Tag Archives: hope

Ghosts of Me Then, Now and Yet To Be

It must have been how high above the world I was sitting. One minute I’m in my mid-thirties, dressed for a hot summer day, on a train into the city and see a cement pipe down low -

- then I’m thirteen or fourteen staring stiffly out of the school bus window at the farmed hills and valleys trundling past. Below in a paddock is a fallen tree trunk, and something’s in the end of it. The bus groans down another gear to take the corner, and from my raised perch, I can see there’s something (a cat?) curled up in the rotted out end -

-then I’m back on the train, gulping air. I can feel the loneliness and dejection of my old self as thick as a tidal rip around me, and I’m lifting my face upwards as I fight the pull of the sudden time lurch. The memory of how miserable and forlorn I was back then swamps me; I can feel the itch of my winter uniform, see my breath condensing on the window, as I ignore the taunts and backstabbing going on elsewhere in the bus while I work out how many days until I can leave home…

The train waddles through another couple of stations as I’m considering how much intense feeling has crashed down all because of elevation over industrial plumbing. Oh, you poor, bewildered thing, I think back in time to Me-Then – to the little glimpse of that girl unknowingly still riding a bus inside my forgotten years – oh, life gets so much better! I pause, wince a little, And, admittedly, at times terribly more awful too. But you have so many brilliant things to look forward to: books and boys (yes, someone will eventually kiss you of their own volition) and perfect glass water-skiing mornings. Seeing that cat again, smiling every single time deep down in your hopefulness. Desserts you don’t even know exist and a change in faith which will set fire to your heart. You’ll swim in the Atlantic Ocean one day, and will call it your boyfriend because it so joyously feels you up as you laugh. You will have children, and ideas, and see your name in print. You will be incredible. Really. You absolutely will. You are the most stubborn person I know, and that will take you to the life waiting for you.

I remember, dimly, a letter I wrote to my older self at the time, demanding that I be a journalist and visit Paris and live in Sydney – to be far, far away from the warped country town and family I was suffering through. I remember so much detail and the vehemence I felt in writing that letter, and I’m still sitting on a train decades and states away from who I was then, while also being a weird redheaded girl nobody understood or liked, sitting on a school bus in winter.

Last week I read a book where the main character writes letters to himself (now) from his future self, to help him survive the present and make it beyond the next week/month and (hopefully) year. While Future-Him states the world’s been decimated by nuclear war, He-Yet-To-Be also lives on a lighthouse, with his wife and family doing a job he loves, and scuba dives for fun to the cities far beneath the ocean. He builds himself a loving relationship, a pet animal, purpose and direction far beyond what he currently experiences. It’s a scraggly, whisper-thin thread connecting him to a better place and time, even if it is (at least temporarily) imaginary. It’s a beautiful, wrenching and hopeful exercise all at once.

The tide recedes down my chest, until I am yet again a thirty-plus year old woman on my way to the city, looking through the scratched windows to the landscape rolling past. But I’m also composing a letter to my decade-older self (You’ve been to Paris, right?), and composing a love note (on thick, imaginary, silken paper, scrawled loopily in rich blue ink, because why not?) from Me-Yet-To-Be to the woman on the train biting her lip and smiling as she wonders what the future’s going to hold this time.

Stay stubborn. Just wait – it’s going to be AMAZING.

*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*

What has shoved you hard back into a memory? Which memory? What would you say to your past self? What would you write to your future self? What would you want your future self to tell you about You-Yet-To-Be?

Stories of Survival: Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand) and The Arrival (Shaun Tan)

An unstoppable prankster as a child in California, an unbeatable runner in the Berlin Olympics, a bombardier in World War Two, Louie Zamperini was always a force to be reckoned with.

“All he could see, in every direction, was water. It was June 23, 1943. Somewhere on the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean… Louie lay across a small raft, drifting westward. Slumped alongside him was a sergeant, one of this plane’s gunners. On a separate raft, tethered to the first, lay another crewman, a gash zigzagging across his forehead. Their bodies, burned by the sun and stained yellow from the raft dye, had winnowed down to skeletons. Sharks glided in lazy loops around them, dragging their backs along the rafts, waiting.

The men had been adrift for twenty-seven days.” (p. xvii)

Laura Hillenbrand’s ‘Unbroken’ is a true life, non-fiction title which relates the childhood, teen years and Army Air Forces training of Louie with affection and clarity, with the strength of the story coming to the fore when Louie is captured by the Japanese as a prisoner of war (POW). Louie’s treatment as a POW is clearly detailed, focussing on his determination, friends, mental athletics and personal acts of rebellion through the war.

