BEING OF SERVICE: Compassion in Action

“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and the angels know of us.”     Thomas Paine


I don’t know about others, but I know what it means to have a “reputation.” That’s what we called it in high school when a girl was thought to be sexually active. Never mind if it was true or not. I was one of those girls and I can tell you, it is really weird dealing with the product of empty gossip, or what was described in law school as arguing facts not in evidence. What people say about us often is the result of idle conversation and gossip. Even people who know nothing about you will talk. Whatever “they” might say, it has nothing to do with what we know of ourselves.

BEING OF SERVICE: Compassion in Action

After the death of Thomas Paine in New York City on June 8, 1809 the newspapers read: “He had lived long, did some good and much harm,” which time judged to be an unworthy epitaph. He left a tremendous philosophical legacy, but in his day he was vilified for a few mistakes.

thomas-paine

When we mean to be of service, whether we get a reputation for helpfulness or for failing to help often has nothing to do with what really happens. This is the legacy of many who are of service. You may not be known for what you do — do it anyway!

Garden Path

While there is no need to hide the nature of what we do, as some people want to do for religious reasons,  if we are looking to become “known” through acts of service, we could well ask ourselves, “What service is there really for those being served?”

In any case, we can’t control what others say about us anyway. Finding the true joy of self-expression in service is it’s own end. When we serve we share the opportunity to express what is divine, or best, within us–and with those with whom we share the experience. Nobody else really needs to know. We can’t prove we are good people. It isn’t our purpose and trying to prove how “good” we are only points to our doubts about ourselves.

Remember, it is your own character that is among your riches, for you are divinely made, and no matter what “reputation” you might enjoy — you know in your heart of hearts  is true of you. Enjoy that knowledge and celebrate it in offering your hand in the equation that service represents in our lives. Service is always some part of what is best about living expressing perfectly through, and as, you!

Perhaps someone reading this can share ways that they have been of service that have contributed to their own sense of self in unexpected ways.

Italy Upon Arrival: Pace, Pace, Pace

I was so very tired when I arrived in Italy. We had only about 3 hours of sleep when our mini cab came to take us on a 45 minute drive to the airport at Stansted, where we were required to arrive two hours prior to our 3 hour flight’s departure. The trains were not running on Sundays between London and Stansted as a result of improvements being made to the tracks. In London there is an express train that takes not much time at all to get from the City to the airport. But such luxury would not be ours. We wiggled our way through all kinds of serpentine streets and made our way to the airport where resourceful, and youthful budget travelers had made their way early and were camped out on all the free seats and had spilled over on to the floor everywhere in the terminal. We fled to the airport café, dragging our wheeled luggage in tow and waited for the window to open. Ah! A table with two chairs and something warm to drink.

firenze santa maria novella by ilmungo.

train-station-in-florence

The beautifully skylighted Santa Maria Novella train station, Florence

Riding the train from the airport in Pisa, Italy toward Firenze (Florence), I began seeing rainbow-striped flags hanging from the windows. I began watching for them and quickly saw that the word “PACE” was centered on them. Peace. After we changed trains in the amazing 1930’s Art Deco station in Firenze and headed toward Cortona, I continued to see these flags hanging from multi-storied apartment buildings, grand homes, overpasses, ruins and hung by farmers out in fields of grain. Sometimes there were six of seven flags hanging on the laundry lines on the side of an apartment building. They were everywhere! As we passed through amazing, long and dark tunnels through the hills of Toscana I saw more and more of these flags. Clearly, many of the people of Italy had their minds focused upon Peace and they wanted one another to know about it!

And I felt as if my prayers were being heard somewhere in a language that I did not speak. “Join me in this prayer for peace.” My meditation became “Pace, pace, pace…” as I rode through the ancient pastoral landscape, past the ruins of fortresses, towers, gorgeous vineyards and fields of grain, lovely gardens, orchards, olive trees and stopping at every station, where I saw more and more “Pace, pace, pace.” And then I saw Cortona and its glorious stone buildings on the hillside, imposing, powerful, overlooking the valley below it.

When we arrived in Cortona by taxi from the train station in the town of Camucia at its feet, we sat in the square at a café with our luggage all around us awaiting the key to our little apartment, it was 3:00ish as I looked up to see the time of our arrival on the clock tower which we sat beneath, and to the right, hanging from a Citta de Cortona office window there was another flag, I was home for the month: “Pace.”

Cortona Clock Tower by jschneid.

Florence

Pace by gremionis.

Pace Flags by GeorgePinecrest.

Living by Toad Lake is a Seasonal Process

We live in a gorgeous brown shingled house with entwined cedars right outside the french doors to our bedroom. We see these beauties when we wake in the morning. These trees serve as a metaphor for how our lives have become involved with the four seasons, the woods and the lake since coming here.

