Saturday, 7 March 2015

"There Are No Grown-ups" ;-)

There are no grown-ups. Well - there are and there aren't. We are and we aren't.  :-)

Image from Google
Image from Google
"Both-and" is my middle name. I've been a both-and person for many years - certainly since 1990 or so when I first articulated it clearly in the in-ministry year before ordination. It's a sort of traditional Anglican thing-y, I think. "This is true and that, though seemingly opposite, is also true." You non-Anglicans out there can tell me if it fits with other denominations and faiths, or if it's an individual or Anglican peculiarity. Nahhh... can't be just Anglican. It may be a sensible and grown-up approach to life and faith.

Grown-up??!! Who's grown-up? What's grown-up? 

Well suffice it to say … there have been plenty of opportunities to confirm what I've long (maybe almost always) suspected unconsciously : There are no grown-ups. We haven't made it. We're just playing at being grown-up. Well, sometimes, anyhow.

Pamela Druckerman  says it perfectly in “What You Learn in Your 40’s” :  “There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.”

...."There are no grown-ups... everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently ..." 

I'm not sure those who seem more confident are more grown-up. They may just have developed better masks. 

I do write. Ok – so I haven’t attended parent-teacher conferences. Actually, I did for a year, as a teacher in 1965-66. I forgot. I’ve done plenty of church-y type meetings at all levels, though … and board and staff meetings at Mile End Mission … lived in and observed families and communities - and, if I were to go farther back, my own family when I was a little girl... 

WOW! Awesome. Sister Marjorie Raphael told me many years ago, "We all have pockets of immaturity." She was right.

So, there are no grown-ups? Phew! What a relief! I’m not alone! I’m free! 

Free of trying to pretend to be something I’m not – and can never be – some idealized version of what I would look like if I were grown-up. 

Free of expecting others to live up to this idealized version  - authority figures, for instance, whom I have expected or hoped were grown-ups. They aren’t grown-up either.  :-)  

Here's the idealized version:  Grown-ups are in charge. Grown-ups know what they’re doing. Grown-ups always make right and sensible decisions. Grown-ups are strong and have it all together. Grown-ups protect their children from harm. Grown-ups don't do power struggles. Grown-ups are grown-up, understand their children's needs and meet them. Grown-ups don't play mind games.   Grown-ups don't get depressed and they grieve tidily ...     Add your own... 

Our bodies develop into grown-up bodies. We learn and grow and make wiser decisions (maybe) than we did or could when we were 3 or 10 or … but growing up seems to be a lifelong process.  :-)  If it wasn't so scary sometimes, I'd say "Alleluia!" but it's Lent and Alleluias have gone to bed for 40 days. Laughter, however, is permitted in Lent. 

Image from Google

And now to both-and. We are both. No question about it. 

My journey of discovery in tracing my roots and learning our family stories has led me to understand my parents and ancestors as more rounded, interesting, courageous, determined people than I could have imagined. A three year old needs to believe that parents can protect them from harm, keep them from dying, will be strong and competent and in charge. Enter the death of a child and WHAM!

As a child, in order to survive, I imagined my parents to be other than they were. When Lorne died, Jim and I needed adults who could assure us that we were safe. They couldn't; we weren't. The world is not a safe place for many - maybe most. As an adult, I've searched for safety and hoped it would come from somewhere outside myself. It doesn't. Or maybe it does in bits and pieces here and there - or maybe safety isn't the answer anyhow, though it's certainly a necessity for small children.

As an adult, I clung for a long time to the illusion that somewhere out there was someone who could help me feel safe in an often chaotic world of uncertainty and unpredictability. Don't give me the God-stuff yet, please. That too can be an illusion and escape and it was. I clung to a God who would do what I needed if I just prayed hard enough. I also loved God, but that's another story.

So - welcome the both-and. 

Mum, Dad, and the other adults in our lives were unable to understand a small child's desperation and terror. They had fallen into their own Pits of grief and despair. The attitude then was: "They're young. They look fine on the outside. They don't understand." Whatever. They couldn't be the grown-ups we needed. And yet...

Now I see Mum's immense strength and courage in just getting out of bed every day, in going to work, in studying to get a college degree, in driving and camping across Canada with Jim and me, cooking pancakes and bacon on a Coleman stove... In swimming, stopping for picnics, and splashing in roadside streams. In continuing to put one foot in front of the other. Unable to comfort two grieving children, still she survived and more than survived. In her 70’s near the end of her life, she told me, “After Lorne died, I was always afraid to be happy because happiness could be taken away.” And yet, she had carried on. Winging it. Being the best grown-up she could be in the circumstances of her life – affected by choices that had been made by her parents and others before her, choices she had made, choices that were made around her over which she had no control.  And tragedies. She laughed again, always from a heart that had huge rips patched over but still there. Mum wung it (new past tense of wing it) – or should it be wang it? Since the past of cling is clung, I'll go with wung. ;-)

Jim, Mum, and me 1956 on shores of Lake Superior, I think. How brave she was.
Big Bro kissing his little sister while Mum and Gram look on - dining room at 427 Lafayette c1958

Dad – well Dad wasn’t grown-up either. As an adult, inside he was very much an insecure child who sought love. I don’t know that he ever believed he found it. He grew up in lies about his own father, was moved about from Wembley, England where he was born, to St. John’s, Newfoundland at age 3 into poverty and insecurity, to Montreal at age 6 where the real lies began of his father’s 'death that wasn't'…  an abusive stepfather, a mean-spirited, unhappy mother ... moving around Rosemount each year or two in the middle of the night because they couldn’t pay the rent. Leaving school at 12 to help look after his younger siblings and because the family couldn’t afford the tram fare to send him downtown to high school.

He had no healthy grown-ups in his family, but Dad, too, made some good choices. He discovered the Goat family in Montreal South, a best friend in Lorne and in "Pop" Goat a father figure who loved him and supported him. He met Mum and married her. He had various jobs (part or fulltime, usually brief in the 30’s) until the war came along and he joined up. He discovered a talent for driving and taught driving to new recruits who were heading overseas to drive trucks and tanks and other war machines.

Dad had children – three of us – two sons and a daughter. He hadn’t been well fathered, and found it difficult to father his sons. And then one died. He found himself impotent, having imagined he was strong and able to protect his children. I think his rage was the other side of the coin. (P’raps – I wish we’d talked about life.) 

Grown-up? Not really. He wung it  He did the best he could with the tears in his heart – patched them over and continued to search for love and acceptance. 

Gram had left behind her life in Bermuda to join her oldest brother' in Liverpool, not by choice, but of necessity. There was no work for her father. She was a person of colour where colour severely limited choices. She was extremely intelligent, completed all but one year of teacher training, and again was forced to move with her family – this time to Montreal - her dream of being a teacher smashed. She passed for white in Liverpool and in Montreal and lived the rest of her life hiding that aspect of who she was. Gram became a wife in an unhappy marriage and mother – limiting in some ways her ability to become the grown-up she longed to be … The mother of three girls, she passed on some of the female relational quirks (being polite) and hidden frustrations to another generation … and yet, she made a wonderful Gram.

Grandpa Mac … mysterious man – intelligent, broken ... Terrified as a child by 4 older brothers, stuttering, breaking with a vengeance out of his extremely rigid, religious upbringing --- In the few photos we have, he certainly looked like a grown-up in charge. And apparently he acted like one in his work. He didn't know how to connect to people in a healthy way, and this manifested itself in ;-) Dad having at least three half-siblings about whom he knew nothing. We're still looking for more ... siblings that is.. ;-) And of course, Dad didn't even know his father was still alive until 1954.

Brian, was the only son of Dad's half-brother Ernie who was killed on the blood-soaked fields of Normandy in 1944, four months after Brian's birth. Brian lived a tragic life - and I don't know his story well enough to know the reasons behind many of his choices ... nor would I tell it here ... Suffice it to say he wasn't very grown-up. And yet ... what we saw was only part of his story. And his death on March 1st this year wasn't the end of his story or of our relationships with him.

So – we all bring our heart-breaks. Most are hidden from the world. We do the best we can to be grown-up along with masses of people doing the same. In a world of questions and violence, fear-mongering and struggles (read wars) for power…

In a church that is dying to what it was – and p’raps – hopefully, I sometimes squeak, sometimes speak with courage  – growing into what we are called to be … holding on to what is good from the past and open to the challenges of stepping out into a new world of insecurity and uncertainty - in - ummm - faith?    "What a novel idea," as Bryan often says.

There ain’t no such thing as a grown-up if the definition is an idealized one.

I’m learning to be a grown-up by becoming more and more conscious of my inner demands, needs, and crooked learned ways of relating in the worldI'm learning as I observe and enter into others' journeys and gain/choose compassion for my grown-up and not-yet-grown-up self. And for the others in the same boat..

I’m a priest. I suppose I should put some God-talk in here. Prayer.

Prayer is a way of living. Being. God can take care of Godself – 

Part of growing up right now is becoming aware of ways in which I've used God over the years to – in a way – prevent myself from growing up. That is not to judge myself or those around me for 'falling short.' It is to understand our humanness with growing compassion. We do what we need to to survive. And at some point – if we’re ‘lucky’ – the survival structures fall apart or away leaving us free (terrified, p’raps but free) to make different choices – to allow that not only are/were our parents and most of the other people around us not grown-up – but God is way beyond what I have projected onto God as well –

This grown-up stuff leaves me in a fair bit of insecurity, uncertainty, anxiety, not-knowing – but then maybe that’s life – and maybe that’s becoming grown-up.

Maybe that’s the best we can do – wing it – together.

Image from Google

Charlotte’s Web was on the Grade 3 reading list in 1965, and I read it to my class in Otterburn Park. I almost – note the almost – came to like spiders. But the passage I love best of all is the description of Templeton the Rat on page 53. I’ve loved this passage since I first read it, and long before I had any conscious notion of what lay beneath my sweet, nice, working-at-becoming-grown-up self…

“… both the goose and the gander were worried about Templeton. And with good reason. That rat had no morals, no conscience, no scruples, no consideration, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness,  no compunctions, no higher feelings, no friendliness, no anything. He would kill a gosling if he could get away with it – the goose knew that. Everybody knew it.”

This is a weird leap from grown-up (or not) to Templeton the Rat. I don't understand the leap, but - I love this passage so! It’s so…. Real. Sooo… human! There are people like Templeton. Maybe we have a little Templeton lurking inside. We also have leaders who betray us, who are so hungry for power that compassion seems dead. Who are blind to the terror and  'collateral damage' we inflict on others while imagining our countries to be right and good.

Some truth to this, but not something to live by :-)

It’s a complicated world.  I need to acknowledge my own not-yet-grown-upness and ease up on my projections and expectations on others. I hold myself accountable. I try to hold others accountable where it is my responsibility. And I recognize the courage with which most of us meet each new day.

Each of us is a product of our history – personal, genetic, family dynamics, church or other religious institution, school, community, society … US and THEM’s that were created around and within us …

Image from Google

Image from Google

So, we keep winging it. Both - and. Grown-up and not-yet-grown-up. And, when possible and appropriate, we keep laughing. 

And we remember what's really important:   Go HABS Go!

Woo hoo. Onwards and upwards.... You can do it!

1 comment:

  1. I remember when my first child was born and then the next a year later giving myself talks about acting grownup!! About trying to feel grown up... At that time I certainly did not feel like a grown up..... Beautifully put Ros.... Lots of things to thing about......