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 with a deepened 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, emotional abuse, acted out by an extended family member on our oldest son.
In the brunt of this storm, we held onto each other tightly 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 childhood 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, he kissed my forehead and 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 instead said, Thank you, and then I announced, as much to him as myself: It was really hard work.
I went on to catalog all the ways in which I’d cultivated consciousness from the time I was his age:
“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 the night of the assault alone. At the height of the pain, I hit the pause button and 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 message.)
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 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 their campfires and 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 of 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 illustrated 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 as a result, 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 book a few years back:
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
So I grabbed a bag, and got started.
(See posts I & II: Loved Ones: a meditation on toxicity;
and A meditation on toxicity, Part II.)
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.