She Hit me: Forgiving My Mother

I wrote the original version of this about 20 years ago and have re-edited it a bit.  (I’ve had a few more insights into relationships & forgiveness in the intervening years). I have practiced forgiveness long enough that I have forgiven all the people who hurt me as a child, and myself for the ideas I once held about myself as a result of an abundance of the difficult events I reveal here. What a freedom comes of forgiveness! We don’t have to let those who once hurt us suppress our lives, limit our choices or dim the luminous nature of Love that is borne in each of us and seeks to express as us… 


She Hit me:  Forgiving My Mother

Rev. Dr. Susanne Freeborn


Me and Mom

I changed schools 27 times before I dropped out of high school. That was only 45 days before graduation. This was not because my father was in the military. It was mainly because my mother was single–with 5 children by the time I was in high school. My parents never married. It wasn‘t for want of a proposal by my father that they did not marry. He begged my mother, but she was having none of it because her first husband had deserted her when she was still a teenager, and she was not going to let that happen to her again. It mattered not to her that my father loved her or that they had two children together. She was not going to be hurt again. Then my father killed himself a few years after they had separated, when I was only seven years old. He drove his truck into an enormous Coastal Live Oak tree at 60 miles an hour somewhere near Fresno, California in the great San Joaquin Valley. He left a suicide note they said, I wasn’t allowed to see or hear it.

There is not much point in going too deeply into a description of the pain and suffering of my childhood, just a sketch will do. Remember the Fifties and Sixties? Being a single mother was not common then, nor was it understood, supported and God, there was no respect at all.  We would be called “That woman and all her brats.”   Women didn’t make even close to equal pay, child support was not enforced, nor was it reliably collected by the state even if there was a court order in place. Our family life was a serial travelogue of spots between a rock and a hard place.

We were all bastards. One of my two sisters still doesn’t know her father’s name. None of us had five different sets of school clothes, and making friends was a dangerous business if you knew that you were only going to end up moving away right after you finally made some friends. And leave we did, because we were evicted from our home repeatedly when my mother ran short of cash.  During my sophomore year of high school in the spring, when all the promise seems to be returning to the planet, we had to eat corn meal mush for two months straight because there was nothing else. We were very desperately poor and it was very hard for my mother. She came home exhausted from her job as a cook and beat all of us out of her frustration and anger.

At one time we were taken from her by the state and sent to live with our grandparents after a neighbor saw her beating me with a stick of lathe. A couple of years went by and then they sent us back to her, though nothing had really changed, except what house we lived in. During those years I fell prey to sexual molestation by two of my uncles and a male babysitter. When it was discovered, my grandmother acted as if a nine-year-old girl could actually be provocative to her sons, who were much older than I, one of them in the Navy. She taught me to feel guilty about the inappropriate behaviors directed toward me by men.  She said men only wanted one thing.  I didn’t feel safe in the world unless I was with my Grampa, but I couldn’t always be with him.

I tell you this so that you will understand why I had to come to know forgiveness intimately. Children who have a difficult childhood usually think that they are in some way responsible for what went wrong and we blame our parents for what we perceive as their failures to love, protect and provide for us. We, and our families, are fundamentally wrong in our own eyes. My poor mother was damned from the beginning.  If the circumstances weren’t difficult enough, Freud was let loose on the world prior to her arrival and I was taught to profoundly blame her for everything. However, blaming Mom and my father brought me no peace, and only more suffering and a state of perpetual victimhood.  I loathed being a victim.

I don’t remember exactly what it was that brought the miracle of forgiveness to me. But sometime during college, when I was around 28 years old, I was pursuing Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland and I began to see the culture that my family had lived in a wholly different way. I saw the terrible economic and societal pressures my mother had faced and saw that she had not given up on taking care of us, even though she was alone and without much help. Even if she had to lie to the landlord or creditors, she had always done her best to keep us safe. No matter what. And I began to realize why she had been angry and that in her grief and anger she had hurt us.

I became a little less overwhelmingly angry and disappointed with her and began to forgive her. I began to let her love me the way that she did instead of the way that I expected her to love me like June Cleaver. I began to love and respect her for how she had taken care of us, swallowing her pride, setting aside things that she had been taught, like honesty, so that we would be OK. She didn’t expect much from life, so she didn’t, couldn’t, have great hopes for us in matters of education or future professions. I saw the price she paid. She simply ensured our survival. She thought life was hard and so it was. She really didn’t have much time for being a soft, warm & loving mother.  She was more like Sisyphus, continually rolling our family up a hill, never reaching the top, never being able to relax or to rest.  Love does not always fit others pictures of what it ought to be.  When you live only to survive many things look as if they belong only to others.  Still my mother kept a roof over our heads that had a door to the world.

Realizing this allowed me just enough space to see another possibility for my own life. That I had all the say in the story of my life. My barely blessed mother let in just enough light under the door for me to see another kind of future. My life was very hard when I was young, but it has been one miracle after another since the day I began to forgive my mom.

I had to forgive my mother so many times that it seems like I have made that choice an infinite number of times. Yes our life was hard. Yes, I was horribly, overwhelmingly angry. Yes, I thought for a very long time that it was all her fault. Then I thought it was my fault. Along the way to forgiving Mom, I forgave myself into a life of freedom and joyous self-expression.

My Mom lived with me after having experienced a series of strokes, and I took care of her as tenaciously as she took care of me when I was a child. I kept flowers in her room because she said that “they look like happiness” and because, for me, flowers symbolize the grace of God. A grace that allowed me to see the error of the judgments I made as an innocent child against her and against myself.  Mom died in January 2000.  I am so fortunate that I used my time and my life the way I did prior to her death.  That the wisdom of forgiveness revealed itself to me and I was able to share it with her, I couldn’t be more grateful for the peace that existed between us when she made her transition.

Trike
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Questions About God: Einstein on Being of Service

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seemingly for a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”  Albert Einstein

Susanne 2014

Being of service to others takes our focus off of ourselves and looks for how we might be useful where and how we are. When we feel grateful, we naturally want to share ourselves and our good fortune. Being in service only increases our gratitude and joy and our experience of the unity of all life.

When we choose to be of service in the depths of life’s deepest anguish, when we can engage in the deepest alchemy that life has to offer at such times, this is when we know that we have grown in Spirit. “I am alive in Spirit, Spirit is alive in me,” is a chant sung in many New Thought centers written by singer songwriter Melissa Phillippe.  These words point to the same idea that Einstein is pointing out in the quotation above.  We know Grace through these generosities of Spirit that we share.

Times are difficult, and such times are a powerful time to know gratitude for simple things; Love is such a simple thing. Love knows no bounds nor does it require that life or anything within it be different in any way. It allows life’s difficulties to surface to find the divinity hidden within each experience. May we appreciate this divinity in all of life for the hidden gifts within each difficulty.

“Be silent as to services you have rendered, but speak of favors you have received.” Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD)

This modesty of spirit is a matchless empowerment of the heart and a source of deep wisdom.  A single unity underlies all life, now is the best time to explore this unity.

Getting Along

The capacity for getting along with our neighbor depends to a large extent on the capacity for getting along with ourselves. The self-respecting individual will try to be as tolerant of his neighbor’s shortcomings as he is of his own.  Eric Hoffer

shouting match

Sometimes our neighbors look like a shouting beast to us.  I don’t know if we tolerate shortcomings so much as mirror them with one another, revealing something that was hidden and then projecting our understanding on another, to free ourselves from the burden of knowing this uncomfortable truth about ourselves.

Comments

Susanne,

that last paragraph really spoke to me — very nicely worded.

rated

Susanne, I could not agree more. To love others, we must first love ourselves.

Rated
Love the Photo
Greg

Projection is bacially seeing others through the perspective of what we cannot or will not accept about ourselves. Most of the time we are entirely unconscious of the projection and won’t even know what the trait is but “see” it in the “other.” i.e. greedyness, envy, jealosy, self-pity, which we deny in ourselves. One sure test is that you dislike or hate someone who you don’t really know–just “instinctively” reject since our intuitions quickly detect it.

But there are also cases where we can know and see the particular trait in the other person, are not projecting, but still know it is something we have to keep at a distance, since the trait, such as “selfishness” limits the trust we can rightly place in that person.

Also, sometimes, there are cases where there are no projections at all, and we recognize somebody else is a “fraud” or what I call an “emotional felon.” In those cases, it may be necessary to make our distust known so the person is aware that we aren’t going to allow them to take advantage of us. Good fences make good neighbors.

Interesting question to start my day—and LOVE the photo.
I appreciate your coming by to comment, each of you. I like things pithy and quick that make me think about something worthwhile. That something that seemed so to me is for you, and that you said so, well it strikes me right where I live, in a good way. Thanks.

Ben, is correct about fences, or boundaries. It is sometimes important to let people know that we don’t mean to be taken for fools or marks. The idea that we might be projecting is one to keep in a handy pocket for regular employment so that we don’t confuse our own stuff with the likes of those with whom we interact.

Thanks again.

Couldn’t agree more. Great photo.

