“Mother tended to become riveted on what she felt as a personal slight or insult but she would not discuss it with you…She silently brooded over the incident and carried it with her inside. She remembered only the insult, however accidental, and it grew as time passed.
“Usually such a misunderstanding fades away with time. But for Mother, the process was the opposite. She clung to the image of the old hurt, to her own secret image as the deprived somehow cheated and unloved person.
“That image was a bottomless pit into which you could pour years of loving, kindness, and attempts at reconciliation without visible results. It failed to erase the one mistake.
“It put you at a permanent disadvantage. Your unpremeditated error in judgment became part of a larger aberration that existed privately in the far reaches of her childhood deprivation, her own alienation and loneliness, her insatiable need for love.
“There just wasn’t enough love in the whole world to fill her need. She didn’t allow enough space for other human beings to be themselves and give her anything real. She demanded such constant reassurance of devotion that she left no room for love. It was impossible to satisfy her.
“Over the years, most of the people who really did love her, in spite of her demands were pushed away because she seemed unable to accept others as totally separate from herself.” (Christina Crawford, Mommie Dearest, Berkley Edition, Pages 189-190)
“What is it that I want from Uncle William? I want some hesitation at the door, as if he isn’t sure he is welcome. I want him to take me aside and tell me he knows that he has done me harm.
“I want him to sit, if he must sit, at my table, silent and absorbed. I don’t demand that he be hounded: I don’t even want him to confess. I simply want him to know, as I want the Irish sailor to know, that a wrong has been done me.
“I want to believe that they remember it with at least regret. I know that things cannot be taken back, the forced embrace, the caresses brutal underneath the mask of courtship, but what I do want taken back are the words, spoken by these two men, that suggest that what they did was all right, no different from what other men have done, that it’s all the same, the touch of men and women; nothing of desire or consent has weight, body parts touch body parts; that’s all there is.
“I want them to know that because of them I cannot ever feel about the world the way I might have felt had they never come near me.” (Mary Gordon, Violation, in Temporary Shelter, Page 195)
Hurt, resentment, the inability to really forgive and forget, the hook of the past in our present, the universal condition of need, the chain of neuroses that stretches back to Adam and Eve, the need for a redemptive healing embrace from outside of us are what is captured in these quotes.
In the first of them, Christina Crawford describes her mother, Joan Crawford, and her mother’s inability to move beyond her childhood hurts. It’s a haunting statement because all of us, in some way, share her condition, present hurts invariably touch the deeper recesses where lie the wounds of our childhoods. We fill with paranoia and resentment far too easily.
Mary Gordon, in her powerful essay on sexual violation, first describes how she, twice, was sexually violated; once by an anonymous Irish sailor and, another time, by her own Uncle William. Now, years later, she finds that feelings of resentment and sadness still fill her at times and rob her ordinary life of some of its full richness for enjoyment. As she is writing this essay she is reflecting upon the feelings that have been triggered in her by the announcement that her Uncle William is coming with her parents for lunch at her house. Trying to pinpoint what is still unresolved within her after all the years, she summarizes all in one line: “Because of them I cannot ever feel about the world the way I might have felt had they never come near me.”
An entire metaphysics of resentment is contained in that single line: Every hurt, every violation, every undeserved bruise gives us a new way of knowing, a wisdom and a bitterness. After every wound we begin to feel about the world differently than we would have…had this not come near us.
That’s an enlightening insight, but to what purpose?
Freud held strongly that self-knowledge brings freedom, knowing why we act in a certain way helps us to act in a different way. Perhaps that is not as true as Freud supposes, but, as every recovering alcoholic can vouch for, self-knowledge is a necessary starting point. Until one looks in a mirror honestly nothing much will change. Hence I offer these quotes as a mirror. In it, we see ourselves…our woundedness, our resentment, our neurotic inability to love simply and joyfully, our paranoia, our propensity for self-pity, our insatiable need for reassurance, and our limitless capacities for hurting each other. But this is not meant to be a stoic mirror, within which one sees all the elements realistically, but does not resolve the conflict. Rather it is meant to be the mirror of humility within which we recognize our connectedness with everything and everybody.
If we can do this honestly then we will begin to feel the ache for redemption and we will have the humility to reach out for the embrace which can make all things well and make the fire and rose one…and enable us to meet the universe and each other with a sympathy born of the fact that life, for everyone, is an arduous and difficult struggle.