Currently Dan is staining the trim of our house. The fascia boards and rain gutters are being painted an earthy red, the downspouts a rich brown similar to the shingles, the corner boards a dark chocolate and the soffits are a natural cedar color. The shingles wait until next year.  The rain will come again before Dan can get to that task.  We keep picking up large stones to bring back for our gardens.  The house is woodsy and warm looking, a natural for our gorgeous surroundings.  This is how it looked before the painting…

All of what we do as we live here in this lovely house involves living here consciously, appreciating the richness of what we have. Our house is surrounded by gardens  we planted and that are largely perennial.

Teaser on the deck

This is Firecat scratching the post that Dan made for him and his pal Teaser, shown above on the deck.  It’s a pretty cozy life.  My complaints are asinine.

WHERE WE LIVE: The Gorgeous Pacific Northwest

Moving to the Pacific Northwest is one of the best decisions in our life together. I hope you enjoy the pictures…I’ve got lots more.

No Hippies
 Welcome Sign in Port Townsend

 Sequim Lavender

Lavender Festival in Sequim – You pick!

Deception Pass

Deception Pass

Bridge View

View from the Deception Pass Bridge

Silver Lake Near Mount Baker

Silver Lake near Mt. Baker

Whatcom Chief

Mount Baker in the distance, Whatcom Chief ferry leaving Lummi Island

Lummi West Side

Driftwood Beach on the West side of Lummi Island

Pebble Beach Trail

Trail from my house to Toad Lake (below)

Toad Lake Canoe

House

It’s always good to come home!

Our House

The garden is so lovely

Garden 1

Garden 3

Garden 4

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

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Mount Baker’s snowy cap is on the horizon, peeking up behind the foothills.

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There were lots of puddles and mud to interest our grandson.

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We were not alone!

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There was a beautiful garden that was marked so you would be able to know the varieties.
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Even some of the early rhododendrons were contributing tremendous color.
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Every garden benefits by little surprises like this!
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The next door neighbors were llamas…

llamas at the tulip festival

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Most of these photos are from the RoozenGaarden and were taken on my iPhone on March 27th.   RoozenGaarde: A Division of Washington Bulb Co., Inc. sells the bulbs that you see in the labelled photos.
The Tulip Festival has a web site at http://www.tulipfestival.org/index.php

Michaelangelo’s Lesson

“That which is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Lupetti 1


Roberto Lupetti was well known in Carmel, California.  Many local artists studied with him; he in fact taught for many, many years, even prior to coming the the Central Coast and he included teaching my ministerial teacher, Dr. Bill Little.  Teaching Dr. Bill to paint, and the examples of those works that I saw,  indicated to me that he could teach anyone to be a better painter than any expectation would have predicted.  It’s as if he infected people with a love of painting and the precision required for the romantic, Classical Realist style that he employed.

I only knew him very briefly before his 1997 death.  In my home I have two objects d’art that were used by him in setting up still lifes.  One a woven basket that resembles a duck, and a pot that was burned in an open fire in the way that Southwestern and Middle American pots were fired.  I treasure both of these for having been his possessions and the subject of works that I could not afford to own.

He shared with me a story of being selected to work on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel while he was still a student at Brera Liceo Artistico.  He was clearly and appropriately deeply honored to be asked to do such historically important work.

It was painstaking, slow and exceedingly careful work that seemed to go on and on, days on end, weeks pouring into the next endlessly.  One day he was high up in scaffolding, and to steady himself he put his hand against the fresco and his hand slipped right into an existing hand print in the ceiling, the hand print of Michaelangelo, who it was said was the only one who had worked on the fresco.  It wasn’t exactly duplicating the subject matter of the ceiling, but it did seem instructive to me in the way that follows.

restoration

As you can see exemplified in the illustration, the color was eventually restored to the frescoes, and while there has been great controversy about whether or not these colors should have been used, we will not embroil ourselves in the arguments of art historians and restorers of great works.  Roberto Lupetti worked on the penultimate restoration about which there are no longer any arguments.

There are two principal ideas that I think we can take from this story.  The first being that history does reach over time and touch us in ways that are incredibly important for us. For Roberto it was the lineage of his artistic style reaching through the ages and affirming his life’s work at a time when he was very young and the encouragement of being selected to do this work in one of the most historic and beautiful places on earth, and then to have that sacred experience of slipping his hand into the handprint of Michaelangelo, as if a sacred trust was being passed along to him.  Through the years as a teacher he passed on ancient techniques and knowledge as a result of the culmination of his experiences as a significant artist himself, always remembering that moment of realization high up in the scaffolding as he carefully worked to return the fresco to its early glory.

The second idea that I want to share is that Roberto was always willing to be inspired.  It was as if he was a clearing in the forest awaiting the light of day to shine upon it, illuminating all upon which the eye could fall.  He was not embarrassed to be so inspired or to teach others to allow inspiration into their hearts as they worked alongside him.  Each of us, has the opportunity to live as he did, as a man who opened himself completely to the artist that he was, to the experiences that presented themselves and who was willing to go far from his home in Milan to live on another continent if it meant that he was able to express himself fully as an artist and a teacher.

He was a very humble man in failing health when I met him near the end of his life.  I understand from mutual friends that he had always been a warm and simple man with a wicked gleam in his eye, just as he was when I briefly knew him.

