Households have work; and ideally, trust too.
Childhood: two people, my mother and her father, my grandfather. Both people were limited, rather than nourished, by being in marriages that never felt positive. However, when they sat down at the piano, an amazing transformation occurred. Music set them free to celebrate and share their love for life. They sparkled and bounced about like wild notes on the musical score. They were living their dreams and dreaming their lives. So, today, I am inspired by them to bring my love of music to people in hospitals and long-term care facilities. The moment I breath into a flute, I am free. And, I only wish to invite others into that place of freedom. 🏮
„In the end
it matters how
we treated each other.“
My parents separated when I was eight years old. Before that there was a lot of arguing, beating and that very intense feeling of loneliness. I was longing for stillness, peace, trust, connection and touch. That someone would just hold me so that I could feel sheltered and being safely at home.
Today I‘m working as a massage therapist and what I‘m doing with my hands and my energy is exactly what I was missing as a child. I‘m trying to give people a safe place even just for a little while where they can melt into their own body and their very personal experience while getting a massage.
Am I working through my own trauma? I don‘t know and somehow it doesn‘t really matter. To give and receive at the same time in a benevolent way is just a good thing to do in a world where there is so much conflict, egoism and loneliness.
So yes, it all belongs together: childhood, adulthood, maturity and what we are doing in the meantime.
Isn‘t life so very precious and isn‘t it so very important how we are treating each other?
The past week in the US has been recognized as National Library Week, and so I was prompted to think back to librarians and libraries from my childhood. I recall such kind and encouraging women who welcomed me into the quiet palace of books. I loved the smell of it, the silent book-lined lanes, the places I could go through books.
Part of being at the library and entering into books was as an escape from my home, which was filled with tension the times when my father was home. The other part was love of learning through reading, not only the books, but also the bulletin board on which were posted notices for even more events for learning.
The childhood experiences in the library prepared me to share my love of reading and libraries with my daughter, who now works at one. And in the past 2 years to realize and celebrate the quiet fierceness of librarians, who are working to defend our open access to information. Cheers!!
It is a hard thing, when the thing you are doing right now looks like a failed life (jobless, separated, depressed, selling your stuff for groceries, etc), to look back and ask yourself about preparation for your current state in childhood.
I was not prepared - despite all the love, tutoring, speech therapy, privilidge of middle-class white male cis-ness in upbringing.
I learned, painfully, you can do all the right things and still come up short.
(I have since found an inner sense of wholeness in accepting my trans identity and my neurodivergence. That's something, I guess. But, those were the parts I hid from myself and others to exist 'safely' as a child.)
what i did as a little girl was keep close watch: i kept close and quiet watch. and some pulse in me kept my closest eye on the margins, the raw edge, the place where those who don't belong were pushed. i populated those edges, made those my friends. i kept close watch on faces, saw the flinch of muscles near the eye, the grimace round the mouth. and now, still, i keep close watch. and i put that watching to words. i was a nurse who cared for children sick with cancer. and watch keeping was life-saving. it was there that my watching was most exercised. and now i put that watching to my life as a writer, a quiet writer who watches all of life so closely.
I love this question, and the connection offered every week in your beautiful messages. I’ve enjoyed reading a few of these entries so far, so for that: thank you.
As for me, reference to “the work [I] do now” gave me a moment of pause because my professional work is so varied (I run a multi-faceted consulting company for the arts that I won’t blather on about). But when I reflect on what really motivates me to do this work as well as my volunteer work—just as valuable and life-sustaining—the common thread is fostering belonging, providing invitation and access, and connecting aspiration with possibility.
When I reflect back on the experience from childhood that prepared me for this, it is unfortunately a painful one. I was a closeted gay kid in a rather volatile alcoholic home, and lost my very protective mother suddenly to illness early in my teens. I was the youngest of four kids, and despite having friends and being fairly active in my life, there was quite a crippling sense of isolation and loneliness that would ultimately lead me down my own path of addiction (I am clean and sober over a decade now, for what it’s worth). It was when I found the arts—music, theatre, poetry—that I started to feel a sense of connection to myself, which would eventually become a connection to others, and would lead me back to life.
It has been a long road over the decades, but I still catch myself tending that original wound—joyfully and in community now—in some fashion through the work that I’m doing, even if on its face it is not an obvious parallel. But as I keep thinking on this question, I keep coming back to a clearer idea of personal mission for myself: making people realize the potential their life can have by easing their sense of aloneness. It’s a tender thing to admit, and one that I could probably make more space to talk about in my daily life; so I thank you for the invitation you provided here, and everyone else for sharing such a personal part of your stories. Have a peaceful Sunday wherever you are.
(That was longer than I thought it would/should be, but clearly I needed to get it out!)
Your poetry, wisdom, and questions offer space and time in a rushed, claustrophobic world. Just, thank you, Pádraig.
As a person in recovery, I can trace a predictable arc through childhood trauma and how it shaped me...to hard lessons and reckonings thereafter...to all I'm seeing and offering now, in my present, ever-unfolding iteration. Inheritance holds madness. Also, medicine.
Trauma. Childhood trauma - abandonment- neglect- other hard things—- first, it prepared me to do the work of recovery because I sensed that getting free from addiction would help me to be the kind of mom who builds hearts rather than breaks them…. Five kids later -my oldest is almost 22 and the youngest will be 9 next week, my hunch was pretty much correct. AND then I’m also a therapist with a spiritual bend, doing soul care and clinical work and melding them as requested. I am finding that the farther I go in my own trauma work, the better I help those who seek my guidance and support in their own healing journeys. I guess my childhood and healing from the hardest parts formed me into a wounded healer. It’s quite a privilege, even though it’s difficult work.
