Welcome to A Life Examined

What is the examined life? A life worth living! As I look at the road ahead, I take all the baggage from the past and use it as experience - the pain and the passion, the sorrow and the joy - allowing it to carve wisdom into my mind and hope into my spirit.
There is no experience that can't be useful to me at some point in my life. There is no lesson learned that cannot make a contribution to the future.
A tiny drop of water is a part of the ocean. A tiny speck in the night sky is a ginormous star in the distance. It all depends on perspective.
So, this examined life is to offer reflections in the hope of discussing things which are of value to myself and to others.
Love, Sarah

Thursday, 30 May 2013

My "Perfect" Life - Part 2

Intimacy is a word that sparks in me a feeling of being hugged and the experience of eye contact. The family home in which I grew up was decent and respectable to the outside world, but we were not intimate. It was a time when fathers were the breadwinners, and were responsible as role models. I suspect ours was more-or-less the norm. At least to the outside world we were a typical WASP household, where fathers were detached entities to be respected, feared and obeyed.

My father fought in World War II as a fighter pilot. I know nothing of his experiences. He never spoke about it himself. Second and third hand, through my mother and a first cousin: my father's sister's daughter, I've learned a little about how the war affected him. After the war, my father spent time with his sister 'recuperating' emotionally. Evidently, he had nightmares. Later, when he attempted to finish his law degree and write the Bar exam, he was too war-torn to manage it. He either didn't write the exam or flunked out.
Apparently, my father was a brilliant orator and law student never to have his dreams realized. I say 'apparently' because he never spoke to me about himself. My mother did a bit, but she wasn't the most reliable source of information as she was prone to exaggeration and embellishment. But it's safe to say he did leave law school to volunteer for the war effort a year before finishing, and he never practiced the Law. He'd been valedictorian of his undergraduate class and his yearbook says words to the affect: 'If this boy doesn't make a significant contribution to society there is no justice in the world.' Some time after his death, I found the yearbook when I was in my 30's. Upon discovering that comment, I felt proud for my dad.
His failure to complete Law was not only a personal tragedy but also indicative of the losses to society. This man - like so many others - put his own life 'on hold' to do what he felt was his duty, never to fulfill his goals or purpose.

The story I'll use to introduce my remote and harsh father is third hand. It's the only story I have about him as a child, but it gives me the impression that my dad was a sensitive and loving child. It is a story I'll call 'Sweet Kittens'. A cousin told me the story, which in itself tells you a lot about the lack of intimacy in my immediate family.

When my dad was little - maybe about five - the family cat had kittens. The family was never well-off.... (One reason my dad didn't finish law school was because he had to put himself through university and then law school; I don't know how he managed undergrad but by the time he got to law school he had to work a year, then study for a year, then work for a year... back and forth like that. By the time he was to study his last year the war was full-on and he felt he should wait no longer but go to fight...) ... the kittens were important to my dad. He played intently with them. But at some point, perhaps when they'd grown and needed solid food, or perhaps sooner when it was realized no one else would take the kittens, they were put in a sack and drowned. My father watched, helpless, and then he ran off, crying, devastated. I highlight in the story that he appeared to be alone in his grief. His older sisters and parents, it seemed, were unconsoling. A younger brother wasn't yet born.

Growing up in our house, we always had a cat. The third family cat is the only one I remember. I was three years old when we got him and he lived for ten years. He was wonderful! My dad was affectionate toward Boots and spoke words of affirmation to him. Boots lived a high life of soft cat food, roast beef and ice cream. When my dad would nap on the sofa, Boots curled up next to him. Dad flattered Boots. 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever' Dad would quote. Then he'd reach down and pat the cat and say, "Eh Boots." My mother looked on as the cat received open affection. The words of affirmation and displays of affection my dad showed toward the cat are the indications I interpret as the potential my dad had for displaying love.
When Boots died of natural causes, it was my father who found him. He took his body away for disposal and we never had another family cat. I don't remember my dad speaking about Boots or his death after that.

I admire my father in many ways. Now I choose to look upon our distant relationship as a tragedy that was rooted in his experience of war and having no acknowledgement or treatment for the effects.

While this post may seem bleak, it is not intended to be so. Some of life's events and relationships can be disappointing, how we take our experiences and make them channels for strength and learning are up to us. I believe every experience makes us stronger, healthier, more compassionate individuals, able to offer to the world insight and hope.

Have you family memories that this story triggers in you? I'd love to hear from you - about your family, or your thoughts about mine. And I'll bring a third installment of My "Perfect" Life next THURSDAY.
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