Saturday, February 11, 2012

If We Forgive...


My grandmother moved from Texas to Indian Territory in a covered wagon. She was disowned because she married a man of Indian blood during a time when the only good Indian was a dead one. They struggled to make ends meet every day as sharecroppers. At times, they couldn’t afford to buy their children desperately needed shoes. My grandfather refused the rations and the land parcel that the U.S. government provided for his tribe, rations his destitute family could have used, because he was too proud to take charity. A white uncle took his roll number and stole the benefit because, well, hell, why not.

During the tail end of WWII my mother was born. They weren't prepared for that, they were grandparents for crying out loud. She was informed she had a tumor because the doctors never heard the second heartbeat. She was too sick for them to operate and surprised when she went into labor. A few years later, she left Oklahoma and her lousy, drunken, abusive, philandering husband for California, because living on welfare as a single mother for the rest of her life was a better option. Had she stayed, he might’ve killed her.

She lived long enough to watch man land on the moon.

And even in the end of her days, she never stopped loving him. 

I never knew her. How I wish I had. She died well before I was born. To have been through so much, to have such inner-strength in the face of unrelenting adversity, she was a rare and remarkable woman, with so much to teach me. Mother says that I would have liked to have known my grandfather as well. His stories drew you in and held you there in that world for hours. He was the pillar of the community, doing for others what he didn’t do for his own. I accept him, I even love him, I respect where we came from and I take pride in my native heritage. But, I’m not sure I can forgive him. Times were difficult enough. His wife, who he was supposed to love, honor, and cherish, sacrificed everything to be with him, and still she had to survive him.

And we, who are descended from them, are shrouded in the echo of their pain.

To paraphrase the ending monologue from the movie Smoke Signals (1998): "How do we forgive our fathers? Maybe in a dream. Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often, or forever, when we were little? Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage, or making us nervous because there never seemed to be any rage there at all? And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness? Shall we forgive them for pushing, or leaning? For shutting doors or speaking through walls? For never speaking, or never being silent? Do we forgive our fathers in our age, or in theirs? Or in their deaths?
And if we forgive, what is left?"

What is left?

I do not know the answer yet. Maybe I’m not meant to. I’d like to think that love could travel back in time and mend a broken heart. After all, this emotional baggage has been etched in my DNA. If pain can radiate forward, why not love back?

I do know that I come from a long line of prideful people. We are stubborn and fiercely loyal, usually to our own detriment. But if I carry within me any of the emotional traits of my grandparents, let it be that I love unconditionally, blindly, beyond all measure. Let it be that I am generous to a fault, sacrificing for the sake of others, whether blood or not. Let it be that I can spit in the face of adversity without shame or regret.

Let it be that I someday find the inner-strength to survive the aftermath of forgiveness. 

10 comments:

  1. What amazing times and experiences your grandmother must have lived through, although not necessarily always positive. It's a difficult question, can you forgive the actions of a previous generation without building resentment and hate? I wonder if it may just be better to love and be grateful for your own chance to do something different, even better. Thought provoking! :)

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    1. The older I get the more this eats at me. A picture sparked this: they were happy once. I see the hurt in my mother's eyes and I cannot bear the thought of those I love in pain that I cannot fix with two chocolate chip cookies or a fudge sundae.

      Well, writing is cheaper than therapy right? Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

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  2. What a story, what a life. Your writing gives me an instant image of your grandmother, and I so want to find out more. Perhaps in an upcoming novel ... or movie??

    Nice work.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! Heroes can come from anywhere, mine tend to come from blood. I never thought about writing a novel on her life. Thanks for letting me know that there would be an interest. Cheers!

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  3. "I never knew her. How I wish I had. She died well before I was born. To have been through so much, to have such inner-strength in the face of unrelenting adversity, she was a rare and remarkable woman, with so much to teach me."

    I feel like this about my great grandmother, whose philandering husband ran off and left her to raise seven children on her own.

    I always find it sad how common a story that is. Women left to struggle and survive both life and loved ones.

    Nicely written.

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    1. Thanks for stopping and sharing your thoughts. It's hard enough to raise a family nowadays when there are fewer social restrictions and stigmas. Your great-grandmother and my grandmother had so many additional daily situations to overcome that we just don't have to face.

      Again, thanks for the comment. Happy Sunday!

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  4. My mother is just like your grandmother. Wow, when you think of the strength they had, and how they had to make decisions that were not always pleasant, but which they knew was for the best, you feel weak at the face of such courage and fortitude, and hope that maybe one day, our children, grand-chidren and great-grand-children can say the same about us.
    In answer to how to let go of the past, what I've done so far is to vow not to repeat their mistakes and on the rare days when the rage clouds my senses, I do something I love, whether reading, writing, watching movies and animes or even listening to music. I will not claim that I've forgiven my father, but I live each day as it comes, and hope that someday soon, I can think of him without the hurt.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You would think that being second generation removed from this, it wouldn't affect me as much as it does. I think it's because I didn't know them growing up when all my peers knew their grandparents. I'm looking for a connection and like learning dirty words first with a new language, I'm learning the dark secrets first.

      Here's to clinging to the love and the good, and the hope of letting the pain go. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. "And we, who are descended from them, are shrouded in the echo of their pain." Your words resonate with power and truth. I wish for you, too, that willingness to survive forgiveness, but I want to tell you something. You mention that your grandfather could, by your mother's accounting, draw the listener into a story and hold that person spellbound.

    I have never met you, Shelton. But that seems a lot like what you just did. Well done. Perhaps you have grasped something beautiful to carry forward alongside the pain.

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    1. Thank you so much for such kind words. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts. It means more to me than you can realize.

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