While that may be more than enough to fill a book, Hillenbrand continues to chronicle what happened in Louie’s life on his return from the war. Louie shared with Hillenbrand the coping mechanisms he used – alcohol, temper, marriage, family, revenge – to readjust and, when that failed to work, survive each day. What happens next in Louie’s tale is as astonishing and courageous as what happened on the other side of the Pacific from his home. It is about faith, hope, revenge, forgiveness and being absolutely, terribly, humanly breakable, yet still unbroken.

Hillenbrand includes in the epilogue a summary which gives a great summary of Louie’s attitude towards life and how he lived it:

“When Louie was in his sixties, he was still climbing Cahuenga Peak every week and running a mile in under six minutes. In his seventies, he discovered skateboarding. At eighty-five, he returned to Kwajalein on a project. “When I get old,” he said as he tossed a football on the Kwajalein beach, “I’ll let you know.” When he was ninety, his neighbors look up to see him balancing high in a tree in his yard, chainsaw in hand… Well into his tenth decade of life, between the occasional broken bone, he could still be seen perched on skis, merrily cannon-balling down mountains.” (pp. 383-4)

‘Unbroken’ is slow-paced in areas, however it is possible to skip forward to specific parts and chapters (as detailed in the contents) and it is worth it for the POW and post-war sections alone.

 

Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’ is the only picture book I cry reading, and I sob every single time I revisit it. Considering there are no words at all within its pages, it’s quite a feat. ‘The Arrival’ details a man’s escape/immigration from a war-torn country (leaving his wife and daughter behind) to an unknown land. The story charts his struggle to leave his family, then his country, the stress given by the immigration officials, then entry into a totally foreign landscape. As co-gazers on this strange and baffling country (curling architecture, what looks like a kettle is some sort of incendiary torch, bizarre and fanged creatures at your window, challenging customs), we are scared and worried and lonely with him, hoping for rescue, comfort, relief, a safe haven and friend, frame by tiny or double-paged frame.

Shaun Tan has created an intimate, whimsical and touching story using no words at all, just expressions, a tree through seasons, a child’s smile, a folded piece of paper, the flight of birds – just to name a few. ‘The Arrival’ is a literally wonderful book, suitable for readers and early-readers alike. The art is beautiful, and pulls on my heartstrings and empathy on every page.

‘The Arrival’ is about surviving in unexpected places, wherever you may find them, however you got there, placing the reader in the position of main character, into every other character encountered, and pushes what we learn about belonging into our own lives after we’ve closed the cover.

‘The Arrival’ is an essential addition to any bookcase.

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand (2010)

 Recommended to:

  • Enjoyers of non-fiction
  • Anyone with an interest in the Pacific WW2 events
  • Anyone wanting to be uplifted

Not recommended for:

  • Anyone afraid of the ocean, sharks, running, war or hope
  • People who don’t like to read about sad or difficult situations

Rated: PG15 – Louie’s time as a POW is given in detail, he was not treated well. Themes of war brutality, survival mentality, alcohol abuse, revenge, hope, redemption.

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (2006)

Recommended to:          Anyone with a pulse

Not recommended for:

  • Kids under the age of about 8 (symbolic drawing of war as long monster-type tails, or giants with flame-throwing machines may upset young children)
  • Possibly people (adults or kids) with separation anxiety

Rated: PG for under 8’s. Gently handled themes of war, family upheaval and separation, differences, new beginnings, confusion and belonging.

Which books about survival do you love and recommend? Do you read non-fiction? Graphic novels or picture books? Is there a book which inspires you (or makes you cry) every time you read it?

This Year, I Shall Read

I’m not doing resolutions this year. I’m not resolving to lose weight, grow vegetables/up/a beard, run in a marathon, tidy out my kitchen cupboards. I’m not setting goals to be more patient, organised, generous, sociable, or to save a grand, the planet, me from myself.

I do have hopes and wishes though. Like this, perfectly summed up by word magician Neil Gaiman:

I hope all of that, especially the books. I know last year I read at least seventy-five books, but I’m not sure on the number (though I did print out my library borrowing record because I was curious) and they were like life: some ordinary everyday stories, blending into the ones before, some starbursts of ideas and reaction puncturing my days like fireworks, others again slow careful creations which climbed inside my skin and changed me, their words and ideas grafted on my history.