The very first memory that came to mind when I read that question was of me, aged 5, and my dad sitting on the piano bench. When it was, finally, my turn to take piano lessons after years of being envious of my older brother and sister's lessons, my dad announced that he would learn along with me. I remember how small I felt sitting next to him. I remember how special I felt having him sit with me. I remember the laughter and connection. It didn't last long. My father was a busy man. And he joked that he couldn't keep up. I was always disappointed that he gave up so easily and I wondered if I had done something wrong by being "too good" at the piano. It was one of the rare times when I felt truly connected to him. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 3 years-old.
Connecting with people through music is what I do for a living. Through teaching, leading music at churches, performing. Maybe I am fulfilling that deep longing to feel connected to my father.
What a beautiful thoughtful question for everyone to ponder. I imagine the question means something very different to each one. Thank you. I have thought about this question many times in my 72 years of life. It really has been the understory of many of my life choices. I grew up in a ridged, emotionally restricted family with a history of sexual abuse and trauma. I decided early on that I wanted my life to be different. The desire to change the patterns of thought and behavior I learned as a child has been a beacon as I mothered 4 children, trained and worked as a psychotherapist, learned to be a friend, and partner. I am still wounded and continue to work toward understanding and healing. I am grateful for the privilege of aging. We are never done.
In 7th grade, in the basement of my NJ city parochial school, over 60 children sat in rows, walking home for lunch, then back again, all in the hands of one nun. There was only good behavior, obedient kids, rote learning. Every day, one half hour prior to dismissal, she, in her black serge habit with an enormous rosary attached, would read to us from a novel. It was magic, as was she. Most likely she, likely in her twenties, had no college education on how to manage a classroom, how to innovate learning, how to…She did, though, have the ability to transfer love.
My career choices stemmed from the actions of that lovely woman.
I grew up in a dysfunctional, abusive home. From an early age, I yearned to grow up and escape. But I also planned to raise my own children differently. In retrospect, I can see how fortunate I was that I somehow avoided substance abuse, and how my unconscious desire to break the toxic cycles within my family propelled me. My employed work has been varied and provided different levels of fulfillment but it’s always been just that--employment. My real work has been raising my 3 children to be kind, thoughtful, decent human beings who contribute to the community and world in a positive, productive way. They are all young adults now and I could not be more proud of them--and that little girl who vowed to escape.
I see a young girl who loved to climb trees, who was often the first pick in the neighborhood baseball pick-up games, who was athletic with no opportunity for team sports (this being the 50’s in northeastern Ohio), who was called a ‘tomboy’ because there was no word to describe a girl who loved nature and who had athletic ability. I see a girl with an alcoholic father, a brilliant mind, handsome and fun and funny and flawed. I see a girl who was called ‘too sensitive’ because she cried easily and felt others’ feelings deeply. I see that she grew into a woman who entered a helping profession and who spent 40 years as a social worker, who raised two sons and has maintained a loving, supportive marriage for more than 50 years. I see a woman who spends months at a time camping, takes long walks, loves to feed and watch the birds in her yard, who is outside at every opportunity and in retirement, is lucky to be wandering around in her/my own life.
Thank you as always Padraig. What remains with me and I think has helped shape my sense of freedom and independence is the experience of unconditional love in the face of disagreement. For this I have my parents to thank.
It is your word 'prepare' which strikes me Padraig. Nothing and everything in my childhood prepared me for the work I do now. I gave up a clergy career after 6 years to devote all I could to dignify my sons with a good life and future which is very uncertain. I come from a fractured, dispersed family, typical of many today, born in the 1950s into a diverse and ambitous, social and career climbing post-WWII New York suburban community. My household included an older brother undiagnosed with autism who had no school to go to until my mother started one for him at age 8. This prepared me and at the same time could never have prepared me when I gave birth to twin sons, both with significant developmental disabilities. There are layers upon layers of life stories here.....but it was my first voice teacher who taught me, "Everything is in the preparation". When singing, it's the way the breath is taken that prepares the phrase. There have been extraordinary personal connections, both wonderful and difficult along this hard path that still "prepare" me. But learning how to access and prepare my own breath in all its iterations as pause, awe or simply halt, allow and not control its intake and release, and carry that into these connections and my daily work has enabled me to endure, adapt and even flourish in the face of sacrifice. We all deserve to flourish. I'm still learning with every breath
My sister, who was 13 years older than me, was regardless of the age difference, my best friend. She was the one who understood me. She also struggled with mental health problems, and with weight, and with other things that made her the "hated one" and the "black sheep" in the family. I was the youngest, and was put on a pedestal in a way, but I also saw that the only movement from a pedestal is down. And I fell many, many times in awful ways through life. It was not just the unfairness of what I experienced as a child that helped lead me to my path, but also the conditional nature of love, my parents' love as well as that from others. Also, the judgement played a part, and perception.
I loved my sister with all my heart, but I heard my other sister describe her as a horrible person. I accepted my sister in the size she was, but heard my parents (and others) described her in awful ways. I loved my parents, but I was also hurt. When I talked with my sister during her dark times, I realized she was experiencing a world much different than my own, despite the people, geography, and furnishings being the same. The sensation is disorienting (and that is good). People share so much in relationship, but there is also much that is different. The spaces between hold the wonder, and the meeting ground.
There is so much more that brought me directly to the work I do now, but much springs from the disorienting experiences in my childhood.