Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tools for the Journey #17 - Walking Towards Home

Walking towards home...this is a metaphorical pilgrimage and one which I feel is vitally important. The journey 'homeward' must be taken to one degree or another if we are to be emotionally healthy adults.

For some of us childhood was happy and the road home is well marked on the maps of our hearts. For others, the way home may be long and obscured by pain, hurt feelings, or words left unspoken. No matter which is true for us there invariably comes a time when we must make the journey towards home. Even if long avoided, this trip often finally becomes necessary due to the death of a parent...and by then it is too late to say some things worth saying. Avoid this tardiness at all costs.

The pain of losing my mother was profound but would have been unbearable had there been unresolved issues between us. I can't say everything between my mother and I was said but everything important had been.

Close your eyes for a moment and think of your parents. What comes to mind? Are your first thoughts filled with love, gratitude and happy memories, or do regrets and resentments come more easily? What are the lasting impressions, the indelible emotions you carry with you regarding your parents?

It is a universal truth - we are all someone's child. For the majority of us our relationship with our parents was our first, and unquestionably our most significant bond. For better or worse we become inextricably tied to these people, and this complex relationship defines us on many levels.

Most parents love their children and mean well as they raise them. However it is important to remember it is possible for someone to have good intentions and still mess things up. My parent's mistakes made me a stronger person, while the things they did right made me who I am.

If a parent is asked to close their eyes and think of their children, then tell what comes to mind, most will say something positive. Despite our shortcomings, parents often seem better able to set aside their children's mistakes and instead hold fast to what they know is good within them. If we follow their example and shift our focus towards the positive in our parents we may find more underlying goodness than we had previously realized was there.

The tool for the journey is our willingness to 'walk towards home'. This is not something endeavored once and then we are done; this is a process which can take many years as we 'walk' back again and again to explore the cobwebbed attic of our memories for snippets of our past. The richness of these images and the feelings they invoke can conjure up distant and complicated emotions. The goal is to find ways to gather up all of this and somehow distill the goodness from it.

Being able to see the good in my own parents and recognizing the 'gifts' they gave me has often come through conversations with their contemporaries. The perspective I've gained from talking with the parents of others has been invaluable to me and has increased my capacity to find the hidden treasures of my past.

Recently I made a new friend; she is the mother of an old friend of mine. Linda was born the same year as my own mother and in many ways she is a lot like my mom was. She is smart and funny, quick to laugh, and she is generous and willing to tell the truth about things. We've had some wonderful discussions - the kind of talks that nobody who is not your mother has any reason to be so generous about having. The seeds of remembering what matters are planted during such conversations, and I am indebted to her for the gift of these dialogues.

The good memories from our parents are the seeds they send us out into the world with. As adults we are supposed to plant those seeds and over time they can grow into 'food' which sustains us throughout our lives.

Our sense of value, our sense of family and religion and culture - of right and wrong - all of this begins in the arms of our parents and we must applaud them if they did these things well...and find a way to forgive them if they did them poorly. Just as we coax fire from embers, so we can coax good from our past. For some this is easier than others, but it is important work worth doing. Besides 'I love you' one of the last things I had the privilege of saying to my mother before she died was: "Thank you; you did a good job raising me." And I know now, as a mother myself, this is the one thing every parent hopes to hear from their child.

The 'walk' is transformational if we are willing to take it. This walk is not home, but towards is directional for a reason - because we cannot always get all the way there.The ties which bind us to whatever constitutes 'home' for us are like those invisible strings which make people fly in movies - we cannot see them yet they are there, they are strong, and if we trust them they will hold our weight as they are carrying us homeward.

Be brave and embrace the journey. Be diligent in seeking the good. Trust that if you take this walk there will be good which comes out of it - and perhaps you will discover the road home is not so long after all.

Blessings on your journey!