So this year, I will read. Time available for fun reading is rapidly condensing, so I’m thinking of using this to get my “Must Reads!” accomplished, with handy tick boxes to spur me on. I want to read a couple of non-fiction, and a cook book, titles still unknown.

I’m going to read the Book of Mormon through hopefully once, though am happy to be side-tracked into themes, symbolism, revelation and contemplation. If I don’t read it through, I hope it’s because something resonated in me like an ancient, dappled gong, tumbling me down into greater understanding, enlightenment and appreciation.

I hope I read a heap of excellent books this year, or maybe twelve for my list. But if I only read that “almost one” – that’s the perfect hope and wish fulfilled right there.

Got any book-focused hopes or wishes for 2014? Any 2014 releases you are looking forward to? Do you count how many books you read? Any plans for number of books read for this year?

Sympathy, Faith and a Tricycle

My tricycle“The last time I saw you,” she sighed, staring at an afternoon decades ago, “you were wearing a little shirt with a pocket on the chest, and a nappy, and I took you straight off ya Mum and walked down the back of the yard. We had a look at the animals, and you put ya head down on my shoulder. It was a few weeks until Christmas, and..” she paused, puffing out her cheeks before starting again, “.. ya Mum said she’d bring you back then to get your presents.” She pushed at the tablecloth, straightening wrinkles and bumps into temporary submission. She heaved in a breath, looked up to meet my gaze, blinking against the tears falling into the creases of her face. “I didn’t see you again. I didn’t even know if you was dead. Nothing.”

“Oh I’ve missed you,” she choked out. “I never forgot you. Never stopped loving you. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you were okay.”

This was my grandmother; a woman whom I didn’t even know existed until two months earlier. But I could see my face reflected in hers, and finally had a physical, genetic explanation of where my red hair and curves came from. It was our first weekend together (that I could remember), and we stared hungrily at each other’s face, asked questions and tried to fill in the enormous, bewildering gap of over two decades of life (and deaths and marriages, babies, successes and heartbreak) we had lived without knowledge of the other’s experiences.

Over and over again my Nan would say the same phrases, and still does whenever we talk. “I never forgot ya. Never stopped loving ya. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you was okay. It broke my heart.”  I don’t doubt it hurt her. My biological Dad and his siblings have told me of her grief, of their eventual insistence that she not speak of me in their hearing because of the pain it caused all of them. I couldn’t imagine what it meant, or felt like, to lose a granddaughter – the first grandbaby born to the family – in such a sudden, inexplicable and deliberate way. Continue reading

Creating Beauty From Ashes

Beauty-From-Ashes-original-art-by-Blue

A blogger I follow recently wrote for the first time about the abuse she experienced growing up. For 30 years she’s managed to shove it beneath the surface of her life without ever talking about it or addressing it. And she has done an amazing job of it. Despite those damaging experiences, she is a happily married mother, a successful medical doctor, and a witty and gifted writer. But the past finally caught up with her and through a series of unexpected events involving helping an exchange student, she recently found herself no longer able to avoid venturing into the murky, uncharted waters of her past.

Venturing in is terrifying. It’s painful. And it’s scary to let oneself be vulnerable, but it is absolutely requisite for healing.   I know, because I’ve been there myself.

I rarely comment on blog posts, but I felt like I should respond to her courageous post with some of my thoughts. Little did I know how much they’d resonate with her. That she’d print them out and highlight parts and carry them around with her. That when she wakes up in the night in a panic, she’d reread those words to calm herself down.  She shared how much she appreciated the support and insights as she embarks on this path.

She is not LDS, in fact I believe she’s an atheist, so my comments don’t get into the role the atonement plays in overcoming hard things, but I know there are countless people who’ve had similar struggles, who may be in need of a boost right now.  So it is with that premise that I share the comment I wrote to her that day. And I apologize for its length, but I felt impressed that this is a discussion that may benefit some readers of this blog, too.

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Dear DM,

You’ve been in my RSS feed for years and years, and I almost never comment. But these two posts merit it. I just didn’t have sufficient time when I read your first one.

I’m probably just a little bit ahead of you, on the same road.  I felt paranoid for years that if people knew about my past, that it would mean all the horribleness I had inside me would be actually true. That I was really just an impostor in my own life, faking being awesome (and doing a poor job of it mostly). 

