Earlier this week, a friend of mine and I were talking on the phone and somehow we got to what happens after our parents die – when we come into our own, able to identify biases our parents instilled in us without the constant reminder. When my father died, there was much to unravel and I had to do it quickly because of the way my father handled some things that I inherited – and when it came to my mother, because of the way I grew up, there seemed less to unravel because of the way I grew up, and yet to this day, I’m still working on that.
We realize at times that the parents we had were basically children when they had us as we grow older than them. For some people, the parents did the best that they could with the tools that they had with the experience they had at the time – and if we were fortunate, they grew because of it.
Two days ago, I saw one of my neighbors that I had not seen in a while. She had been skinny, to the point where I wondered if I should take her food now and then, but now she was rounded out, her cheeks filled out pleasantly. We exchanged pleasantries, and it came to mind that I had helped her father, a few years my senior, with changing a tire on her car. The reality is that I simply did it because, as I found out in the conversation during, he had focused on his guitar while I was being indoctrinated into pragmatism and self sufficiency. I inquired about him, because he was a fun person, and she told me he had died last year.
I was shocked, conveying condolences and at the same time wondering how. He had seemed in good health. The local medical examiner, after an autopsy, said it was cancer in his lungs, while she was describing a sudden onset. Her mother, who I had also met, is presently fighting cancer with mixed success. I couldn’t help recall that earlier conversation I had with that other friend. This explained her weight gain, which I did not find bad or unhealthy yet, and I mentioned it and told her to take care of herself.
We have this tendency to forget about ourselves when we’re worried about people we love and in doing so, we sometimes lose our own centers. I speak from experience.
Yet another friend, whose wife just beat breast cancer, is now dealing with her mother and the ovarian cancer that is inoperative. There’s just a lot of cancer around me right now, for some reason. Maybe it’s my age group, and as I like to point out, modern medicine has allowed people enough longevity to get cancer in the first place where they may have died of other things before – which makes sense in the elderly, but not in the young.
We gain from our parents, even if we gain the wrong things. No parent is perfect, no relationship ideal, even in retrospect. It’s a part of life, and though we don’t want to hear it when the sting of loss is fresh, it allows us to find our own potentials and to grow beyond our parents. This is a deeply personal part of us, an intimacy that few share. It’s when we stop comparing ourselves to our parents and begin disregarding those that continue to compare us to our parents that we truly grow beyond.
We don’t talk about it, perhaps because of some taboo, but I had one cousin when my father died who told me that now that my father had died, I would grow in ways that I would not yet understand. I did not understand at the time, and even now, almost 17 years after his death, am I truly beginning to appreciate it.
This is a part of being human. A horse, in contrast, becomes a horse within moments of birth in almost everything but size, walking and finding it’s footing. We humans take longer, and we are born into a world of artificial constructs, fictions, about who we are, what nation we belong to, etc, which requires a lot more time to grasp and work within. Horses and chickens don’t need to worry about credit ratings or paying the rent, or which football team to support no matter how bad they are.
Unraveling ourselves, we either find our way or choke on the umbilical cords of our world.