Through the years I remember sitting at the kitchen table at Dr. Bill’s house talking with Roberto and his telling me that story, and I was struck by the lightening, as if I, for that sunny afternoon, was one of his legion of students, enlightened by my brief contact with the story of his realization.


Roberto Lupetti was a master of Classical Realism. A graduate of the famed Brera Liceo Artistico in Italy, he assisted with the restoration work on the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and the fresco “The Battle of Ponte Milvio” by Giulio Roman, a disciple of Raphael. Lupetti earned five degrees at the Reale Accademia di Belle Arti, receiving professorships in Art, Art History, Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture. A man of vision, Lupetti’s art is timeless.
Some examples of his work are at

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Robert Lupetti Biography at Simic Gallery, Carmel, CA



Lupetti Rabbi

It’s So, So Green at Toad Hollow Today …

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Cuttings (later)

This urge, wrestle, resurrection of dry sticks,
Cut stems struggling to put down feet,
What saint strained so much,
Rose on such lopped limbs to a new life?
I can hear, underground, that sucking and sobbing,
In my veins, in my bones I feel it —
The small waters seeping upward,
The tight grains parting at last.
When sprouts break out,
Slippery as fish,
I quail, lean to beginnings, sheath-wet.

Theodore Roethke


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Teaser loves to check out what’s going on down on ground level…


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While we call our home Toad Hollow, it’s also been called the house of the entwined cedars.  Behind the Aurora Dogwood is an enormous Douglas Fir.  Just beyond them up hill is a Stellar Pink Dogwood, shown in the very next photo.


Entwined Cedars & Aurora Dogwood


There is an Eddies White Wonder Dogwood in the foreground, and to it’s left is the Stellar Pink. Look at that Rhododendron color!

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The Rhododendrons are blooming one by one, we’ve bought different varieties with differing bloom times to extend the time we get to enjoy them.


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The Clematis have been blooming in successive waves and growing and growing and growing like never before up the posts that support our deck.


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My editor demands that I upload a photo of him too…


Firecat the OS Editor


There is so much to do.  This began as 15 square yards of 4-way garden soil.  It seems that we haven’t moved much of it yet …


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“Since childhood, since childhood!

Childhood is a toad in the garden, a

happy toad. All toads are happy

and belong in gardens. A toad to Diana!”

Excerpt from Romance Modern

William Carlos Williams 

She Retreated

 Laughing Nuns

She clawed against the forgetfulness

She imposed upon herself.

She had not remembered names very well.

That way, she didn’t commit to memory

The friends she didn’t make;

The names of those who were not inviting.

Without names, it is easy to disregard people,

Driving out any sense of existence.

The habit protected her from the unapproachable,

The eyes that suddenly averted upon arrival,

She understood what she was doing,

And she kept doing it, other ways of being

As unfamiliar as the names that she forgot.

She tried, somewhat unsuccessfully,

To be a good friend to the few who

Were not thrown off by her insular ways

&  self-imposed isolation.  The names

That she did remember.

She used to yearn for a ‘best’ friend,

But she really didn’t have the skill,

Always doing too little and then too much.

She withdrew into her laptop,

Just as her grandmother had retreated,

Misunderstood, into her gardens.

Toad Lake Logging: Is 80% enough for them?

The pictures here are often not of the best quality because they were taken under difficult, overcast skies, and as fog was just lifting.  They are meant to chronicle what happens when logging comes to the land next door here in Washington State.

The family who did this have a little old granny who lives in the farm house in the large cleared fields at the bottom of the first picture.   She and her husband used to graze cattle on both the little meadow near my house and in the large fields.  He would cut a tree once in a while to pay his taxes, but just a selected tree or two, never a wholesale logging operation.   Then he died.  Cue the lawyers, the trust and the relatives.  The family, save the little granny, who is quite a good hugger, don’t live here on the mountain, they live in town.  I’m sure that they will make plenty of money from what they have done.  As if that is all that matters.

Toad Lake on Squalicum Mountain

This is Toad Lake on Toad Mountain.  We are outside the city limits of Bellingham, Washington.  If you look carefully, you can see a tiny meadow at what would be 7:00 if the lake were a clock.  I live just to the left of the meadow, about 100 yards from the bottom of the lake.  This picture was taken about seven or eight months ago by my neighbor from a small airplane.

The Meadow Now

This is what the meadow looks like now, after a few weeks of a logging operation.  All of  the forest below the lake is owned by the family trust that now, through its lawyer, manages that property.  With a permit, the laws in Washington State allow for them to log 80% of the logs, and they got pretty close to doing so.

 Our House in September 2008

As you can see, the forest was dense behind our house this past September when Dan was staining the decks and the fascia boards.  I loved it just like this.

Trees Gone Heart Broken

These are the trees left just behind my house.  The wire fence is the property line.  We will be putting up a fence now to screen the view of the deforestation they have left behind.

 Logging 4This is a view of what is left after they cut down so many trees.  The next view is what it looked like this Spring when we planted a Dogwood in what was our shade garden.  We aren’t sure that our investment in shade plants will do well here anymore.  It’s not exactly dappled light anymore, is it!

