Being with my family is always something complex – rich and stark at the same time. My people are full of ancient pain. Mostly we have learned to carry on, but I the least of all. For some reason I live stuck.
“I’m sorry you’ve been sad” she said kindly, as I fingered my sweaty water glass. Standing there, more comfortable in the place just outside the kitchen, where Serbian is being spoken which I do not understand, than in the living room where I will be expected to be something. I know not what, except that I cannot do it today. And so I stand there listening to the beautiful Slavic sounds, watching the cooking. Bread is baking. Gravy slowly bubbles.
The sun peeks in through the window where a cacophony of herbs is growing, so unlikely in this stark Midwestern winter. But this kitchen is a place of miracles. I finger the sage, basil, mint, “Such a wonder, herbs growing.” I had whispered more to myself than anyone. My brother-in-law looks as me curiously, perhaps he is wondering at my wondering.
“It is not sadness” I quip sometime later. I immediately regret my correction if it is harsh or sounds mean when really I am only bone tired. I apologize, contrite, in the same breath. And this is the miracle moment I can only see looking back. It is an instant. A simple choice. She persists.
And doesn’t walk away as we have done to one another a thousand, even a hundred thousand times. We, my broken family, are quick to quit on each other in moments like this. Too afraid of the conflict, of anxiety, of misunderstanding. Of harsh even mean words, for which I am often guilty. We become weary of the simple effort of inquiry, wary of the risk and the liar tells us “It’s not worth it” the pushing through, the desire to understand, to heal; to change the ancient rules of misunderstanding. Persisting, she asks “What is it?” That moment is unbelievable to me and I know she really wants to know.
“Fractured.” The first word burst out of me for I was ready, longing for the question and I find myself wanting her to know. “Anxious. Fearful. Lacking hope.” The words tumble. Slowly at first, I persist through my shame. And she listens to me in those miraculous moments after our mother left choosing football alone over Us. We know where we stand. I don’t judge my mother. I feel her rejection sharp.
But as my sister stands there and listens, I talk about the deepest kind of despair. “From ancient wounds,” she asks? And I stare at her in wonderment. Has she read my blog or poetry, echoing words I have scribbled there? Or has she read my heart, my mind? She has never spoken to me of the words I put down there, a selfish scribbling down of the story of my shattered heart that I put on my blog lacking the courage to speak them in real life.
Feeling a little bit more known I stammer out the words, finally. I talk of this family we are a part of and how we don’t know how to be together. How I long for more. And it makes me so sad. And yet my husband has a theory that ultimately we all “do what we really want.” If you want more connection do something about it, is the implication. But we both know, my sister and I, that it is not so simple for us, having started from a place of broken with no capacity to build something good. I share that I really long to know her, know my brother-in-law, be a part of their lives. I share this place of hurt. Where I become stuck. These triggers to my depression, of fearing rejection that hasn’t actually happened.
Then I begin to speak of our Father, long dead and it is clear he is inside my head. “I cannot remember him kind” I sputter as tears begin to flow, the second miracle or third after the questions and the herbs, for I am the woman who cannot cry. I long to, but my frozen heart, cemented to its pain has been shut solidly closed. It may have been a decade since tears have flowed. And I stand there in the kitchen of miracles and weep ancient tears. And speak of the terror in my heart and head as I hear my father’s rage. “I am stuck there with him, terrifying and terrorizing me.” And she comforts me with her presence. And her tenacious probing attention. I shudder with the pain of speaking my genuine admiration for her achievements, of living. She has somehow been able to live. “The boxes we were put in as toddlers,” she says. This is a revelation, since we two girls were babes our father has said she was smart and I was somehow something other. Though he wasn’t particular as he raged about grades. But for some reason I was the recipient of his anxiety, disappointment and fear. That is when she voices their anxiety.
She speaks of a class she took on Anxiety and how it spreads in organizations and families and what a revelation that was to her! The anxiety of our parents was a constant presence and fueled his anger, her sadness and all the sickness in our home growing up. Even today, every word my mother expresses is laden with fear of rejection, misunderstanding. I wonder what she really thinks, feels but I will never know. And I know that I cannot talk to her about any of this, my ancient wounds, because she is too fragile. The threat all these years has been that she will fall apart.
Every time you feel in God’s creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: ‘O my God. If thy creations are so full of beauty, delight and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight and joy art Thou Thyself, Creator of all? — Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain
We stay a long while, and laugh, and talk and simply be. We leave more connected. I am overwhelmed by the miracle. This tale is supernatural in that it happened. It is not the tears or the ancient pain spoken out loud though they are incredible. This is about the persistence of My Sister who gave a thanksgiving miracle to me. Yes in that I can say, thanks be to God.
He did this. She did this. We did this.
And what remains is hope.