“Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.”—-Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart”
I have spent many years running away from the abnormalities of my family. Let’s just say that we didn’t fit the mold of our suburban Utah, wealthy, and only-Mormon neighborhood. My eldest brother began using drugs at age 14, my dad was the local pharmacist and he decorated his store with the carcasses of the dead animals that he had hunted, my sister’s daily attire consisted of three inch heels and mini skirts. And my just older brother was a big-mouthed jokster whose material was often hilariously off-color (still is, don’t tell his Stake President, he’s in the High Council now). My mom couldn’t stand to enter the cultural hall during Homemaking meeting let alone have the patience to put together a craft (or talk “the talk” of Mormon women…she cared very little about little Jessie’s science project or hubby’s latest home teaching assignment). Her favorite quote that she framed and hung on the wall in our home was, “Martha Stewart doesn’t live here.”
Indeed, Martha Stewart did not live at our house. And to me, very little normalcy was found there either. I loved my family. I was proud of their strengths but found it hard to not be embarrassed by their (and my own) weaknesses. And I hated being different by association. So, I made up for it by being perfect. I played multiple sports, was an honor student, earned all of my young womanhood awards and painfully tried to be without flaw. I wanted to be the example. And I felt an extreme amount of self-imposed guilt, not just for my own sins but for the weight of our family’s “difference.”
Last summer, a wise friend of mine mentioned that in building their own home after having rented for a number of years, they had in mind how to make it perfect. But instead of making the mistakes of the former homebuilders, they just made new ones.
And I’ve done the same thing. I haven’t hung dead animal heads in my home, I haven’t filled my closets with minis (although I would like to. And my sister, BTW, now has a lovely and eclectic wardrobe full of longer minis, different sizes of heels, and her temple bag). I haven’t shunned the culture of Mormonism however much I’ve been tempted to, but I have made my own gloriously humbling and individual mistakes.
My biggest mistake has been not realizing that Christ’s atonement makes up for our sins and allows for our differences. I haven’t yet learned how (like my mother) to unconditionally love my children. I haven’t yet learned (like my father) to be the eye of the storm, calm and assuring to all. I haven’t yet learned (like my oldest brother) to take off on Saturday morning and not come back until having ridden at least two hundred miles or gotten sunburned, I haven’t yet learned (like my sister) to successfully juggle work and kids, hubby and family, love and loss and do it with grace. And I haven’t yet learned like my older brother how to laugh at life.
But I’m trying. Perfection long ago left in the dust, I now feel ready to begin. Kate Croy in Henry James’ “The Wings of the Dove” says, “It was the name, above all, she would take in hand–the precious name she so liked and that, in spite of the harm her wretched father had done it, wasn’t yet past praying for. She loved it in fact the more tenderly for that bleeding wound.”
I should have known that I should love my family because of their bleeding wounds. You see, they match so perfectly with my own.