I always find these end of summer days difficult. There is the last spate of hot weather which I really dislike. My sweet husband, a high school teacher, has summers off and so these slow days of spending time together will be coming to an end soon. And probably most significant (more so than I used to give credit), the end of August and beginning of September bring both my father’s and mother’s birthdays. Having lost both of them, this time is always filled with a spectrum of feelings: grief, sorrow, anger, rage, gratitude, wonder. I am an only child, so I don’t have anyone to share this particular brand of sadness with. Certainly my wonderful husband and friends will be present with me to these feelings. But this sorrow is mine alone to truly experience. I imagine it is even the same with those who have siblings, a sense that your unique relationship to your own parents is gone. Or if you are estranged from those brothers or sisters, perhaps the sadness is magnified further. But this wondering isn’t about figuring out whose sorrow is greater and under what circumstances.
I have been watching some movies with my beloved in these last lazy days of summer. A chance to unwind from a time of working so hard. And I am discovering, as often happens, that seeing stories about families always brings up a wistfulness and longing in me. A desire for a broader set of connections to others with whom I share a blood connection. Even stories of dysfunctional families fill me with longing for the real aliveness of conflict and reconciliation.
A thought has been floating through my consciousness these last few days and I think it may finally be landing somewhere solid. What if my particular situation is precisely the place I was born into to do my unique work in the world? What if my family, with all of its dysfunctions and compulsions and gifts, that often leave me feeling stranded and alone at this time of year, is exactly the setting from which I can emerge with the wisdom I need.
I don’t mean to imply a kind of determinism to the universe. I cringe when I hear people say that “everything happens for a reason,” as if in those five words the vast destructive impulses of humanity and the great grief left in its wake can somehow be explained and undone. But I am also not writing this reflection about that either.
I am wondering, however, if perhaps our souls do get to make some kind of agreement before we’re born. This particular moment in history, this culture, this landscape, these parents and family members. Maybe this is the matrix of our most wondrous being. This is where our own most authentic selves are being birthed from. This set of challenges and conflicts are the ones that will wrest beauty from us, sometimes in painful upheaval, but hopefully more often in quiet wonder. Precisely what will emerge is not determined, but I am wondering if there is an imprint on each of our souls that takes its shapes out of this set of circumstances.
What if the father I had with all of his compulsions and addictions leads me to understand myself in ways I never could with a different father. What if this experience invites me deeper into compassion in ways that are uniquely my own?
I certainly have my share of life issues to wrestle with, as do each of you, and my wrestling is far from over. I have found in my life that the things I bump up against call forth a strength I didn’t know I had. Perhaps these “issues” are not to be overcome and left behind us, but entered into fully in such a way that they are transformed, and we are transformed in the process, into our most beautiful and wise selves. Perhaps the great wisdom of the universe is that our greatest struggles are also the place where we can emerge in wholeness and authenticity if we stop resisting. What if we stop trying to shake off the patterns and instead gaze deeply at them until we meet ourselves there and can embrace who we are.
I feel like this is something I have known all my life and somehow am only really just awakening to. As if another layer has been peeled back and revealed to me in my wondering.
© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts