It’s a scurrilous affair to be the target of an assault upon our humanity. Judgments, condemnation and criticisms all aim to reduce our opinions of ourselves, and are often successful in altering how others view us as well. We may well learn best through adversity, but none of us likes feeling attacked. It perpetuates suffering on both sides of the defenseless/defensive coin, especially when it’s of the insidious variety. That’s how the term backstabbing doubtless came into being, this feeling of being assaulted from behind where we can’t view the perceived enemy. And it’s a coward’s way out, this character assassination. It may temporarily grant the accuser a sense of superiority, but of one thing we can be certain; if we observe another engaging in this practice, it’s only a matter of time before they place us squarely in their sights.
I grew up with some fairly critical people, and would venture to say that years of habituation brought this trait out in me. I was an extremely sensitive child in a chaotic environment, and did not receive much guidance in handling the world with equanimity. And though I did garner some fundamental truths which would later prove beneficial, the chasm between what was practiced and what was preached was too vast for my child’s mind to bridge. Only later with age, experience and my own inevitable mistakes in parenting was I able to put the past into greater perspective. It’s still a process at midlife, so I suspect some lessons are deeper than mere conditioning.
As a teenager, I bolstered my fragile sense of self by finding fault with someone I thought better looking than I was, smarter, more talented or popular. Even if I shared these thoughts with no one else, a sense of smugness enveloped me like the proverbial warm fuzzy blanket. Eventually though, and it wasn’t too long in coming, that wrap felt suffocating. To something more decent inside of me, it just felt wrong. Hacking others down did not fill me up, nor did it give me any genuine or lasting sense of self worth. In fact it lent nothing of these attributes, it only carved a hole in my soul.
It has taken many years to rout the poison of criticism from my core. Like standing before a polished mirror, the presence of truth reflects back anything unlike itself. In this space, I am able to experience an up-swelling of compassion for the child that was me and for all the confused children in the world, trying as best they can to survive and thrive in adverse circumstances. Thus my ruminations extend to the child that lives within every adult, and it is easy to experience forgiveness and unconditional love, both for myself as well as for our deeply flawed yet simply human race.
The body comes last as she bounds into chaos,
the day, to work on no breakfast for starters,
watching her weight as is the call
of her generation, Twiggy-thin or else
considered fat, little choice in the matter
but to subsume any physical appetites
which, by the way, include sex, employed
more to entice than to enjoy;
He doesn’t know where to begin, start
with the basics, try to be a gentleman
like his doddering father and wonders
why it isn’t working, generation gapping
all around his tired visage;
Why are women so unpredictable, masters
of emotional language he cannot grasp, even
with a lifetime of education and experience,
competence lending comfort and yet
here he is, fish flopping on the deck
of his own boat, sun scorching thin skin,
not yet dead but not wholly alive either;
Two halves of one whole, promise to love
and cherish and why is this one thing
so hard, this constancy; how is it
that love itself seems never enough?
Vistas of the inner mind expand
before me, always visibly rich,
effervescent with possibilities.
Some appear through a thin mist
while others focus cleanly into view
like adjusting the diopter on my camera.
Love makes allowances for horizons.
Now. When younger attending more
to immediacy, unwilling to pause
to more deeply understand, afraid knowing
more would disappoint, I did not trust
in futures, snatching at flesh and fantasy,
mutely watching as sand fell through fingers,
time running out, no litmus for self respect,
Time alters perspectives, love’s presence
or absence sensed more acutely
with commencements and conclusions,
lovers and children and friends distinct
in texture and timbre, threads in an
ever-changing tapestry of bounding time
as the telescope pulls back, readying itself
for deep pockets on a chilly fall day;
Now. While we have this dance,
warm me love, I cannot be touched often
enough, animal hackles need soothing, help
in consortium, marinate us deeply into pores
unaccustomed to simple quenching.
She’s been dead a couple of years,
my soul mate. Lots of people’s soul mate.
That was her gift. She belonged to everybody
and nobody at all. She was very much
her own woman or the Goddess’ woman
or at least a powerful woman; no less
nor more than I, myself; but still.
We are stratified into more subtle layers
than most people care to discover,
a bit of fairy dust really, and yet.
It matters less and less only we did
understand one another, and upon death,
suddenly our work comes more alive.
People are searching for answers.
Our passing reminds them of this.
I keep wondering if I ought to be shaking
bits of her out of my body, but where
then do I put the pieces? I who am
daily reminded of footprints and planets,
the excesses of my own species. And still
I am reluctant to see those remnants go.
It’s not that I cannot let her progress,
she is doing that splendidly, even now;
and images come alive in heartbeats
out in the garden by the clove tree
which could never cast those memories
into fires of forgetfulness, knowing deep
as sap the need for proliferation of kindred,
her now-forgotten mace and nutmeg.
I could spend the rest of my life ruminating:
this is why I do not create bonds easily,
trust takes years, betrayal ever ready
to sharpen its fangs on a tender heart;
I could say it’s because you abandoned me
and failed to protect us Mother, and it would
be true, in part; yet all parents disappoint
and damage despite love and sacrifice,
their own deep suffering notwithstanding,
due in part to perils children can never know;
I passed it on as well, I who least wanted to,
I, the diligent one who was going to get it right
still made mistakes, nothing critical and yet
here we are, frail silly humans, dragging one
another through chambers of ecstacy
and suffering and no matter what we do,
Love is the great leveler. If we love, we risk
its opposite; if we revel in delicious splendor
these bodies grant us as small compensation
for daily stressors, we cast wide the gates
for all of it, orgasmic bliss and the seed
of life perpetual when another loop is formed
in the tiny golden chain with a locket,
treasured keepsake, the same link that
when magnified darkens under the lens
like forged iron intimating opposites,
a hell of our own making;
And still we chance it and who could refuse?
Again and again the heart beckons
and we return singing Solomon’s song,
humbled into eloquence and beatitudes,
bowing at the feet of the beloved; I would
do it all again. Differently, of course. Yet
I beseech you, who among us would not?
I don’t now know what to do with the grief
of parental disappointments,
how their lives entangled, ensnared,
dreams dashed on the shoals
of fragile egos glued together by obsession
with ‘fifties fantasies and too many children;
My mother once told me in the throes
of discovering my first husband’s
confused gender orientation, Oh, have
a baby! Have a Baby! As if stitching
this troubled soul to my side for life
could relieve a retinue of problems;
Schooled only to parental obedience
I might have been tempted, though thank
the gods he recognized the folly
in her entreaties (considering now her
solution then, multiplied seven times over);
How could I possibly have understood
what has taken a lifetime to sort out,
reflecting back on images of Mother,
then three decades younger than I am now;
what did I, myself know at that time, Nothing! How could I have been equipped
to juggle betrayal, babies and bills
through thickly clouded vision,
ripe with hopes and dreams of youth?
Now I stand on the threshhold of my own
senescence, poised between their birthdays
and three eclipses, lunar mother and father sun,
and I wonder again how families fail one another
and how we fare, once festooned with illusions
now cast off, far from those turbulent shores.
Whatever she was to you, it was all too brief
anyway, touch-ins on social media, much love
and all that piffle amounted to nothing more
than impulse when you felt generous enough
to trumpet your own exuberance;
Love is round and full, not merely a word
or sentiment to be eschewed when distracted
by bright and shiny things, or when
another rejects you at your most vulnerable;
humans are self-absorbed and often
Love restores, is richly profound, a luscious
blossom and ever on the lips, though
if deprived of nourishment, withers away
to become a husk of its former blush and bloom;
Take the high road, not only enchanting
with words, mean what is said, take action
in a world short on follow-through;
persist with pledges made not only
at your convenience; dare to be tender,
if only to bask in the promise of probity,
feel the glow, the dazzle of divinity coursing
through the veins, looping back into your
own shining spirit and out to a planet
sorely in need of the heart’s affirmations.