I am starting on a course, or seminar, or whatever they want to call it, with my community of faith. It’s called “Beloved Conversations”, and is offered by a theological seminary out of Chicago, the Meadville Lombard Theological School. They’re relatively progressive, and graduates have been ordained en masse by United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association. From everything I’ve heard, they’re academically sound, and the faculty is high quality. So. This course is supposed to help people journey toward racial equity by encouraging self-exploration and exploring the roots of bias. This is a spiritually based approach to helping folks begin to figure out how we got here, to this place of division and polarization, and how we can get to a new place. Sounds good. I’ve heard from folks who have taken it that it IS good, so here I go. It looks good so far, but I’m still in the pre-course work, and everything looks good. I’m very open to it, though, so hope that it will live up to the hype.

The state of affairs in which the nation finds itself is…kind of silly, in my unsolicited opinion. Collectively, we have bigger fish to fry than worrying about the tweets of someone who has been nominated for a cabinet post. Tweets from several years ago, mind you. Tweets that did not even begin to approach the savage cruelty and high levels of disinformation that our last POTUS broadcast on the daily. Hypocrisy is a negative force unto itself, and it’s going to be taking a big chunk of ass out of more than a few people on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, timing is everything, and I may not get to witness the carnage, but I’m sure it will happen.

My big question, though, is why is all this necessary? I seriously wonder if this is solely a question of power, privilege, elitism or if there’s something deeper going on with people who make a career out of self-centered hypocrisy. I’m beginning to lean toward the latter these days, and must allow room to include mental dysfunction in my assessment. I would imagine that it’s not sane, or at least not mentally healthy, to refuse to budge from a point of proven falsehood. Proven. With documented evidence. It’s like denying the sky is blue, or the grass is green, because at some moments in time the sky appears grey and the grass appears brown, so there. The whole premise that says the sky is blue is a lie. By all means, let’s plan around the exceptions rather than the rule. Yeah, that’s productive.

Anyway, notwithstanding the nonsense of current events…I was thinking about my father yesterday, and this morning. He died at 68, of I don’t even know what…complications from diabetes, I believe the death certificate said. He had a pacemaker, so his heart had apparently begun to cause him problems well before that. I wasn’t very involved in his life when he began to decline, so don’t know exactly how the health issues emerged or how they were handled. What I do know, not so much from medical reports as my heart, is that he was a profoundly unhappy man. I get that. That huge void lives in me as well, so I understand him being so unhappy. His mother died not very long after giving birth to him, and from what I understand, his siblings cruelly – in that truly horrific way that children can be cruel – blamed him, saying that it was his birth that killed her. I remember him saying that he was raised on the streets, even though he had a stable home and food on the table. He said he was hanging out on the street corners smoking cigarettes at 14, just … out there, no particular place to go. Just out there.

My father graduated from high school just fine, and went on to a Louisiana HBCU. He graduated from there, with a degree in music. Played the clarinet. From all of the pictures I’ve seen, he was a thin, not too tall, good looking guy with hazel-green eyes and wavy brown hair. He and my mother were introduced by some distant cousin of my mother’s, I believe, and tongues started to wag about what a good couple they would make. I’ve never been sure there were sparks flying between the two of them, but more between everybody else in the family. And it was mostly my mother’s family, since my father’s siblings were doing their own thing, and their father had abandoned them to his sister and taken off for California. The grieving widower left to start a new life of his own, without his children, without any responsibility. Nice work if you can get it, I guess.

I will intentionally digress here, for a moment, to say that my father’s father, my grandfather, was even more of an unhappy soul. The few times I met him, I remember him being somewhat distant, austere, formal. He was a handsome man, but very stiff. Stood up very straight, even when sitting in a chair. A smile never quite reached his hairline, although his lips curled and his eyes softened a bit, if I remember correctly. What I found out many, many years later was my grandfather’s mother – my great-grandmother – had committed suicide when he was still a baby. She had apparently conceived him through some kind of illicit relationship with a man who remains somewhat a mystery to all of us, but who abandoned her. I’m not sure if the man left the picture before or after my grandfather was born, but whenever it was, he faded into the woodwork and left my great-grandmother with few resources. Somehow, and of course there are no records about this, she drew up a will that stipulated my grandfather was to be raised and adopted by a neighboring family, who had children of their own but were more than willing to agree to this. So, when my great-grandmother did commit suicide, in 1900 I think, my grandfather went to a new family and assumed their surname, which I carry as well.

