I can’t even save myself. I make bad decisions just like the ones in the world – bombs and wars and the industrial revolution with chains of greed. But then I go on and, without even knowing any part of the story, want to save others. Carol Christ’s post yesterday on family brought me to tears and I instantly had to write a poem. First, it made me think of the memory of my own mother telling me to wait for my dad to get a belt and him saying it will hurt him more than it does me.
Except when I told my mom this, she said it never happened, so I don’t understand the vivid visions in my head that I have being little and hearing the words and being afraid, and why the sight of men’s work belts make me nauseous. I believe my mother. It doesn’t matter either way, I guess, now, in my opinion about my own experience. What I mean by that is I don’t want to do the work of being suspicious or thinking about what is at stake at the moment. I’m okay with shelving it. Let’s just say I believe and don’t feel like trying to explain those visions. I suppose everyone will have an opinion about my decision and perspective on this. Feel free to voice it if it makes you feel better.
But then what I cried about was more just the impetus of thinking back to childhood and my own lack. I wrote the poem below. I think about how deeply ingrained it is within women to want to save, to heal, to nourish, to protect and make things better, to not care that much who is to blame, but wanting to mother. Okay, I said ‘women’ and not ‘some women’ but that’s the way I want to write that sentence. Back to my initial sentence, I know the sentiment of saving others can be presumptuous. Not all mothers know best. I certainly don’t think I do, the mother that I am in a sense, not actually having children. If we all just take care of ourselves, perhaps everything will be okay. So I will continue to figure out how to do that and just leave my other instincts unresolved in reality by putting it in this poem to rest.
Back into my childhood,
crawl through low tunnels,
curl up like a fetus
to backflip through a vortex,
arriving in the musty,
canned corn and meatloaf,
nappy brown carpet and Sears catalogs
livingroom. Save you.
Momma, take more black & whites,
class or two at the college—
Dad would pay. You could submit
the photos to a local magazine,
get a part-time job as journalist:
you’re a good writer too.
Got that creative gene.
Daddy, you’re my favorite.
Working so hard at the auto shop.
Teach me about Chevrolets.
Always thought you were a doctor,
the way you could diagnose
an engine. Superhero too, chasing
after the Honda in the Bed, Bath & Beyond
parking lot. For some reason.
You both need saving now,
but I’m not sure I can give enough
pats on the back or praise
to boost your confidence, get you to move.
Back then, it was so raw.
Now you have God, the harsh one,
and that is my fault too.
I don’t know how to repair anything
after damage is done,
and that’s when it needs to happen.
As an adult I thought
you should have been different for me;
I guess I was still too young to see
that is not really how it works.
I was still able to grasp a key,
but is the lock too damaged for a good fit?
Or are you not the one trapped
because how can we really know if joy
lurks in the corners of a house not ours?
Why do we realize too late
the power of our could-be kindnesses,
words which lose ability to contain air,
an element needed to communicate
across generations and seas?
I love the support and freedom in the lyrics of ‘Promise’, the mother-daughter duet between Tori Amos and Natashya: “I promise not to say that you told me so. . . I’m getting too old. . . to judge you.” What wonderful sacred relationships between daughters and mothers there could be if we could find the dialogue of friendliness, friends, supporting and advising without agenda or control. Many of us discover relationships with others that are so positive, that are spiritual in that they give freedom while also love, prompting us to grow and then we wish for those elements in all our relationships.
I just hope for harmony and perhaps the best that I can hope for is that everyone can heal their own hurts. I’m still figuring out how to take care of myself and not depend on others, hoping one day to have the resources to help others in material and tangible ways. My parents are still alive, and I want them to live their best lives. But is that just a distraction from figuring out my own situation (basically figuring out what I should do or where I should go next)? The feelings surrounding our relationship to our families can be complicated. I would like to hear from you who also have complicated feelings about and relationships with children or parents. How do you create healing spaces and paths forward?
Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland.