Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Has It Really Been That Long?

Posted: September 19, 2016 in Family, moving
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September 19, and my last entry was on August 31? Part of the delay is I got locked out of my WordPress account: it seems I had forgotten my password and exceeded the limit for trying to guess at it. I was finally able to reset it, but it took a few days before (1) I was able to use it to log in and (2) have the “You’ve Exceeded The Number of Login Attempts” fairies to reset themselves.

Anyway, all is good now. In fact, things are better than good! I’ve found a place of my own. I knew that staying with Stacey was only temporary, and Craig’s List came through for me again. It’s only a room in a house, with two roommates, but I’ll have privacy when I need it, and peace and quiet when I want to write, with no dog to distract me.

But don’t misunderstand: I love Fyona and think she’s the best dog in the world, but when I’m trying to write and she comes to me wagging her tail, I can’t resist. I’ll spend 10 minutes petting her and playing with her, and lose my train of thought.

My new landlord said he’s open to me moving in sooner than the October 1st date he put in the ad; I’m thinking of this Saturday as the day.

Stacey and I will both breathe easier when I’m gone, and we’re not constantly tripping over each other. It’s been great seeing each other, but she spends her day in her room, and I spend mine on my laptop on the kitchen table, both of us in self-imposed isolation.

So that’s where things stand with me right now, and they continue to look brighter.

A Letter

Posted: June 29, 2016 in Family

(Today I received a copy of the eulogy delivered at the interment of my father’s ashes in the cemetery of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Albrightsville, PA. My stepmother was find enough to send them to me.

This was my reply.)

29 June 2016
Rochester, NY

Dear Joyce,

I received your letter with the copy of the eulogy at St. Paul’s today. Thank you for sending it.

Although it’s been almost five months, I still find myself crying from time to time whenever I think of my beloved father. Today was one of those times.

The one thing I never told him, and the one I wish I had, was that he was my hero. Although we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on many things, he was the one who inspired me to be firm in my beliefs. He often thought he was a failure at being a father; I remember sitting in John’s living room in Berkeley, California, one year and him telling me that he knew there had been many times when he had been too strict with me. My reply was that there were many times when he let me get away with things I would never have let my own daughters do.

I think Dad’s biggest disappointment was that none of us followed him into the ministry. I cannot speak for my brothers, but in my own case it was because I would have forever been trying to measure up to the high standards he had set…and knowing that in my own mind, at least, I’d have found myself wanting. Sadly, I was never able to find the right words to explain this to him.

It’s funny how families change from generation to generation. Their mother and I raised our daughters to be seekers of the truth, to stand up for what they believed in, and never to let anything hold them back. As a result, they grew up and rejected most of my core beliefs, and changed their religion. Yet I could find nothing wrong in this, nor even complain about it because, after all, it is exactly the way we raised them.

Joyce, I’m 66 years old now. I have struggled with clinical depression since birth. Add some PTSD, ADHD, agoraphobia, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder into the mix and I am truly amazed that I have managed to last this long. My life has been a long series of half-starts and failures. I cannot look at my life objectively and point to anything I have accomplished or succeeded at. I have been in and out of psychotherapy and hospital psychiatric wards. I have attempted suicide so many times that I’ve lost count. And yet…

And yet.

“Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.” William Faulkner, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1942.

These words are just as relevant today—perhaps even more so—today than they were in 1942. We live in a world where religion—originally devised as a way to unite people—is used to separate and divide them. It is a world where wars are being fought over which pre-literate society’s book of myths is truer than the other one.

We live in a country where you can be pro-war, pro-capital punishment, pro-hate, pro-racism, and still be considered pro-life. A country that was founded my people in order to exercise their rights to practice the religion of their choice, and whose descendants now use those same religions to deny other people their basic human rights. A country where a legislator can earn a quarter of a million dollars a year for working less than 2/3 of the time, and then say that $7.50 an hour is too much to pay a single mother who works 60 to 70 hours a week just to feed her child.

We put bumper-stickers on our cars that say “HUMAN RIGHTS ARE GOD-GIVEN RIGHTS” when we mean MY rights, and screw yours, Jack.

It’s a country where the Supreme Court has ruled that broadcast news media have the right to lie to its viewers (I’m looking at you, Fox News). A country where blowing the whistle on criminal wrong-doing by the government is itself considered a crime.

Our society loves to blame victims. The only way that I can understand why we do this—despite what every religion teaches us—is that we are only religious when it suits us. I honestly believe that no member of any religion—be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism or whatever—reads their sacred scriptures. Rather they treat them like a software End User’s License Agreement: nobody reads them; we just scroll down to the bottom and click “I Agree.”

And so I write. I write every6 single day of my life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a letter, a journal page, or a blog entry. I write to keep my sanity. It is the only form of long-term therapy that I have found to be of consistent benefit to me.

It keeps the demons at bay for just one more day. And puts off once more the question of “to be or not to be,” for as Hamlet told us,

“But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”

Forgive me, Joyce, if I have introduced dark clouds into your otherwise-sunny day. I’m afraid that this letter has turned out to be—like so much of my writing—a rather cathartic therapy session.

I miss my daddy. Even when we weren’t speaking to each other, I still loved him, and I missed him. Thank you for being such a wonderful part of his life, for the joy and happiness the two of you shared. And thank you for being a loving grandmother to my baby girls.

With sincere affection and gratitude,

Robyn

My Father: A Study in Selflessness

Posted: April 21, 2016 in death, Family
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A Memoir

(The transcript of the eulogy I gave at my father’s memorial service)

My father once apologized to me and said, “The shoemaker’s kids go barefoot and the baker’s family goes hungry.” He was commenting on his 27 years as an Air Force chaplain, when his duty frequently took him away in the middle of the night to comfort a family which had just lost its father, or to tell a wife her husband wouldn’t be coming home from the other side of the world.

There was a time when his duties required his absence from my birthday—for seven years in a row. At the time, I hated him for it, and it took me years to get over that anger. Now, what little hostility I still feel is directed more properly at the US military establishment, which never seemed to have learned the truth of Milton’s words, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

My mother personified those words. He was absent from the family once for 15 months: his duties took him to Turkey for that time. My mother became for a time a single mother attempting to raise three children. Thank God for grandparents and aunts!

I understand that after her passing, Dad spent hours weeping over her grave, apologizing for what he saw as the hell that his job put her through.

He grew up in a hard time: the Great Depression. A time when roles were fixed, and people “knew their place.” On the other hand, I grew up in the ‘60s, and lived through the Nixon years. Dad was a lifelong Republican; if anything, if you need labels, I’m an anarchist. After Viet Nam and various other wars and “incursions,” I take everything my government tells me with a grain of salt. Don’t agree with me? That’s your right, and I’m not going to argue the point with you. Besides, you don’t scare me—I grew up in the ‘60s….

….which also entitles me to say, at the age of 65, “I may be old, but I saw the best bands!”

But regardless of anything a psychiatrist might say about my relationship with my parents (“Oedipus, Schmoedipus! I love, ya, Ma!”), the fact remains that they were my parents, and I loved them. And the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time happened last week, when I telephoned my father and we resolved our differences and effected a true reconciliation. For that, I am extremely grateful. Our last words to each other were “I love you.”

My father was greatly esteemed in his communities, both the Air Force and the church. I can offer no better proof of this than two stories.

Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. was the first African America to reach the rank of general (4-stars). When he died, at his widow’s request, my father performed his funeral.

When Dad finally retired from the Air Force, and he and Mom were traveling around the country looking for work, he was unable to find a parish in the Pacific Northwest, which is where they wanted to settle. Finally, after they had settled in Lak Jackson, Texas, he learned that the reason no one would hire him was that the bishop of Texas had called all the other bishops and told them not to hire him, because “He’s mine!”

I know my father was disappointed that none of us followed him into the ministry. While I can’t speak for my brothers, I know that in my case it was because the shoes he left were simply too big to fill.

Untitled

Posted: February 19, 2016 in death, Family
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If there was ever a time when I felt less like writing, I can’t remember when it was. It has been a little over a week since I attended my father’s memorial service, and until yesterday morning I felt completely numb. Finally—thankfully—I started to feel the pain.

It was the pain of loss: loss of a father, loss of my last living relative of his generation. Wait…that’s not quite true; both of my mother’s sisters are living. Still, by any dictionary definition, I’m an orphan. And the only good thing about being an orphan is that whatever size of any product you buy, it’s “family-size.”

The pain of rejection: despite my reconciliation with my father, my step-mother still introduced me to strangers as “Henry’s oldest son,” and I could feel the contempt from her daughter, my step-sister. Is it too harsh of me to say that I am glad I won’t have any more contact with them?

It was—still is—the pain of the normal grieving process. I know it will come and go over the next several days, weeks, months: it’s natural. And while I know I’ll be able to ride it out, it’s one thing to know something intellectually; is it quite another thing to experience the emotional ups and downs.

At least I saw my therapist yesterday.

And so I offer today’s entry. It isn’t much, but if you follow my blog with any regularity, the least I owe you is an explanation of why I haven’t been posting much lately.

Thanks for stopping by.

Robyn Jane