My grandfather was a little boy when all of this happened, but at some point he was made aware of how he came to be, and felt quite…abandoned, I would imagine. He was an adopted child, and his mother had committed suicide before he even knew her. My story is that he retreated, keeping to himself, sucking all of the unwantedness into himself. As an adult, he produced a brood of children – my father’s siblings – but I’m not sure how much of the child-rearing fell to him. My father’s mother most likely did much of that duty, until she died. And then my father’s world fell apart, before he even knew what it was. His father left, and he was raised as one of not only five siblings but really ten, because his father entrusted them to the care of an aunt. The aunt, who I remember, took care of their physical needs and made sure they were clothed and went to school, but nurturing…not sure that woman had it in her. Plus she had ten – TEN – children to raise. My grandfather sent money. Yay him! But this is why my father was hanging out on the street smoking cigarettes at 14.

So, by the time my parents got married, which in my book should NEVER have happened, my father was already well established in the pattern of avoidance, and going around any obstacle he might encounter. He was not a mean person, but he also just didn’t engage on any emotional level. As I said earlier, his world fell apart when he we very young, and his father abandoned him. Just like my world fell apart when I was still pretty young, because my father abandoned me. Just like my great-grandmother’s world fell apart when she was still a young woman, pregnant, when her man abandoned HER. The pattern…goes on, long past its origin. My father couldn’t give to me what he did not have, what he had never experienced. I don’t excuse him for that, because his siblings didn’t do what he did, his friends didn’t do what he did. But he couldn’t deal, and he went around the problem, and kept going. It has taken me a really, really long time to forgive him, and I’m not sure I have forgiven him entirely. He gave me a lot of things I needed to make it this far, and so I am grateful. I told him this when I had “the Talk” with him in the ICU before he died. But…did it have to be THIS fucking painful? He could have done better, even from the simple point of paying his child support when I was still a legal minor. Just that might have made me feel a little better, like maybe he gave a shit. I think he really did give a shit, but I’ve had to figure that out on my own, not because he did things to let me know that. I had to make all the moves, when I got old enough, when I got sober enough, when it had started to hurt too bad to keep hating him.

I don’t hate him any longer, but I still have this overwhelming cloud of … why? Just why? What the hell were you thinking? I see so much of him in myself, and it alternately gives me some kind of closure and pisses me off entirely. The same is true of my mother, but for different reasons. I see myself in her, and it explains quite a lot and then makes me want to break things. Those are times when I don’t feel like I’ll ever be “right”, like I’m damaged and can’t be fixed. I will say those times are less and less frequent, but sometimes I do feel as though I’m just not “right”, that I see things and experience things so differently than everyone else that I will always be standing alone. Sometimes I enjoy standing alone, but figure like it’s just a consequence of stubbornly refusing to break, to give way, to yield. I can’t, when I feel as though someone wants to break my spirit. I give a lot of ground up to that point, and then it’s just…done. And I can’t go back.

Frequently, that position costs me, sometimes financially but most often emotionally. It costs me emotionally when I feel that I can’t play well with others, can’t compromise, can’t work in a team. I’m not sure all that’s true, but it feels that way in the middle of the storm. When the storm is still raging, my rage protects me, because it is simply too painful to feel the guillotine come down, even if for only a split second. My rage protects me, but it also excludes any salve or balm that might comfort me. I want to curl up in a fetal position under a blanket and hide, protecting myself from any further onslaught. That’s what it feels like. What it looks like to the outside world is…oh, she’s fine. She’s upset now, but she’ll get over it in no time. She’s just mad, but she’s tough. And so, they listen to what I say and what they believe my body language says, and they stand back. I’ve always wished for one – just one – person to not stand back, to stand up to me, to not give into their alleged “fear” of the big angry stuffed animal and refuse to let that pass. That horrible sucking sound is not rainwater in the gutters, it’s me going down the drain is waht I want to scream. There have only been one or two people in my whole life who have not stood down. They know who they are, and they are very rare souls. I’m lucky to have them. Maybe that should be enough, I don’t know.

So, back to my father…he’s more typical of people who choose to be intimidated by people who are passionately demomstrative (nice words, eh?) and will let loose with their feelings. I thought I was numb many years ago, and I suppose that I was, but could still exhibit volcanic rage. That may still be the case, I’m not sure. Maybe nothing has pierced my skin quite deeply enough to bring about rage. It’s the rage of impotence, I think…the rage that says I have these deep, incredibly deep, feelings and I can go nowhere with them. I have no place to go. Again…I have no place to go. Is that truth?

At the moment of the meltdown, it is entirely true, and the moment of the meltdown is where the bulk of my work must done. I can analyze, realize, rationalize, theorize, all in retrospect, but when the chips are down and the reaction is blowing off the top of the mountain, that moment is showing me exactly who I am, at my core. That default, knee jerk response – when I am feeling that my survival is threatened – that’s who I am way down deep. That’s my burning core. I have not always liked what I see there, have not been proud of what spews out when the top blows. So, that’s how deep I have to go with making changes in my Self. That’s how deep it is. It’s a scary, dark place…but I have to keep going because it’s all I’ve got. Can’t have the light without the darkness, or so I’m told.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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