Dogwood Another view

Here’s another view of what they cut down.

Log piles

Here are some of the log piles they built while hauling logs from down the mountain up to the staging area they made of the former meadow.  Did I mention that cattle grazed on this little meadow for decades?  That’s why there was a barbed wire fence, to keep them safe and contained.  I watched the tracks on this logging equipment grind up a beautiful group of ferns that I had watched grow for the past four years.  Just ground them into the ground leaving giant gouges as it turned to grab the trees and haul them out where they were delimbed and turned into logs.

Logging truck

This logging truck has returned and hauled out more than twenty loads as large as this and runs by our yard each time it does so.  It’s caused me to be a good bit gloomy lately.

Abandoned limbsThis is the detritus in its earliest state after a logging operation.  I am sure detritus is not the word that the loggers would use, but this is dead organic matter mixed with the humus that has been dredged up by their heavy equipment and it will take one hell of a long time for it to compost unattended.  I am watching to see what they will do with this material.

I really don’t know what they will do, I have never been this close before, but it concerns me that they may have made a lot of kindling that they are now going to leave laying about.  I am thinking this 80% permit was the Washington State legislature’s answer to the ban on clear cutting.  Great, it really looks so healthy to rape the land in this way.  This is what property rights can buy you in the US.  You can do whatever the hell you want and the consequences are meaningless under the law.

Bye Bye Now

From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass

Along the northern coast,

Just back from the rock-bound shore, and the caves,

In the saline air from the sea, in the Mendocino country,

With the surge for bass and accompaniment low and hoarse,

With crackling blows of axes, sounding musically, driven by strong arms,

Riven deep by the sharp tongues of the axes—there in the Redwood forest dense,I heard the mighty tree its death-chant chanting.

The choppers heard not—the camp shanties echoed not;The quick-ear’d teamsters, and chain and jack-screw men, heard not,

As the wood-spirits came from their haunts of a thousand years, to join the refrain;

But in my soul I plainly heard.

Murmuring out of its myriad leaves,

Down from its lofty top, rising two hundred feet high,

Out of its stalwart trunk and limbs—out of its foot-thick bark,That chant of the seasons and time—chant, not of the past only, but the future.

Mom Hit Us With Her Fist

Mom hit us with her fist.  Hard.

She also hit me over the head

with 1″ thick broom sticks,

I can still feel the dent–

she striped our legs with lathe

or switches, smacking with

either side of her hand,

hitting me with an iron skillet. Cold.

Anything that was handy really—

if she was mad and I was nearby.

Mom slugged me when I was tiny.

I would fly across the room

and land on the furniture,

arms and legs akimbo, stunned.

Or I’d smash into a wall and drop

to the floor in a shriveled pile.

I don’t remember being hugged

or kissed, or having my hand held

gently, kindly, guidingly.

I remember my arm being jerked

one way or another,

lifted off the ground like a rag doll

My shoulder painful, sore.

I don’t remember being loved,

but I remember loving,

I remember loving each of my

two sisters and two brothers,

and even the one who was sent away—

Adopted by strangers,

not spoken of aloud by the adults

in the room, whispered about

with my sister under the woven bedcover

in the chilly darkness at our grandparents,

or in the wagon wheel bunk beds,

When we were lonely and wished for someone

to love us more than a fist.


The following is from an email I sent to a group of new thought ministers, many  of whom wrote to me until there was so much correspondence that I needed to write this to help them understand.  I hope it helps you too.

You are all so very kind.  I heard from so many of you that I was surprised. For many years I didn’t say anything specific or of consequences about the way I grew up.  There was far more difficulty than just the beatings.  There was sexual abuse at the hand of two of my uncles and a babysitter that my mother brought to our house when I was in first grade.  I changed schools 27 times before I dropped out of high school.  I didn’t have contact with anyone long enough to develop supportive relationships.

But I didn’t want anyone’s pity.  I wanted people to see me, and not just the circum-stances of my childhood.  That became something of a habit.  Children who go through these hellish childhoods are treated with little respect and a lot of assumptions.  Charity and pity are funky, awful things that embarrass children and make them different than the other children.  If that wasn’t enough, the last thing I needed as a kid was someone trying to sell me on Jesus’ blood and the salvation of my soul.  You’d think I had dragged these circumstances in upon myself into the deep hole folks acted like I was in.

I was much the same as I am now as a child, and when I could escape the darkness of the attitudes that people around me had, the labels that they wanted to put on me, I was able to see something more possible for myself.  I was tougher than my sister, more self-contained and self-reliant, but I was the oldest and even in the worst circumstances, being the oldest calls a child to take charge for the benefit of the younger children. I learned at a very young age that folks don’t look very far into things, that they are easy to jump to conclusions and don’t see what is right in front of them.

