As children we find reality in false opposites. To a child’s mind, dog is the opposite of cat. Mom is the opposite of Dad, and brother is the opposite of sister. We also think that grown-ups know everything − that because they answer our questions, we assume they hold the answer to every question. We endow them with complete information.
Those definitions make sense at young ages. In fact, they are vital to our sense of security.
The problem is that those definitions stay with us. Most of us become grown-ups who unconsciously believe that our parents are not human, but one of two opposites − a god or a shell of a being. That happens when we can’t untangle their very human flaws and fears. Like a child does, we take responsibility. Whatever they feel must be our fault. Whatever they did in some way we were the cause. Will we remember that?
I was 26 when my mom died. I was 27, when I first began to see her as a woman, not my mother. It took her death for the words and roles, daughter, mother, to move out of the way so that I could see the person. Things that I thought she thought about me, things that I thought were my failings, I finally realized were really her human, natural, oh so forgivable, responses to losing a baby. I had constructed to many ideas on a child’s interpretations of her actions, and once those roles were forged, we both thought we knew. We didn’t.
Parents are people. Children can’t see that. It’s true the other way as well.
Forgiveness. Compassion. Distance. Seeing.
If only we could shed our roles and our histories to meet again with the generosity we give to strangers.
−me strauss Letting me be