I’d spent considerable energy growing up trying to be accepted, to figure out how to be popular, become someone else–anyone else–just as long as it wasn’t “that girl”, the one that had experienced those things. I was in huge denial about my reality. Experiencing these things resulted in me being one of those easy-targets at school and elsewhere, including my church. I didn’t know why my peers were so mean. They just were. One therapist explained that kids are like sharks…they smell blood in the water and sense an easy target; going in for the kill is almost instinctual. Maybe that’s it, but either way, between home, school and church I was neglected, abused, bullied, beat up, ridiculed and shunned as a kid. Early on I came to believe I was as ugly and worthless as “they” claimed.

But I survived, and once I left home I met a really wonderful guy and while he seemed to be aware of a lot of my loose ends, he truly loved me anyway (we’ve been together for 25 years now). For the first time I had a relationship that was “safe”, and thus I was able to stop expending energy trying to maintain my facade, and use it to start healing.

Over time, I have learned that not all therapists are created equal. It took seeing about ten of them over the past 25 years to realize that. I didn’t know how helpful a therapist could be til I found one that actually was, and that has made ALL the difference. I’m growing and healing so much faster now.  There is an end in sight to all of this.  In the past I talked for the 50 minutes, paid my $100 and left. There wasn’t a whole lot of insight or progress and I assumed I’d probably need help forever. Find a therapist who does more than listen and ask how does that make you feel?  A good girlfriend will do that for you for free :-)

Writing, especially in your case where you’ve been doing so anonymously all these years, should be really helpful not only to you, but to a number of your myriad readers.  And that feels REALLY great, to know that some good will come out of this by way of helping other people get through their own pain. You’ve already experienced a taste of that with the exchange student.  You are brave and strong and good and amazing and funny and talented and have an excellent support network, so I’m confident you will be able to go through this journey and emerge stronger and even more amazing, with wisdom and perspective to help others you encounter.  It won’t make the bad stuff good, but it creates beauty from ashes.

Life isn’t fair. Sometimes it’s sad. Not just for people who’ve been abused, but for every one of us.  Learning to take the sad moment and grieve the pain, but not let it become a cesspool you hang out in, is one of the keys.  What we dwell on, we dwell in. So give yourself the moment, cry the tears, allow the pain to vent, and carry on. It’s part of the grieving process…which is really what this is all about; acknowledging what happened, how it has made you feel and impacted your life, putting things in perspective, letting go and moving forward.

Sounds easy on paper. It’s actually a cyclical journey that takes time, with progress and setbacks all along the way. But meanwhile you are making the world a better place just by being in it and not perpetuating those things upon the next generation.

The thing that tipped me, that finally gave me the courage to address my own past, was Jeanette Wall’s best-selling memoir The Glass Castle.  It kind of gave me a map. Before reading it, I thought that if my past were true, (ie: if I acknowledged it), it would mean I really was damaged goods, worthless, and no one would want to be friends with me. I didn’t want to be labeled victim. I didn’t want to hang out with victims or be classified as in that “group”. I didn’t want that to become my identity.

But when I read her story, I closed the book wishing we were real life friends. I didn’t view her as a victim, or surviver, or anything other than one dang amazingly cool person that I’d really enjoy knowing and being friends with. And then it occurred to me that maybe that’s how others would feel about me. That I wouldn’t have to be known as a “surviver of abuse”.  So it changed my life, reading her story. I hope that I can share my own story someday, and if it helps even one other person heal the way Mrs. Wall’s book helped me, it’ll have been worth it.

Here are links to a few things I had never learned about that were complete surprises to me: Boundaries. Hadn’t really heard about them, nor were they in place in my life–that’s been a huge one. Co-dependence…which is when I allow someone else’s behavior to dictate my own…was also huge. The Drama Trianglelearning about it enabled me to stop playing the game.  And finally, Detachment, and forming healthy attachments.  These ideas are all connected, and there is an abundance of information about all of them a google-search away. The goal is to be a healthy, kind, loving person. There were some skills and information I needed to acquire to get there, and these are a few of the main ones.

Thanks for sharing your story, and for being beautiful and good and strong even though you had a crap hand dealt to you as a kid. That isn’t who you are and doesn’t have to define you. And this will be one of those things that, someday, is a mere blip in your life…just like high school was actually just one piece in the puzzle of your life. It probably seemed so HUGE! and SIGNIFICANT! when you were in it, but looking back, it’s now something you sum up in a sentence or two. It’s not who you are. All of these are just experiences that impacted you in various ways, but they don’t define you in the long run.

Thanks for the inspiration you’ve given me all these years, and hang in there.  The light will come!

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This is a big topic, and we can continue the discussion in future posts if there is interest. Do you have any thoughts or insights you’d like to share? Are there any ideas you’d like to delve into more? Have you or someone you know struggled with similar things?