I consider one of the great accomplishments of my life to be that I am profoundly ordinary.  I don’t mean to deny my gifts, or accomplishments, but that the kind of being ‘special’ that draws undue attention for things that were not my doing, well I just didn’t want that kind of attention.  I didn’t live my life depending upon my appearance either.  I like being appreciated for the things I chose to be.  In the end, it is our personal choices that matter.  No one wants to be a victim.  We either let Spirit in, to act as and through us, or we allow the circumstances of our lives to hog the spotlight and bring attention to ourselves for reasons that are neither of our own making or which simply cannot bring us the true Joy of life itself.  I am all for Joy.  That is how I am made.

COMMENTS FROM OPEN SALON

Susanne, I cannot imagine that type of treatment as a child; nor can I imagine a parent doing that to their children. But, I am glad that sisters & brothers were there to comfort, love and support each other.

This is a powerful piece and sends a message of despair that parents can all taken notice of. Thanks for sharing.

Rated for honesty

This is powerful and hints at where you learned to be so kind. I’m sorry it was from suffering.
The prose of brutality serve as the most effective means to stand up to its onward march.
Susanne, I was with you every punch of the way. My mother was much like yours. She beat us with whatever was convenient at the time; wooden ping pong paddles, broom handles were also a favorite,fly swatters, spatulas… I guess she’d found out that it hurt your hand when you punched someone. It’s amazing what a child will forgive, for a very small amount of love. Once we were adults, my mother treated us very differently. It seemed that once we were no longer dependent on her, we were easier to love. Later in life, when mine was a total mess, she could fix just about anything with one of her big bosomed hugs. Crazy, isn’t it? junk1 Rated
Suzanne, you took a subject we see all the time, unfortunately, and made it personal and real. I did not suffer as much as you. My mother’s weapon of choice were here words and an occasional and surprising pop on the mouth. She’d bust my lip and then deny she’d done it. Sort of a wierd world to grow up in.
You have certainly found a way to cope that helps others!
Oh my God! This is very upsetting and it felt like a slap to me too…
You wroteso clearly of yourexperience and without any trace of self-pity…don’t think I could do it.

My mother spanked us too much I think but much, much less than she had been…I think she was physically abused and I know she was verbally and/or emotionally abused…I am trying to understand her better now that she is gone, since January 12th, and I want to better integrate, in my own mind, all of who she was and WHY she was the way she was to us…
My mother suffered depression all of her life…I am sure early trauma and never knowing if she was going to be hit or hurt some way was the cause.

Sorry Susanne for all of this. There were times when people and to some degree society thought this treatment was acceptable. I hope this behavior will soon be a thing of the past.

You are a sweetheart. If your thoughtful mind and disposition blossomed out of hardship, you have lived to best a person without love or empathy in her heart. You have survived!

Moving and powerful. Hugs to you.
rated
A wonderful piece. And a difficult one. Thank you.
Susanne, I grew up in a country and within a vanishing culture where parents were supposed to hit their children when they–our parents–were angry. Never mind if the anger was at themselves, at their children, or at their neighbors. Call it crazy, but somehow we felt it was part of their job description as parents and that they were showing to the entire barrio that they were not spoiling us rotten. When we were small, my brothers and sisters were never spared by both our mother and father from the fist, the rattan switch, the bamboo stick or anything that was within reach—the ever handy belt, a slender piece of firewood, whatever. The funny—or should it be sad?—thing was, my siblings and I never harbored any hatred against them; nor did these shared blows and lashes draw us closer to each for supportive comfort. Perversely, it seemed at that time, we felt that whatever anger they directed at us was some coping mechanism in a tightly knit barrio community that had no use for a jazz guitarist (him) and a failed seamstress (her). They are both gone now and we, my four brothers and four sisters
Sorry, I hit the Post button before I could finish with my post.

…have gone to raise respective families of our own. And on our parent’s death anniversaries, all of us gather at the ancestral house and among the stories we tell our children during these reunions are their grandparents’ “wicked” ways. And they ask us: “How come none of you went crazy or rebellious or all screwed up?” And we tell them: “Because we all loved your grandma and grandpa.”

Crazy, isn’t it? And I’m sorry if this doesn’t make sense.

powerful and sad beyond words, portrayed beautifully

I know some of this though not to this extent. I am with you.

This makes me ache for you and for all the children who are brutalized in our country every day. KD Lang had it when she sang “the rights of the children have nowhere to stand.” Thanks for this post.
Dramatic free verse. Was your mom abused too? Abusers sometimes like to pass on the pain for a reason I will never fully comprehend. Peace.
Powerful and vivid. I hope it helps to write this stuff out – I know writing is therapeutic for me. My mother used words, not fists, but we found out near the end of her life that her mother did use physical abuse at least at times. It all made more sense. So it trickled down and now her children treat their own children lovingly. The trail ends, thank god.
Wonderful but sad. Rated. Take a look at the post “The Nuns Made Me Do It.”

It’s amazing people still grow up and can be happy. Good for you. It looks at though you found that love instead of a fist!

Ah, Susanne, you took my breath away with this one. Right there with you. Moved beyond words that that that little girl was able to turn into the woman that you are, who transforms, transcends, and remembers.
Thank you, each of you, for your kind remarks. I always wondered if I could write my own version of “My Papa’s Waltz” but it never came until last night when I couldn’t sleep.

