school on a sticky afternoon and my mother was in the kitchen, once again resigned to standing over the stove with a spoon in one hand and cigarette in the other, exhaling a cloud of grey over the evening’s meal.

We didn’t know then what we know now. Maybe that is the lesson.

 

 


Maybe I Have His Smile

Today I decided I wasn’t a writer.  I was done.  Not up to it.  Why did I want to write anyway?  Didn’t all that time spent jotting down ideas, taking notes and blogging simply distract me from my “true” calling?  Didn’t it take away from the time I could be practicing Yoga, nurturing a tenuous connection to what might be the beginning of a social life, or watching So You Think You Can Dance?  Besides, the plastic bins of research gathering dust in my kitchen took up too much floor space in my already cramped studio.  I’d be better off taking them down to my storage locker.

Nope.  I was done.  Finished.  Finito.

And then this happened:

I went back to the family photographs my mother gave me when I visited her last September.  Only a few include images of the father I never met. I have no idea if I walk like him or if I have his sense of humor.  I won’t find out if I’m impatient because he was, or if he liked spicy food.  But maybe if I looked hard enough I could see something in his face.  Tonight I needed to be convinced he and I shared something.  I held the photographs close and then, with my face just inches away from the mirror, I searched my eyes, my cheeks, my nose.  Like almost every other middle-aged woman, all I could see was my mother looking back at me.  I stared at the photographs and back again at my reflection.  I compared his image to my mom’s and then me until finally I could see it.  There it was.  His smile.  I’m pretty certain I have a bit of his smile.

As I slipped the photos back into the treasure box I keep them in, I thought about the protagonist in the manuscript taking up space on my kitchen floor.  She’s just sixteen, but she’s missing a dad, too.  I wondered what she might feel, how she might react, seeing her father for the first time.

I opened my laptop and took a few pages of notes for a manuscript I haven’t touched for three months.

It turns out maybe I am a writer after all.