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Posted By Opening the Heart

   Have you ever been angry enough at someone to stop talking to them- forever? This was part of the legacy that I grew up with. My mother's father lived with us for as long as I could remember. And they never talked. Actually, that's not technically correct. I remember many times e.g., when I would be playing checkers with "Gramps", my mother would come into the den and she would bark "Supper!" It was a bark because it was short and sharp and not an invitation to my grandfather. What made the whole situation harder and more complicated was that Gramps and I were very close. He was a checker champion and he would never let me win. He offered me "opportunities" to increase my advantage if I were clever enough to see them. Even if I could, it didn't seem to matter because he would play me into a losing position, then reverse the board, and beat me again! He'd smile and say "Yossela, don't ever give up!"

   I don't know when they stopped talking, probably before I was born. And I don't know why. I heard different stories. I didn't think much about this until I started going to my friend Billy's house where his grandparents lived with his parents, and I noticed that they all laughed and talked with each other.

Rabbi Kushner, in one of his many books, wrote that in fully one third of the families where he made a condolence call, that there was at least one family member who was not talking to someone else-even at the time of the death of a loved one! The last piece I wrote in June ("Eleven Minutes of Disconnection") was about a young mother and her two sons sitting in a cafe, each engaged on their own "machine" who did not speak one word to one another for 11 minutes. But this lifelong holding of a grudge has seemed much more pernicious and soulless because it requires a daily commitment to hold on to the past, and to never forget and never put to rest the hurt done.

I noticed something that astonished me when my grandfather died: My mother continued to not talk to him! She continued to hold the grudge as if it had truly become a part of her. She held on to the bright coal of anger even as it burned her own hand. I assumed that the last 58 of my mother's 83 years were spent that way. That's over 30 million minutes living in misery. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not talking about forgiving someone not deserving of forgiveness. That can sometimes take the form of condoning or enabling hurtful behavior. But Pierro Ferucci, an Italian psychologist, talks about "closing an account internally", while still holding someone accountable for their actions.

So, the legacy, my legacy: I began to see how well I had learned the lesson of holding on to hurts, closing up, withdrawing, not talking. But I had the great good luck to marry someone who helped me to change my family tradition- to offer a different legacy to my own children. "You never stop talking to family" was the new learning. I got it wrong hundreds of times before I began to get it right sometimes. As hard as it was, I listened to what my grandfather taught me: "Never give up trying". Living in the past, intentionally, is the same as not living in the present. I think that we end up living in the past (or the future), not so much because of anger but because of something much deeper: fear. I am, mindfully, intentionally, committed to breathing and living more in the present even when fear makes me want to run.

With Love and Respect, Jon


2 Comment(s):
Donna Macomber said...
I'm moved, hearing my colleagues reveal the humbling work of re-pairing broken ties, healing the broken places that can so easily occur between friends, family, lovers. Being human takes energy, courage, and an appetite for eating "humble pie ~deep dish." There is no shame facing ones own defenses, just the opportunity to shed unnecessary armor, and move choice-fully closer to those we love.
July 11, 2012 03:17:59
Peter said...
Thank you, Jon, for this. Absconding from difficult relationships - either by silence or by sheer distance - is a pattern that I can easily relate to, having done it many times over the years. Breaking the silence or closing the distance does require courage, patience and total commitment to the here-now rather than to the "history". I am currently in "repairing" mode - (re-pairing) - with a long time friend whom I had pushed away. It is challenging work that involves looking at and taking apart some of the least desirable patterns in my own ways of perceiving things.
July 4, 2012 02:22:45
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