I don’t think that anyone can ‘understand’ this, though there are folks here who have their own parallel experiences, such as junk1, Gayle, and Mitidor. I think our culture was accepting of such behavior when I was young. I have a story about why I know this in me, so I will save it for that.

Matt Brandstein, you most clearly stated the truth: “The prose of brutality serve as the most effective means to stand up to its onward march.” For those who have suffered at the hands or the words of their parents, what we have to say about it is exactly the tool we have that turns the tide in our own lives and for generations to come.

Yes, there was abuse of my mother and her brothers. My uncles told me about it when I was a young woman. My grandmother was orphaned in the flu epidemic of 1918. I believe she had a very hard life.

This is so painful and powerfully descriptive I could almost feel the blows. I cringed, I jumped, I wanted to run. My stomach hurts, my heart hurts for you and your sisters and brothers.

To have gone through this abomination and emerged with the ability to love and allow yourself to be loved is nothing short of a triumph of will and spirit and determination.

Now I understand a little better why you always seem to understand. I’m so sorry for your pain, but very, very grateful for your courage.

Thanks Sally. Writing saves a lot of people, be it good writing or not.
Susanne,

I did not realize you had this kind of history in your family. Thanks for sharing it with us.

I think we have all experienced some kind of abuse in our lives. I was abused as a child, too, although the physical abuse I suffered did not compare to what you have described here. For me, there was some degree of physical abuse, but what really hurt and caused problems for me that reached/reach far beyond the physical, was the mental/emotional abuse; the power of the words that were spoken to me so constantly about my shortcomings, and my apparent innate ability to “embarrass” my mom did far more harm than the physical abuse.

RATED

Yeah, a difficult and moving post. I had an abusive childhood.
Hit by both parents who were themselves abused. You stopped the
cycle.
AND NOW YOU ARE LOVED.
Susanne, it was physical abuse for you and emotional abuse for me…but it hurts no matter what. I really understand, respect you for the fine person you are.

I’ve got your back. Rated.

again, i wonder almost randomly (well, not randomly in this case cause i’ve been meaning to get over here for some time) onto a post and my breath is taken away from me by what i read.

i don’t know what to say susanne, except maybe that you’re an inspiring example of how it’s possible to be so much more than where we came from.

Wow! Powerful! I hope you’ve healed.
This is really sad.
Susanne,
Sending you hugs of love and healing from someone who can relate. Thanks for sharing with us…it’s a very brave thing to do.
Susanne, Thank you so much for this heart felt and honest post. It was beautifully written. Brought tears to my eyes. I send you lots of love and hugs from someone who can relate and who has been there. There is since in violence against another life.
You have been very brave to write this.
Thank you for sharing
Thank you again for reading and commenting and mostly, for caring that such things happen to children.
yow. painful to read. i think you hit it.
Susanne – I am so sorry for the pain and fear you must’ve experienced as a child… this is such a powerful piece. I can’t stop thinking about it and wishing the little Susanne could be protected from these blows. I hope you have found some peace in adulthood, although I know there are scars.
I am struck by how difficult this is for so many to read when for me it is merely a few of the facts of my childhood. It took quite a long time to get to the place where I could say these things in the same way that I say I am left handed and have golden hazel eyes, I am no longer blond the way I was when I was this same little girl. And if you saw a picture of me from this time you would know that I hid this secret, and that you could see in me then the same happiness in my being in spite of the misery that visited me from time to time.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Your piece (poetry) was very heart felt. I have been blogging my stuff so I can understand the injustices that many went through as children and no matter how old you get, you never forget. The only good thing my parents gave me was a lesson on what to avoid being like. Peace of mind to you and thanks.
Sarah, Just keep writing. It gets clearer. I promise.
People, all people, are capable of all kinds of horror, of inflicting all manner of suffering on each other. This in itself is difficult to accept, (though I feel we must), but to imagine people are capable of doing this to children and their own children is just something I would love to reject even though I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of cruelty to my children and my parents. It’s something to question and deal with and ultimately learn from. I’m sorry for you because of what your mother did to you, but apparently your life has turned out *sweet, in spite of the misery* I hope. Sad, thoughtful poem.
“I don’t remember being hugged

or kissed, or having my hand held

gently, kindly, guidingly.”

Oh, sweetheart. There are no words to describe, but you did. You also are taking something so ugly and unimaginable and creating beauty from it.

Thank you for sharing something so deep and painful, yet so tragically common.

Thanks Mari. It is good to be understood and well received.
Unfortunately, this happens everyday, every week of every month in every year.

Anyone who’s worked with children knows the back stories. I can’t tell you how many times CPS, child protective services, has come to my classroom and all the classrooms I’ve been in thus far to take a child away.

Colleagues and friends have their own stories as well, and we talk about it as a way to get it out of our system.

And I suspect this is a way for you as well.

It horrifies me what children are subjected to. Maybe that’s why I’m always happy and smiling in the classroom.

It’s to make the children feel better and at the same time to mask the sadness of the true reality you’ve written about it.

