She was a famous movie star, yet she craved a sort of redemption, longing for recognition and admiration from those who had ignored her in her childhood. I hope that wherever Marilyn now rests, she knows that her redemption lives on in the adulation of millions who are still mesmerized by her brief life in this world. Shimmering like a candle in the wind; a candle that made life shine brighter for so many. I believe that the fundamental essence of Marilyn, of all of us, is neither created nor destroyed, but exists in timelessness, forever tethered to the mystery of God. I believe that the essence of the many selves that Marilyn, Joey, and I lived remains woven together like a tapestry. Despite Marilyn’s demons, her contribution to the tapestry of life is legendary. Joey, at fifty-seven, also surrendered to an isolated life and premature death, facilitated by booze and pills. Yet his legacy lives on in the daughters that he adopted and who became such a source of joy to Joey’s father, Joe Sr. Joey exposed me to a whole new world of possibilities, for which I will be forever grateful. I can only hope that the threads of my life will extend far and wide and add to the beauty of this unfolding tapestry. We cannot help but leave indelible footprints on the hearts of those who have loved us. I pray that my own lingering footprints will rest lightly. My longed-for redemption never came in any of the ways that I had imagined it would. Not one of those relationships with others that I thought might redeem me ever fulfilled that craving in the depth of my soul. Yet, somehow—through the patching and weaving together of all these lives—it has been done. I look into a mirror, into my own eyes, and see that redemption has come. I live and thrive encircled in the certainty that I am completely and unconditionally redeemed. Curiously,this redeemed state of soul has not erased all my frailties and weaknesses. I am still as imperfect a human being as it is possible to be, but with one extraordinary change: I now see, that after all my desperate pursuits of a“pardon” from life, it has been in coming home to myself and rejoicing in the diversity of me that I am redeemed. Finally, I know that the many-sided prism that I have come to recognize in my self is the totality of the me I was intended to be. Today, I see that through all the years and all there relationships and all the parts I’ve played and roles I’ve filled, I am still the “ragamuffin”who loves simple, filling, cheapfoods like mashed potatoes with mounds of butter and a glass of cold milk. But I am a rich ragamuffin—rich in the horrors and the blessings that have been the mold from which I have been formed. Even now, as I finish this story of my quest for acceptance and redemption, Mary sits just a few feet away, holding out her arms in a gesture that invites me to surrender my self in to her love, just as Grandma used to do during her nightly prayer ritual. The light is caught in the prisms of the glass beads of my grandma’s rosary where it hangs, draped around Mary’s neck. I love them—the rosary, the statue, and Grandmother’s memory. And I love red lipstick and cleavage, even though cancer left me with only one breast to push up and show off. Broken ragdoll, patched and finally loved by me, I am—Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!—truly redeemed at last.
Many years have passed since Grandmother left us. I now have my own prayer table. The Mary statue graces the center of my own “altar.” Her original, beautiful colors have faded, and she has been broken and reglued more times than I can count. She is discolored, disfigured, and just plain old. But she has not lost any of the power my grandmother’s nightly prayers instilled in her to perform miracles, hear prayers, and empower a believer with holy energy. Every time I look at her I feel the bountiful endowment of God’s grace, the myriad of unending prayers. Some of sorrow and others of comfort, peace and gratitude, poured out before her presence by my grandmother. One day, when I pass on, perhaps this humble and rather pitiful-appearing treasure will end up in a heap in some obscure place, but the comfort that her presence has bestowed on the young and old can never be diminished.
BRAZILIAN CHERRY HARDWOOD floors are known for their hardness and durability. Not a day passes without a sigh of joy as my bare feet touch my beautiful hardwood floors. Independent of the temperature or seasons, the floor remains inviting beneath my feet. The richness of color offers both the elegance of time-honored solidness and the down-to-earth casualness in which I am the most comfortable.
Watching my children tend to their “father wounds” reminded me of a similar process with my father.
Howard died alone in the dilapidated trailer shortly after his wife, Vi, died from alcoholism. When they found him beneath the sagging tin roof, which was draped with a filthy black tarp to keep out the rain, dozens of empty booze bottles lay scattered at his feet.
Howard and my mom had been divorced for many years at the time of his death, but she saw to it that he had a military burial. I remain in awe of the generosity of spirit that she alone extended to Howard by arranging his funeral.
