Some may be wondering why the title, "Legacy of Pain." Certainly, this does not refer to the loving legacy of my dearly departed brother Vinny. Of whose legacy am I speaking? Sadly, it is that of my parents. I nonetheless try very hard to achieve some understanding - not just assign blame - as I contemplate their roles as "guardians of the spirit" in raising their children.
Over time it has become abundantly clear that each of my parents was burdened with substantial mental and emotional maladies. Only this can explain the legacy of pain inflicted upon their children. The alternative is to condemn them as willful abusers, which I know in my heart would be unfair. The crude reality, however, is that abuse is quite rightly the appropriate depiction of so much of what we endured. And because they were each in their own way so very religious, I drew the understandably inescapable conclusion that God, religious faith and superstition in general were all very unhealthy ideals to aspire to. If this was where commitment to God leads one, I wanted no part of it.
My parents lives speak to a legacy of pain endured as well as imposed. My ongoing enlightenment regarding the issues of mental illness, mental health hygiene and emotional well-being has allowed me to achieve and extend forgiveness toward my parents for their misdeeds. The illnesses they themselves no doubt were afflicted with mitigate the moral culpability they own for their shortcomings.
The most profound repercussion of this legacy of pain has been the near incapacitation of its victims (we sons and daughters) with regard to accepting ourselves, accepting others, negotiating conflict and achieving intimacy in our lives. In a sad sort of irony, some of us have come to accept these limitations as the price of admission to the theater of life. But I want a refund. A full life is not without these qualities. Moreover, I would like to free myself from this burden of righteousness we siblings seem to share. Another useless gift from the emotional estate of our parents.
To be frank about it, I feel as though my siblings are laying a thousand dollars down on a near-sure thing: my mother never getting the help she needs and dying having never experienced the joy of giving or receiving love from her family the entire duration of her golden years. Whereas, I am placing two dollars down on a thousand-to-one long shot: she accepts her mental health as frail and gets the professional care she so desperately needs. I submit the payoff on my wager - here at the emotional racetrack of life - is infinitely more rewarding.
Like the unfortunate young victim who has been sexually assaulted but is too afraid to report the incident to police or seek the help of a therapist, some people cannot accept that a greater good is achieved when we are willing to pay the price for healing in the form of confronting, with a purpose, some of what transpired. It is the surest way to get beyond it. Avoiding this reality is downright unhealthy.
One thing I thought I might do to deal with my anger over this week's events was to see my therapist ahead of schedule. Fortunately, she found a time to work me in, and I was able to get centered and achieve some perspective. On the down side, I think I made the mistake of speaking from my anger in one or two phone conversations and emails with siblings prior to seeing my counselor. Specifically, I was quite unforgiving toward my sister for the way she handled things at Vinny's service. I am having much difficulty rationalizing her actions, and yet I still feel called to forgiveness. At the moment, I am an abject failure in this regard.
The big-picture view of these events speaks to the level of discrimination and intolerance still aimed at those of us who dare to reject generations of religiosity. We atheists remain quite marginalized in our societies as well as within our families. Though most people hesitate to express overt hostility with their words, their actions nonetheless reveal much about their true feelings. Ironically, had I spoken my words of tribute to Vinny at his service, those who were aware of my skepticism would have been disappointed had they been anticipating anything offensive, while those who were not would have noticed nothing but the love that inspired my words.
It hurts being possessed of so much ambivalence regarding my parents, but feelings have no right or wrong. They are valid because they exist. Our quest to understand them, however, is most certainly a noble endeavor.
Flawed though my own legacy will no doubt be, I can still think of nothing more important than passing on to my daughter the desire to succeed at this very quest for understanding. It has given me - purpose.
3 years ago