Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Stars Began to Burn

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice ---
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.
--Mary Oliver

It would be so nice to be able to write poetry that captures exactly how I feel about something. Luckily, since I'm not a poet, there are people like Mary Oliver. I've returned to this poem many times in my life. I suppose it means something different each time but in many ways, it's always the same. I lose my own voice. I get lost in the critical, ancient voices of my parents - or in most cases, I feel the void of any soothing voice at all.

The strength required to pull away from old patterns and dynamics sometimes feels impossible to muster. In my current journey, I'm feeling myself budge a little. I'm beginning to be able to soothe myself more easily. I'm learning how I rely far too much on others to find my own self-worth, how I am so threatened when I'm not the most important person in someone else's life 100% of the time. I had the right to hope for that when I was an infant and young child but as an adult, it's not reasonable to expect that kind of primacy from others. The time has passed. This may seem like common sense to many people but to me, I was driven by pure, primal need.

As a child, I learned that love was limited. I learned two options about love from a parent: the first, that the parent can focus only on themselves while you provide them with reassurance that they're all right or bear their rage and bitterness when they feel they aren't; the second, that the parent can love no one at all because they are so dead inside. I learned that love was conditional; that in order to deserve it I was not to have any inconvenient needs, much less express them. I learned to only expect crumbs and that even those crumbs would be spread around so I had to choose between greedily grabbing the chance crumb myself or stepping aside so someone else who may have needed it more could have it. Sometimes I took everything I could get and didn't care about anyone else (and still do at times, probably). It was never satisfying and still isn't because crumbs are never filling, they're only reminders of the constant hunger pangs. Other times, wracked with guilt for my selfishness, I would starve myself of even the crumbs for days and months in penance, noting how unworthy I was anyway. I've long understood the wounds that created these dynamics in my parents and even forgiven them to some extent. Decades later, though, I've still let myself believe this cycle was the only option.

In Trapped in the Mirror, Elan Golomb says, "Many children of narcissists go into the psychological helping professions, being well schooled to be sensitive to the needs of others." Got me pegged. Mary Oliver may not have had a narcissistic parent but her poem could be the anthem for those of us who did. I've known for some time what I need to do. For years, I've heard the voices asking to be mended and knew I couldn't keep mending, couldn't keep pushing my own needs away in the service of someone else's or in an attempt to deserve love.

Finally, finally I'm resisting the pull at my ankles to stay in that same old pattern. I can almost taste the freedom from self-loathing and self-denial. These horrible feelings require a certain amount of self-absorption. I'm so ready to let all three go. I'm so ready to trust that there are people who have enough love to share, that love is limitless, that there is enough for more than one person and that I am deserving of it. I'm so ready to stop putting myself in the victim role. I'm starting to trust that I, too, will see the stars burn through the clouds and will have my own voice to keep me company, even if I end up traveling that road alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment