Monday, July 27, 2009
I remember one summer day when some wildflowers blooming between the two-lane road and the river caught Mom's eye, and she pulled to the side of the road, exclaiming over them. I think I insisted I accompany her, so she took me out of the car and set me upon the shoulder of the road, making sure I was right next to the car.
Mom admonished me to remain where I was while she picked flowers. She didn't want me to go with her for fear I would tumble down the slope and into the river. She didn't want me to move away from my spot for fear I would wander into traffic; and I understood these things. I was actually a very obedient child and when Mom said, "Stay there and don't move!" I knew she meant it!
But what Mom didn't realize is that she had set me on top of a very large ant hill. This is something I had seen immediately, but thought maybe she knew best. I protested weakly, but Mom's gaze was already on the wildflowers in the ditch, so I thought maybe it wouldn't be a problem.
It wasn't long before the ants revolted, protesting the compression of their tunnels and their compadres, and streamed out of the top of the hill with shock and awe. I saw them coming, and knowing all about ants in Illinois, I yelled for Mom, just looking for permission to move.
All I wanted was to be taken from that ant hill. Mom ignored me; she was picking pretty flowers.
I began to hate those flowers.
The ants were swarming up my legs, having no shame. They covered my sandaled feet, they were climbing up my legs. But Mom said that moving from that spot was dangerous and I might be killed if I did; so I remained, rooted, in spite of the torture. I only screamed all the louder.
Mom was oblivious.
Finally she returned, saw the fury of the ants, heard my desperate cries, and quickly removed me from the massive anthill. I don't think I have, to this day, ever seen one like it. She brushed the ants off of me, she set the flowers aside, and she apologized, deeply, from the bottom of her heart. My torture was hers.
She saw how much I trusted her and had remained there, in perfect obedience to her word, in spite of what I'd suffered. I have no doubt that Mom felt horrible about it. She knew that I'd remained in that spot both out of trust and obedience, and by those faithful acts, I'd suffered greatly. They weren't fire ants, but it didn't matter...those things ATTACKED and for a tiny child, that attack is terrible!
Trust Is Important
Lately, the topic of trust has become paramount. A couple months ago, it came up with my meeting with my spiritual director (as I knew it would), and I began praying hard about it.
Many times, I've written about trust in God, and the necessity for that trust. The same week as that meeting, Fr. Corapi spoke in great depth on trust in God, and how the rejection of that trust is rejection of God Himself. It is a denial of the Holy Spirit. His words struck me to my very soul.
It seems, on the surface, that I am a "trusting" person. Wrong.
I really am not. I always reserve something to myself. I have secrets I've never been able to speak. They are too deep, too dark, too horrific. They are between me n' God. Only He knows.
But since then, some of those secrets came to the surface in prayer, as I asked Him about my inability to trust Him.
Many memories came to the forefront. Things I wish I could forget.
When I was in 10th grade, I was on the gymnastics team, and we'd all bought corsages for our mothers, or boutonnieres for our fathers. I remember lining up with the team that night and stepping out, raising my arms in the customary greeting, then stepping back into formation, proud to be there, even though I knew Mom hadn't arrived. I continued to anxiously search the doorways and the stands, hoping she would appear, knowing what was going on: she knew she was supposed to be present for Parents' night, but didn't know she'd be given a gift in the beginning.
I knew, because of that, that she was at home trying to force my brother to come to the meet. She was on a "family unity" kick, and spent far more time arguing for him to do stuff no one else cared about than to get to where she was supposed to be, and invited to be.
Indeed, that's what happened. As our team lined up on the white line of the Floor in front of the bleachers, each team member was called by name. We were to go forward to take the corsage or boutonniere, and then meet our parent/s in this yearly ritual.
As I dreaded, my name was called. Knowing Mom wasn't there, I still went forward, not knowing what else to do, and I took the corsage from my coach, standing in place, searching the bleachers for Mom...even knowing she wasn't there.
I'll never forget the silence.
The silence of my team. The silence of all the parents present, staring at me, staring away from me, wondering where my Mom was and why she wasn't there.
I nodded to my coach after a few moments and returned to the line, standing at attention, holding the wilting flower behind my back, grateful, for once, for that militant pose.
It hid my shame.
The Meet was well underway by the time Mom finally appeared. I had to keep up appearances, and although I'd never before wanted to so place a symbol under my feet and trample it until it was unrecognizable, I broke from my team, walked up into the bleachers, and gave Mom the corsage, and then gave her a hug for appearances alone while I smiled with gritted teeth, "This is for you, you missed EVERYTHING."
