Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lessons Learned

Every once in a while you just have to reflect on what's happened before and why you are where you are and who you are. Most of us take a quick look back once in a while but I've decided it's a good thing to take a long, hard look at the past, not in expectation of finding blame or excuses. Just a look back, over a shoulder that is so grateful for the contributions to my very being made by my parents. I was blessed with a great father and mother and I think I owe them a thought once in a while. Not that I don't think of them every day. What is that saying, "You don't miss something until you no longer have it?" My parents died many years ago and I am not ashamed to say that even today I miss them very much. So, here's what I've been thinking about.

Death is strange. When you're young it is inconceivable and shrouded in mystery. As you grow older death becomes a reality—it happens and has to be dealt with. When my mother died (Daddy died fourteen years earlier) I felt like a very old orphan. From our circle of four we were now two, just me and my sister. I thought the broken circle couldn't be mended but then I realized that life isn't a circle but a chain of links, a series of little circles. Daddy and Mother were the first circle in this country, forging ahead on with a new adventure on a new continent; making a new beginning in their very new life together. My sister and I formed links for the future with our children, and their children are the next set of links, and so on.

Life doesn't end with death unless we let it happen. My parents aren't here anymore but so much of them remains. The only difference is I can't see them. I can hear them though. I smile when I recognize I've said something that sounds like Daddy because I can hear Mother saying, "You are so much like your father." She didn't say it with censure but with love.

Memories are priceless whether they are good ones or not-so-good-ones because they are the texture of your life. I'm the same little girl who sat on the cellar floor with sawdust in her hair, sorting nails and screws for Daddy. I was part of the fishing team that cast a line into the surf in Cape May, New Jersey and dragged smelly fish heads through the water luring crabs into the boat.

The anger I felt because of the many sudden changes of location and schools (because we moved constantly) is softened now because from here I can see advantages I didn't see then. The many moves and unusual lifestyle of my childhood prepared me to be versatile, to accept things as they are, or to do something about them.

When I lost my parents I found I had to overcome a tremendous sense of loss—a loss of something that belonged in my life and wasn't here any longer. It wasn't fair they were gone—it was too soon. I hadn't finished talking to them. Did I tell them enough times, in enough ways how much I loved them? How much I appreciated the world they exposed me to? How precious were the values they taught?

I dealing with my grief I found myself remembering and the more I remembered the better I felt. The feel of sawdust and sand sliding through my fingers, the sound of clippers chopping at a stubborn hedge, my father's laugh, the smell of kippers frying in a big black pan on a sandy beach in Miami are indelibly etched in my soul.

They weren't perfect parents—they could be stubborn and opinionated at times. I thought they were selfish because they were so involved in each other until I saw marriages that didn't have nearly the love or commitment their fifty-three year long marriage had.

Later in life I missed them and resented their absence when they took off on their nomadic wanderings and weren't around to help me with my children. Little did I realize then that before they left they had prepared me for whatever came along by their example. They were always there when I really needed them. Because they had a good life, I did too.

So my musing has brought back those principles, those special events and happenings that made our family unique in some ways and just like so many families in other ways. It doesn't hurt to look back now and then and see what went into the making of 'you' because no matter what, we are a product of our past. Once I didn't realize just how great my past was and now that I do I feel somehow uplifted by these backward glances. Try it. Even the painful parts (and there are painful parts in every life) are softened with time and the knowledge that they were just part of the tapestry of your life.