Questions About God: Einstein

“I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own — a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.”  Albert Einstein

albert einsteinThis statement by Einstein shows one of the problems with anthropomorphism, the attribution of human qualities to nonhumans, in this case, God.  When we anthropomorphize God there are consequences we may not have considered, such as, the problem of unbelief—because who wishes to believe in a God who would be so petty as the God Einstein describes above, and yet, that is exactly what many of us are taught.  There are other limitations engendered by this very human habit, all of them limiting our imaginations, our thinking and our ability to know.

“Almost everything said of God is unworthy, for the very reason that it is capable of being said.”  Pope Gregory the Great

Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen & Me.

I am life.  I am Mystic.

  Jesus, Hildegard of Bingen & Me

Hildegard of Bingen (1089 to 1179) was a notable figure in medieval Scholastic thought both because she was a creative and independent thinker & an influential woman in a time and culture we think of as dominated by the male-oriented Latin church.  She devoted considerable thought to understanding the natural world and was reputed to be a gifted healer.  Of special note is the impact of her visions on her own cosmology as well as on later thinkers. Even today, there are popular mystical groups associated with Hildegard, and one can buy current recordings of music she composed.   

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179)

 1. The Source of All Being

“I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all the sparks of life. Death hath no part in me, yet do I allot it, wherefore I am girt about with wisdom as with wings.  I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that glows in the beauty of the fields.  I shine in the water, I burn in the sun and the moon and the stars.  Mine is that mysterious force of the invisible wind. I sustain the breath of all living. I breathe in the verdure and in the flowers, and when the waters flow like living things, it is I.  I formed those columns that support the whole earth … I am the force that lies hid in the winds, from me they take their source, and as a man may move because he breathes, so doth a fire burn but by my blast. All these live because I am in them and am of their life. I am wisdom. Mine is the blast of the thundered word by which all things were made. I permeate all things that they may not die.  I am life.”

Bust of Hildegard of Bingen

This is a profoundly mystical statement by Hildegard of Bingen.  Mysticism is defined below to get around the common use that the forms of the word ‘mystic’ suffer in our culture.

2.  Mysticism

    •  Mysticism emphasizes a direct, unmediated connection with a loving God and the spiritual equalityand/or unity of all peoples. This is a radical idea for its time:   no priest, shaman or other person is necessary to a direct relationship with the divine, for life is ever present in all.
    • Each of the major religions brought forth a mystical wing or subgroup in the postclassical period (Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc.)  For instance, Islam has its Sufis, Hinduism has scores of sects, many of them mystical, Vedanta for one comes to mind as having been much written about in English.
    • Because of its emphasis on non-hierarchical spiritual equality, mysticism offers an avenue to influence and authority to people otherwise excluded from political and religious structures.  This was true in Hildegard of Bingen’s time and it seems to be a consistent attribute of mystical religions through the centuries.

This final point makes mysticism, in its many different forms, attractive to Americans who seek a spiritual way of life, but find traditional religious practice and churches confining and patriarchal.  We’ve all been there.  Some of us became agnostic or atheist in the face of the power mongering and pettiness we have experienced in various traditional American churches.  Some of it has been downright mean and shameful in ways that good people just can’t stomach.

3.  The Challenge of Discussing Faith with the Unchurched

So the problem I always run into when discussing a life of faith with those who live without participation in spiritual community is that they don’t have a clue that there are those of us who don’t think we need anyone else to think for us about religion or to lead us.  It never occurs as a possibility to most people because the only religious people they hear about are the fundamentalist or evangelical Christians or the folks in other religions that can be equally fundamentalist in their point of view.  That is not who I am and I know a lot of people who have come to a similar spiritual path.

So what does a minister who doesn’t believe their role is to come between the individual and a direct experience of the divine essence of life do professionally?  We teach.  We leave practice to the individual.  We do have our experience to share and the benefit of a lifetime of scholarship, but we aren’t telling anyone how to live their lives.  We just don’t.  That doesn’t work anyway.  Look around.   Do you see that kind of leadership as ever having worked for humanity at large?

4. We think differently about Jesus

Another thing that many mystics believe, and I do believe this too, that whatever powers it is said that Jesus may have had, that those same powers reside in each and every one of us.  That’s one of the reasons that we can actually help one another. Hildegard of Bingen thought so too. It opens the whole wide world for exploration and adoration to us, just as it was opened to Jesus.  What might we do with our lives that matters, what choices might we make,  if all that exists is the body of God?  What indeed.

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When we see that God is all there is, there is nothing but what Love we can share with the Divine in the many parts that it plays.

Happy Holy Days

More than anything else, we want to send you our Love, & our wishes for Peace, Prosperity and all the Good Things for Each and Everyone on Earth. — Dan & Susanne