You know how when someone pisses you off, like really bad, and suddenly, everyone else around you appears that much sweeter… and you find yourself immersed in a new found appreciation for the people you took for granted…
That’s where our family was a week ago after an unexpected, but predictable, and yet no less painful, drama, enacted by an extended family member with our oldest son.
In the brunt of this storm, we held on tightly to each other, and buoyed ourselves with compassion and connection and alliance.
Later that evening, my youngest came into my office, and draped himself over my shoulders. “Thank you,” he said.
“For what?” I asked, as I wrapped my arms around his.
“For you and dad,” he said. “For not bringing the pain of your childhoods into our family.”
I sighed, and suggested that he might feel differently by the time he’s an adult, and then I stood up to meet him in a full embrace.
Hours later, when his older brother came to my bedside and kissed my forehead goodnight, he echoed the same appreciation.
“Well done.” he said.
I looked up quizzically.
“You raised me without all that crap.”
Wait until you’re thirty and in therapy, I almost said, but then I paused, and took in his recognition, and said, Thank you, and then announced, as much to myself: “It was hard work!”
I went on to catalogue all the ways in which I’d cultivated consciousness from the time I was his age… Al-Anon, therapy, reading, writing, yoga, meditation. “It never ends,” I said. “Pass it on.”
He smiled and nodded, familiar with my expectations on this account.
As a family we hadn’t made it through this night alone. At the height of the pain at our kitchen table, I hit the pause button. I asked, “Can I call for a lifeline?” My son reluctantly agreed.
A half-hour later, he hung up the phone, at ease. He didn’t send that second email. We all breathed a sigh of relief. (I sent my sister a quick thank you.)
Robin lives on a private lake. It’s become a family refuge over the years. A place for gatherings and heart to hearts and silent communes with nature, and the occasional family meltdown at a holiday or reunion.
Before she bought the property, however, it had been an abandoned and young people gathered there to party. (Even some of our friends back in the day.) Robin still lets the fishermen come, but she’s long since turned away the four-wheelers and the campfires and the broken beer bottles. Even so, the lake and the beaches and the woods continued to unearth old pieces of trash or broken glass despite the seasons attending to what was left behind.
Which brings me to our parents.
And their legacy.
It was my father’s admonition that I choose a career based on the best contribution I could make–which led me to the pursuit of consciousness above all else.
And it was my mother’s devotion to consciousness–in daily practice–alongside her sobriety–which showed me how.
And it was their combined unconsciousness, and that of their parents before them, that taught me the consequence of forgoing it.
What I now find so absolutely amazing–beyond how the patterns of toxicity and pain perpetuate themselves into the next generation–is choice.
My sister might have decided against building beside that neglected lake. Instead she took trash bags on her walks, and we’ve reaped the benefit of her attention and perseverance.
On the morning after our family realized just how much we appreciated who we were together (and who were weren’t), I remember feeling stunned that I felt so crappy.
“What happened to all the love and clarity,” I moaned, as I dragged myself through the day–agitated with residue.
The answer came in the recollection of a title from a favorite read a few years back:
So I grabbed a bag, and got started.
An advance resource for toxicity:
This came in my inbox just as I hit save on this post!
How to clear your sinuses and your emotional baggage.