Series Two: Blog Twenty-one
My brother Dave always fought my brother Jimmy’s fights for him around town. Dave was three years older and looked out after him. Jimmy kind of had a mouth and Dave backed him up. He was a big fighter. Once, Jimmy was being picked on by Mike Sweeney who was sort of a neighborhood bully. When Dave heard about it he challenged Sweeney to a fight. They met behind the Etog Bowling Alley. Jimmy was with him but stayed in the car. Sweeney had a chain and wrapped it around Dave’s head. I remember seeing the blood from Dave’s head spurting everywhere. Dave went nuts. He picked up Sweeney and body-slammed him to the ground and hit him in the face mercilessly until Sweeney was unconscious. Dave kept hitting him. I remember seeing Sweeney’s lifeless body flop after each hit and thought Sweeney was dead. It was horrifying! Two weeks later Dave and Sweeney got drunk and drove a 1963 MG into a concrete culvert with speeds in excess of 100MPH! Neither were killed but Dave got his eye gouged out. My mom used religion and got everyone to pray for Dave’s eye. During surgery they put his eye back in and he was miraculously able to see out of it again. Later I watched my dad in a rage triggered by Dave coming home drunk, pull a leg off one our dining room chairs and beat Dave mercilessly on his arms until they bled. Dave could have killed my dad but he just closed his eyes and took it.
These life experiences shaped my view about anger, violence and fighting. I learned that fighting was always for survival and then you fight to the death. It always humiliated other people. I determined to never fight except to escape death. Even, as an adult I have always been unwilling to wrestle with my boys because of what I witnessed during my childhood.
Everyone has a story to tell. The magic of healing can be found in the stories of our lives that we share. The uncovered storyline can be the most important link to healing. Housed in every story is truth that can liberate. This is why Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been so powerful for so many for so long. Within the community of alcoholics there are “shared stories.” Each unique story is tied together through a shared weakness. Do you know the storyline you tell yourself from experiences in your life? Is it life affirming? I learned to change the storyline about fighting and to direct it away from violence and toward healing and justice-making for self and others. What storyline did you learn from life experience? Is it life-affirming or do you need to redirect or maybe even give up the storyline altogether
It is not uncommon to hear someone declare “I grew up in a perfectly happy childhood.” Usually, this signals that someone is minimizing significant hurtful experiences. Regardless, no one is able to go through childhood and avoid disappointment and other hurts. There are major traumas and minor traumas. Both are significant. While horrifying traumas can be obvious, minor trauma is often minimized and overlooked. Many times upon exploration, what is revealed are experiences of neglect and abandonment that have been normalized and marginalized. Frequently, people have learned to practice an unspoken rule in their family to “embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious.” Understanding the impact of these “minor” traumas in average daily living takes focused effort.
It takes courage to tell our stories and deepen awareness of what is real. We are often afraid to unravel the uneventful, uncomfortable times of our past. We fear that if we do this, preconceived notions of reality will disintegrate. Consequently, we fear that what we have always thought to be true has now crumbled into nothingness. Yet, personal healing demands that we tell our story to uncover the meaningfulness that exists in average everyday living experience.
It is scary to be vulnerable. I describe it as becoming emotionally naked. Perhaps people will accept what they experience of you or perhaps not. Being honest with yourself at the deepest level has always been a most difficult task. Yet without this honesty, the depth of meaningfulness in life is blunted. Average experiences in life remain just that—average, with no depth of insight. Brilliance is unleashed in the depths of honesty. Yet, there is a great price. To become emotionally naked to oneself is courageous. To open your heart with that same honesty to another person is at best a risky encounter.
Without honesty there is no authenticity. Without authenticity, average every day experience fails to have impactful meaning. Living life unchallenged and with boredom eats away at the soulfulness of inner brilliance. Dishonesty becomes a way of embracing the improbable and ignoring what is obvious. It makes average experiences empty of brilliance and drains creative resources.
A common thread that ties all of us together is the story of struggle. Tragedy, death, loss, emotional and physical pain are common bedfellows regardless of how or where we live. We make up a storyline about our experiences in life. Are they affirming and life sustaining or flawed and enervating? For example, I am getting old. In my old age, I can tell myself that “the joints in my body are just going to hurt, so get used to it.” I can tell myself stories about others whose lower back hurts just like mine and that it is just the way it is for old people. The stories I listen to from others are stories of folks who sit on a couch all day and don’t stretch or exercise. Well, what I know about that is that when I do that, my lower back hurts. Yet, when I stretch, run or walk, my back is stronger and hurts less. So, if I want to change my storyline about getting old, I will need to look for stories of older people who have healthier experiences in life. Those who walk long distances and exercise and who are motivated to doing and being active. It is all about the storyline I choose to believe about my life experiences.
Strength and inspiration come in every-day moments when we change the storyline and share and connect with the human spirit of others. There is genuine depth in soothing a broken heart when we learn to steady and stay in the presence of overwhelming discomfort. As we change the storyline of life experience we learn that the human spirit is resilient and has the capacity to transform the convulsion of wretched agony into the presence of poise and healing peace when discomfort and heartache is embraced and shared.
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