Introspection is not always a bad thing. On occasion, it’s good to reflect on the persons and events that helped shape your soul. This is a form of prayer of which we should do more.
I sometimes do this sitting at my parents’ grave. They’re buried together in a small rural cemetery and, when there is occasion and my mood is right, I sit at their graves and try to figure out who gave what to me.
Half of me is my mother. She was an overly-sensitive person who wounded easily, was anxious to please, and who could not say no enough. So she often found herself over-stretched and tired. Today some would say that she didn’t keep clear boundaries. She had 16 children. Her critics would rest their case.
She was a generous person, always giving things away. Sometimes she gave away food and clothes that our own family needed. As a child I was angry with her for that. I didn’t want a generous mother. I wanted things. She, on her part, wanted some things that she didn’t always get, good health and peace in her family. I remember her crying one Saturday morning as she was cleaning the house and trying to keep peace and order in a family that was, on that particular day, given over to disorder and crankiness. She cried and told us how disappointed she was that our family wasn’t like the holy family.
We weren’t the holy family and she was frustrated a lot, not so much with us as with the plain inadequacy of life. Beyond this all though, she was a happy person, more naturally buoyant in spirit than my father. She danced more easily than he, laughed more spontaneously, was an easier touch for us kids. She took life less reflectively than he did, though not as unreflectively as we, her children, naively supposed. After she died, we found a diary and we found that she’d thought more deeply about things than we’d supposed.
She was completely relational and her deepest longing was to share her soul. Here she got lucky. She met my father. They became, from soon after they met until they day he died, soul-mates in every sense of that word. She didn’t have to tell him her secrets or share with him her frustrations, and neither he in reverse. They understood each other without having to explain themselves. In all my years of growing up, I cannot ever recall them having a single misunderstanding or even being angry with each other.
My father died of cancer and she, who had been strong until his death, died three months later of pancreatitis and a loneliness nobody could cure. Today some would look at that and say she was a co-dependent. But she would laugh and tell you that she got what she wanted from life. She died of missing my father, died happy. There’s something to be envied in that.
I’m her son and when I contemplate these things about her my own soul becomes less mystery, as do my struggles, my faults, my longings, and my strengths. I even understand why I’m tired a lot!
The rest of me is my father. There’s nothing in me that isn’t explained by genes. He was the other half of my mother. He didn’t dance easily, though he was a deeply affectionate man. Dancing was too public for him. He preferred to express his love in private. He loved my mother, us, his family, and most everyone else. But his way was not to trumpet this in public. There was a reticence here that could look like coldness, but you had to read his actions, and his eyes. There was an abhorrence of all exhibitionism, especially as it pertains to any public expressions that say: “I love you!” Some people cannot make love with the bedroom door open. My dad was one of these.
He was the faith, the stubborn uncompromising moral principle in our family. This was another reason he had trouble dancing. He agonized over all that was not right in the world and his patience didn’t always meet the test. I feared his eyes at those times that I disappointed him. I also feared, and still do, ever disappointing him. He was the most moral person I’ve ever met and he had a sixth sense here that was near infallible. He knew right from wrong in a way I couldn’t doubt. He instructed me – against my protests. If I end up in hell, I can’t plead ignorance. My dad equipped me, faith-wise and morally, for the world. I have the faults that come with that too, his faults, compounded by my own.
What a mysterious thing is a human soul! What incredible factors account for its beauty and its distortions!