01 December 2013

The Surface of Things

Day Four of a visit at my sister's home in Tallahassee FL. There is truly "no place like home." The psychic characteristics of Family zones, are so distinct; there must be a setting on the holodeck.... The alteration to reality that I experience in the company of my family is unique and mysterious.

As a young adult, whenever I returned "home" for a visit, a violent headache would set in a few miles outside the city limits. The phenomenon was predictable as daybreak and I never traveled home without Excedrin (and, in later years, Aleve) in my backpack.  Growing up, I was "the child who has headaches," but once I left home the headaches stopped...except during journeys home.

After the Big Argument of 1998 during a "family reunion" in Lake Tahoe, I was persona non grata and did not visit parents or siblings for awhile. Short of telephone conversations once or twice a year with my sister G____, there was essentially no contact between me and my family.

When my mother died in 2012, after a prolonged illness that had been kept secret from me, I was formally disowned by my siblings.  After a couple weeks, G_____ emailed an apology for her emotional over-reaction and we have attempted reconciliation by telephone from then until now. The repair of the relationship rests solidly on not-talking about the wounds and not asking questions. The taboo topics are tacitly understood and, with a few accidents on my part, the peace has held in the silence.

The silence and masking have been stressful for me. I didn't realize how much until last night. We went together to see "The Book Thief" and I believe its exploration of themes like death and forgiveness, honesty and honor (to name a few) affected me, stirred the deep waters. I was quiet enough on the ride home for G____ to remark "Are you tired?" "Maybe a little," I answered. "Mostly just thinking about the movie." She thought the film was too long and had no plot.  I found it moving and profoundly relevant to our family -- but I did not say so.

Hans Memling, Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Barbara
(Detail), early 1480s; oil on wood.
I suffered last night:  headache, indigestion and despair. I felt untethered and flawed...and exhausted. This morning, I perceive my conflict with my family as a clash of cultures. I was born predisposed to inquire and analyze and plumb the depths, into a tribe committed to the preservation of smooth surfaces. Where they strive to maintain a beautiful, undisturbed lawn that matches the beautiful, undisturbed lawns of every other house on the street toward securing social harmony, I am inclined to turn the soil to see what lies beneath; to plant vegetables wherever there is sunlight--even in places deemed inappropriate by social convention; to delight in the surprise of things growing where they will, the emergence of weeds and worms and mysterious blooms.

My sister lives in a large, well-appointed house. This morning on TV, Oprah is interviewing "an expert" on spirituality.  Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" is mentioned and I make a note to re-read it. The set furnishings look very much like my sister's living room and the discussion in the interview sounds like the discourse in the books of my library. My sister is riveted to the screen, listening to strangers speak openly about things we do not discuss in my family. I am wondering what she makes of it...