When Bill died four years ago, I was able to facilitate my children’s grief and farewells. By their own choice they had not spoken with him in several years, but I felt that grieving his passing was paramount to their healing journey. We lit candles and wished him well on his crossing. They whispered their regrets. I felt blessed to have been given such softness in my heart toward him.
My children no longer had to carry the heavy stone of family wounds heaped upon them by their parents.
“It is the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most human beings live only for the gratification of it.”
When does a habit become an addiction? I have heard it said that with a habit you are in control of your choices, whereas with an addiction you aren’t in control of your choices—but what about a situation in which a habit slides into an addiction? For example: It may seem like a harmless habit to drink on weekends, but what if it seriously affects your family? What if you say and do things that you would normally never do? Would you call this a habit, or an addiction?
I will never forget my last night of drinking. It happened on that sailboat, on a gorgeous evening in which we had invited the people on the boat next to ours to join us for dinner. I guess it’s kind of funny for me to say I will never forget that night, because the truth is, I only remember our guests coming aboard and then leaving. I remember absolutely nothing in between. When I awoke the next morning I had to wait for my husband to awaken so that I could try and read his face. Had I embarrassed him? Had I done anything outrageous? Was he mad at me?
When he finally awoke, he appeared fine, his usual, happy-go-lucky self. I was too ashamed to tell him that I couldn’t remember anything. I tried to discreetly ask him about the evening. He said that we all had a good time and that I was funny and engaging. Funny? Engaging? Thank God! And I couldn’t remember a moment of it. I was utterly confused, mainly because I had yet to learn that when an alcoholic has a blackout they can appear to be totally conscious to others. Years ago there were stories of pilots flying planes in a blackout. I had always thought blackout meant the person passed out. I knew then that I was done with drinking, but I could not imagine how I would accomplish quitting.
I did not drink every day, nor did I get drunk every time I drank. I was always surprised on those mornings that I awoke struggling to remember how I got home the night before. I would often be terrified to answer the door on those mornings, fearing that whoever I met there would somehow guess—or maybe even know—something about my shameful behavior from the night before. All this, when I had no idea if anything shameful had even happened!
During the next few years, as I finished obtaining my bachelor’s degree and somehow survived four unruly teenage children, I tried hard to control my drinking. Since I did not get drunk every time I drank, I kept telling myself there was no way I was an alcoholic. Little did I realize at the time that the very fact that I was having this debate with myself was a sign that I had already slipped into the denial that is characteristic of every alcoholic. People who do not have a problem with alcohol have no reason to even enter into this kind of self-argument.
In 1978, Mike and I moved into a home on a little canal in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was there that I met Judith, the next woman to have a life-changing impact on my life. Judith lived across the street from me, and as our friendship blossomed we began to meet several mornings each week at 5:30 a.m. With coffee in hand, we drove to the beach just in time to watch the sunrise, jog, and discuss various spiritual literatures.
If it was EST that cracked opened my armor-plated heart, it was Judith’s influence that replaced the confused and punitive worldview I held with one of infinite spirituality. When I learned that she was studying to be a minister, I was deeply intrigued. Spiritually, I felt like a babe just awakening and ravenously hungry.
While jogging on one of those glorious, sun-filled mornings, I was suddenly struck with a profound knowledge: that the God of my childhood understanding was not the God I was awakening to. That long-held image of a jealous, judgmental, controlling God who lived in a far-away sky could never again be the God of my understanding. On that hallmark morning, I came to believe that God, as Mystery, lived within each of us, inviting our participation in a direct relationship. The beauty of that moment was stunning.
In the years since the 1970s, when it was widely popular, Erhard Seminar Training (EST) has often been cited as a hallmark example of the “human potential” movement fostered by the “me” generation that inspired Tom Wolfe’s article, mentioned earlier.
During a ten-year span, over one million people participated in EST training, including such celebrities as Diana Ross, Valerie Harper, and John Denver. I am aware that EST has been defined as nothing more than a self-indulgent, cult-like movement. I totally understand that perspective, because there were indeed many annoying aspects of the program: the four-day seminars (two weekends) did use a lot of extreme measures such as keeping participants in back-to-back sessions for hours without allowing the use of the bathroom. Such measures were used to break down a person’s ego-defenses, though, and to open us to self examination. I know that our marriage would not have lasted had it not been for how I was affected by those weekends. My exposure to the intense self-searching eventually led to what I refer to as my first conscious moment. A defining moment, indeed!