Susanne: First I am very sorry that you had to endure that as a child. Unfortunately, far too many of us had similar childhoods.

All the things that you described my mother did to me. My stepdad loved me unconditionally and never touched me; and when he was home she would not touch me. The rest of the time it was totally without any rhyme or reason when or why she would go crazy over some small thing.

The difference was that my mother would then go into periods of remorse that manifested itself in smothering love and affection that created for me what I later learned was a classic love/hate syndrome.

As I grew older I continued to honor the idea that a child was never to lay a hand on a parent and was to take his/her punishment no matter what it was.

It all came to a head when I was a senior in high school getting ready to go to school and she came at me crazy and screaming and seething with rage and struck me with a wooden suit hanger in the side of my face. The hanger cracked and she drew back to hit me again. I reached out and grabbed her wrist and squeezed until she let go and told her that she would never hit me again. Ever.

I got in my car and went to school. When I got back all of my clothes were scattered all over the yard, my stereo and games and anything that had anything to do with me was thrown, mostly broken, into the yard.

I gathered it up and never went back. What a sad mess that was.

Reading about your pain brought all that pouring back out of recesses of my memory I almost never access.

God bless you, Susanne, for growing into the compassionate and strong person you are today.

Monte

Difficult to read, sad, and powerful.
Well written (though it would be worth writing even if it wasn’t.)

It’s amazing that you grew into the kind person you are today.

I had a problem dealing with how somebody who claimed to ‘love me’ could cause me so much pain. I had bruises but never a broken bone.

I was kept home from school a few times even…

It took me a long time to trust people. I still have flashbacks sometimes.

I wonder if I’ll ever know what it’s like to love someone completely. I have ‘trust issues’ I’ve been told.

It shouldn’t hurt to grow up. In other words, your parents shouldn’t be allowed to wail on you with abandon. My first home visit with my second serious girlfriend was marked by an explosive beating by my mother. I yelled at her to leave me… She didn’t give an inch. Later, she helped me move out after another violent confrontation.

I owe her a lot. As repayment, I married her… She got the short end of the deal by far, but most men marry up… Cheers to the wives! We thank you… 😉

Oh Susanne…this is so raw and painful even just reading it. I can’t understand why people do these things to their own children. I hope that you and your brothers and sisters are in a much better place these days, far away from that abusive fist.
Magnificent and sad. Rated.
Hello, Suzanne-
thank you for the poem; feel free to call my attention to your posts anytime.
Things left unsaid and worth exploring include who did love you; How did you become the good-you in the now? What ever happened to ol’ violent mom? I’m not saying this should be included in the poem; it is a gem unto itself. Only that there are rich fields for exploration.
I was born in the early 60’s, kid #10 of 11. Catholic. No birth control. The realities of family life as opposed to the idealism preached from the pulpit…well. My rich fields to write about.
I would gladly have consented to be aborted if my absence would have meant any less resentment and pain in Mom’s life. Yet, I don’t think it would have. She would have found another way to manufacture it.
She was a kind of prisoner. Of her biology, of her ideology. A child posing as an adult. And so many of my siblings have carried on the unconscious drama of rage and control, misuse of power over the very people they claim to love most.

I’m in your neighborhood now; if ever you attend Seattle unity church, look for me.

Heartbreaking, and beautiful at the same time.
Suzanne:

Here’s an excerpt from a recent post of mine, dealing with my mother’s dementia and the sudden death of my father: http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=62794

“When I was in my early teens, I had one of a series of major arguments with my mother. I recall how she stopped hitting me and reached down to remove her shoe so she could hit me with that– I was getting to be too big for her to effectively use her bare hands. When she reached for her shoe, I grabbed her, dragged her to the ground and told her that the next time she hit me I would hit her back. From then on, whenever we argued she would run to my father and ask (or berate) him to do something about whatever it was I had said or done– she never struck me again.

I mention all this because after several days of dealing with her behavior while all of us were hurting, my mother got angry and slapped me. I didn’t hesitate– I slapped her back. Her dementia, my respect for others, the knowledge that my father lived with her for sixty years without hitting her (that I am aware of), my understanding her pain and feeling my own, none of that mattered to me; all I could think of was that, after more than forty years, I had kept my promise.”

I am so so so so sorry that this happened to you and your siblings. So sorry.
Your poetry speaks to me so clearly and painfully. I wish I could write about my childhood as powerfully as you.
Highly rated. At some point, I guess, the recognition of this forced you to a concerted action to end the cycle. So many never figure this out and I’m guessing your Mom is one of them.
I’m stunned into silence and screaming for your healing. Rating for the writing and BEGGING for everyone to read this. Including you, Joan and Kerry.
Cartouche, I am healed, clear & centered, so don’t worry. I don’t think Joan or Kerry are likely to read this. They have other interests that they are pursuing.
You mirror my soul….
From violent unloving background
A wealth of understanding finally….
And my totally broken heart is mended….
But it took the light of understanding…. shining it’s torch at me and bringing back the hope that underneath the cruelty …..
There was love, masked, but there…
I was, and am sorry for the pain this shadow cast over our existences…
{rated}
That was lovely nahatsu. Thank you.
Susanne, what a heartbreaking set of memories. I think you’re so brave to put this into words rather than squashing in the back of your mind – though that would be tempting and I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to go to this space every day and still function. If there is any peace that comes from sharing I hope it comes to you. I live on the other side of the world but your pain comes through loud and clear. I feel for you and hope you find some joy in your present and future.
I am a very happy girl with a haunting past. It is good to be me. I share this now because I can and because there are children out there having this experience now.

