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.
“I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away. But it always crept on to my lap again, clutched at my clothes. Until I thought, if I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep. And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible…but I kissed it. I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms, Quentin.” —Arthur Miller
“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.
During the first three months after my participation in the EST weekends, something deep inside of me was incubating, growing— changing. Words and the concepts those words symbolized kept breaking through into my consciousness in moments of solitude and contemplation.
One day, as I was driving on the Florida Turnpike, I found myself reflecting on how often the EST trainer had used the terms “cause” and “effect.” Cause and effect. Cause and effect. I kept saying the words over and over in my head as I drove—just as perplexed as ever at what in the world they meant—then, suddenly, I knew. Out of nowhere, my whole life flashed through my mind.
I saw with unmistakable clarity that I was in charge of my attitude and responses. I was in charge of how I interpreted each and every one of my life’s experiences. While it was true that I had not necessarily chosen the actual circumstances I was exposed to, I was the one who held onto lifelong beliefs about every experience. They were my interpretation of the experiences. In the light of this awakening, I first saw that it was my core belief that I was hopelessly stupid which naturally ensured that I would meet and marry men who affirmed and reinforced that very self-imposed estimation of myself.