Monday, May 30, 2011

Living with Integrity

Why must "family" be so dysfunctional?

My patriarchal brother is a religious control freak. Ironically, he is the youngest child in our family of seven children. He takes his formal religious duties seriously: he is trying to "save" our hopelessly divided family.

A year ago last spring, he, along with his wife and their new baby met me at a sushi restaurant for lunch. He lives three provinces away, and was in town visiting his in-laws. I supposed I was an afterthought, since I am being actively shunned by the religious members of the family, including my two children. The last time my children spoke to me was eleven years ago, when I left the religion. I had no idea where either of my children lived.

After the unexpected restaurant visit, another year went by before I worked up the nerve to ask my patriarchal brother if he ever saw my children. I fully expected him to say, "Your children do not wish me to divulge their whereabouts." Instead, he informed me that my son and daughter-in-law live in the same town as them. No mention of my daughter.

I was flabbergasted! My son lived in the same town, yet he never mentioned it during the sushi lunch…?
In the same phone conversation, I was astonished to learn that last July 2010, I became a grand-mother. In other words, during the sushi lunch, my daughter-in-law was about six months pregnant! Information about my children was somehow not of interest to me?

Why did it take so long for the news to get to me?

My first sense was this information was a type of "carrot on a stick." It seems my brother had the idea that telling me about the birth of a grand-daughter might draw me back into the religious fold in order to have a relationship with the grandchild, as well as restore harmony with my children. My patriarchal brother wants credit for "saving" our hopeless family---have us all happily united under the banner of the family religion which I disowned.

After the phone call, my brother emailed me some photographs of the aforementioned grand-daughter. I was shocked. No photos of son or daughter-in-law—only the grand-daughter. I was so torn it took me a week to respond. On the one hand I wanted to scream at him for his manipulative behavior. Here was an innocent grand-daughter being used a pawn. On the other hand, I did not want to disrupt the fragile line of communication that had opened up after eleven years.

I sent a short email back, "I thank you from my heart for the precious gem photos. I shall cherish them. With unconditional love."

Nevertheless, these photographs had quite an impact on me. Grand-daughter's smiling eyes danced through the lens and touched my heart. I felt an amazing love connection with her. A baby I had never set eyes on. A baby I never knew existed till the phone call with my brother—and my grand-daughter approaching her first birthday.

Oh yes, birthdays. Another highlight that is irrelevant to the family religion.

A baby I might never get to hold in my aching arms. Yet, I became transfixed by her innocent smiling eyes, filling me with wonder. I talked to this amazing, beaming being. I said, "Hi there. I am Grandma. I'm sorry I can't be with you right now, but I still love you. I love you unconditionally, no matter what. I am here for you, if you ever need me. I care about you and I love you. Yes, I love you." Saying those words felt so right.

I printed each and every photograph and set them in a prominent location, so that I might gaze upon this miracle every day. I wondered if my brother and my children know what a precious gift they have shared with me. Perhaps on some level they do know and we are all enriched by this tiny miracle.
As I stared in amazement at her photographs, mesmerized, I heard a tiny voice say "Gamma."

I was jolted back to reality.

Yes, the pull on the heart strings can be strong. Keeping the family together is all well and good, but there is something to be said for personal integrity. Sadly, as long as that old family religion is in the picture, our family can only remain divided.

Visit Esther Harrison's main website. Visit website "Phoenix of Faith" the memoir. Follow on Twitter: _Phoenixoffaith Copyright © 2011. Permission is granted to copy and re-distribute this transmission on the condition that it is distributed freely.

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