Thanks for coming by.

Susanne, this is a horrendous and sad thing that you have gone through but, I’m glad you had the support and love of your siblings.

Remind yourself of your goodness and strengths. You have survived and that is a victory. You are an amazing lady!

Susanne,

This is difficult to read. I wish we could rewind and I could loan you my mother. But perhaps you wouldn’t have turned out the remarkable woman that you are.

I wonder if there are a few advocacy organizations for battered children that you would like to bring to OS readers’ attention. I guess after experiencing something this horrible, I look for a way to do something about it.

I suspect that Dan the Man has had a huge role in your healing. Give him and the cats hugs from me.

Hugs and admiration,
Mary

hi, susanne, it sounds like where I grew up. Something like this can kill your soul. It killed my sister’s spirit. 50 years later she’s still wounded.

I read your writing and know that you’ve survived it–and more. Gone on to live a good and useful life.

Thank you John. One of my sisters is like yours and another is more grounded like me. This kind of childhood settles on each of us differently.
After working for 5-1/2 years in foster care and 3-1/2 years in private practice, I have no illusions about the torture which parents will inflict on their children. Many times clients will ask me if they will ever be “normal.” My response is that they will never be the people they would have been if they hadn’t been abused, but that with time and work the abuse will become “something that happened to me” vs the monster in the dark that keeps you trapped. It is clear that you reached this place in life, and for that I am happy for you, despite all that went before.

I still occasionally stumble. Last night I was watching a movie and a character looked so much like my 1st stepfather, that for the first time in years I had a flashback. But it was short, and when it was over, it was over, and I remain who I have worked so hard to become.

Merwoman,

Good for you! The same thing happens to me from time to time. The mind likes to take what is happening right now, no matter whether it is truth or fiction, and categorize it as if it is the same or equvalent to something that happened earlier in our memories. It’s mechanical and has nothing to do with the hard work it takes to clear up ones life and grapple with a nightmarish history. It’s interesting to me now because I can simply observe it rather than be taken by it to a dark place in my memory. The fact is, most memories are not entirely accurate anyway and some things we think we know are not even completely accurate and true.

Dear Susanne, this is one of the most important posts written…opens windows and doors of reflection and insight , and shared pain too, for so many readers…

I love how you said you are a “happy girl” … how many can say that? even with “good” childhood backgrounds??…happiness seems a frail element in American or the Western World life…yet you have it and I believe you when you tell us that you have it…to overcome the past is a life struggle for many, even for me at times, I am so impressed by you!
You did a BIG thing for many, many people by writing about this subject. BIG.

Thanks again for your comments and concern. I hope that what I have said does make a difference to people, that they can see themselves or think about how they treat one another with love and respect, and if they don’t, that they wll look for the source of their unhappiness.
Sorry I’m late to this Suzanne. I loved the language of your poem. It sent me back too a bunch of decades, sure, but mostly it just made me love you so intensely I could kiss and hug away every distant and lingering trace of your pain. You are beautiful, inside and out, and whether it’s my own pain and love I’m projecting or yours, who cares– it redeems us both, so what a celebration!

x nada

Very sweet Nada, thanks. Keep doing your spooky good love with your kids and dance happy on the earth!
My God you’re brave……I admire you so much.
Riveting piece of writing…..a mature step to bind the assailing hands of the oppressors.
Gary, I am glad that you were here to read it. Some eyes you just want on your work, and yours are some of those eyes my friend. Thanks for your kindness.
Susanne, thank you for sharing your story with us. I am all for joy too and I want you to know that yours shines through.
Root and Branch

My mother’s fidelity to her marriage bed
Was rooted deeper than any Penelope.
My father’s departure, he no homeward bound Odysseus,
Became the charybdic black hole where anger
Anchored her against the uncertainty of failed expectations.
Thus the bitter bark of abandonment roughed skin once caressed
And spiteful acid pooled where aroused blood flew.
Her graceful limbs turned twisted sneers of gnarled branches.

We, her children, thought or mother beautiful.

She wore every grey venomous leaf left to her
Like a wreath of glorious victory,
Their rattled whispers sighing:
Your father was a good man.

We played out our youth
In the shade of her love
As if nothing was wrong.

I understand too well. For me there was no touch that didn’t leave a mark. Not all of the marks were visible cuts and bruises. Sometimes they were worse. Beautiful and brave.
Thanks Zul. I do understand.
Thank you.

It’s funny, but it seems to me almost like these words have been put away and because you read them they are ‘out’ again.