She'd even missed my event.
The other parents in the bleachers, I could see, were looking away, pretending not to notice our humiliation. They even covered their corsages. It was obvious.
I returned to my team, and to my competetion. Not that I had anything left to give to anyone.
When I remember that evening, I can't remember it without crying. For indeed, I was later to learn, Mom was so late due to a power struggle with my brother, trying to force him to come to my gymnastics meet. She was so intent to win a battle that didn't matter that I was the one who lost.
Trust is important.
I've often wondered about why I don't trust God, why I struggle so much to give everything to Him, but in looking at my life, it's obvious.
Trust is counterintuitive.
I don't blame my Mom in the early years, and in fact, I remember the anthill-incident with great humor. I fully believe she is a natural contemplative for she has always had the ability to lose herself in the natural beauty of...anything. It wasn't until she was overcome by bipolar that things really got out of control.
During our teenage years my brother and I "lost" our parents. First we lost Dad, but of course, he'd never really been there. Mom was the anchor. And when she succombed to bipolar, we lost our own moorings.
One day during Adoration, I was musing on how she was completely unrecognizable during those terrible years. I remember lots of smiles, lots of love during our childhood, and also discipline. She was a mother...what else to expect? But during our teenage years, when we most needed guidance, when we most needed stability...Mom was a totally different person. We never knew WHAT to expect. There was nothing but anger and instability.
For years I've said we had a rough time growing up, but we were never abused. Yet, yes, we were. Emotionally.
Please don't blame Mom. Yes, I know that's something Stockholm Syndrome victims say. But I MEAN it...because Mom didn't know she was doing it, and if she did, she'd be devastated. I'd prefer she never know. My brother agrees...we've talked about it.
As far as Dad goes...it's all about absence.
A few years ago, I went to Confession, in one my rare face-to-face Confessions. I don't even remember what I confessed, but I remember it had something to do with my family, and getting along with them. This priest, I could see, had no idea what to say. He paused, and I remember wiping tears. Finally he said, "God is your Father. Mary is your Mother."
For years now, I've considered that advice. But it's not enough. It doesn't erase what has been done, although it has helped in many ways.
We come back to the need to trust: how do we learn, again, to trust?
God asks us to have the faith of little children, but I don't think I can ever be a child again. I know too much, I've experienced too much...I've sinned too much.
I can only reach upward with hooded eyes and a stiff neck, with an expectation of the next "blow", the next betrayal. I remember the moist remnants of kisses planted by my Mom just before or just after she did something insane. I remember hiding in the darkness, wondering what to do, not knowing what was going to fly through the air next.
I remember my brother coming into my room, tired of dodging fine china, making his bed on the floor, asking me to wake him up in time to go to work. I remember the odd sense of harboring him, when normally I would be pushing him out of my space. This time, he was a victim, like me. We were terrified. Together, but apart, for we didn't even really trust each other.
We were two children, surviving, wanting to flee, and only recently, my brother apologized for leaving me alone when he went to college. There was nothing to forgive; I fled, too, as soon as I could.
So often, the topic of vocations comes up, and I wonder how many are still shuddering in hidden rooms, much like my brother and I? How many of us can hear God calling, but associate that call with the unjust punishment meted out by those we were supposed to be able to trust?
We form our understanding of God through our parents, our understanding of God, and experience of holiness directly through them. As it should be.
But what happens when things go wrong?
It is no wonder that we hear God call, and we flee.
The other day, I heard someone say, "Where do you go when you are in trouble? To your mother."
No. I don't. I go to anyone BUT my mother.
Yes, I think mothers are wonderful. I love the theological importance of motherhood. I love my mother, and I love our Blessed Mother.
But go to her without reserve? I can't fathom the idea. It's alien to me. I stare at mothers and daughters in wonder.
Go to our Father, without reserve? No, thank you. I tried that a few times, too.
How does anyone learn to trust God when those who are supposed to model God have been lost themselves? But I have to wonder...how will I ever learn to trust God, when I can't even come close to trusting those who were supposed to reveal Him to me?
Alone on the Anthill
Sometimes, I feel like I'm a helpless child again, standing on an anthill, this time on the freeway, screaming for help while the ants swarm angrily. And there's no one to answer my cries because this time, I have to get myself off this anthill if only I can figure out which way to step.
And maybe if I could stop screaming long enough, or maybe if the cars would stop honking, or the river rapids would be quiet, maybe then I could hear the voice of my Father finally getting through, telling me which way to go. Because eventually, I have to learn trust.
But for now, tonight...I just wish the ants would stop swarming.