The age of compassion

In recent counselling sessions I've talked a bit about particular incidents that happened when I was growing up and still living at home. Mixed up with these memories are my thoughts and feelings about myself during that time. I've looked at photos of myself when I was small. There's one in particular where I'm about three years old - I'm sitting on the lounge talking on the phone and laughing and looking very cute. It's a happy photo and when I look at the little girl in that photo I feel so sad for her. My brother started treating me badly when I was quite young. I have no memory of it not happening and given that he's six years older than me it's likely that he was already picking on me to some degree even when I was that little. I look at the photo and I can see how awful it is that anyone could tell that happy little girl that she's worthless. Even more sad is that she would grow up to believe it.

The feelings I have when I look at those photos are entirely appropriate. The things that happened to me ARE sad. The problem comes when I look at photos of me at older ages, particularly when I'm about 14 and up. When I look at those photos I don't feel sad. At an intellectual level there's probably some sadness but mostly I am overwhelmed by the things I believed at the time - all the feelings of worthlessness and shame that were absolute truth to me then are truth to me now. I can't look at photos and think, "How sad that the happy little three year old grew up to become this fearful and unhappy teenager who believed she was worthless" because I'm too caught up in the belief that I was (and am) so worthless and ridiculous that I completely deserved everything my brother and others ever did or said to me. Not only can I not feel compassion, I don't want to believe that girl is me. I don't want anything to do with her; I don't even want to acknowledge her existence. I don't want that girl to be the building block of the woman I am today.

Whilst pondering all these things I came upon this poem...

Variation on the word sleep
Margaret Atwood

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear.

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in.

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

This is essentially a love poem (and as a love poem I think it's wonderful) but I was also struck by the third stanza:

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back

Part of me still doesn't want to know that young girl, but there's another part, a tiny part... if I could go back in time and meet that girl, I think I would want to protect her. Maybe that's not compassion, not yet, but it's something. It's a start.


Crazy Sister said...

That's so sad, but a deep poem. I want to say something positive, so here:

"Something positive!"

(fill in the quotes with exactly the right thing I should say, please!)

Givinya De Elba said...

I have a little girl who is nearly three. I too feel a sense of shock and revulsion at the thought of her being made to feel worthless.

Fast forward to her as a fourteen year old girl, and I still feel it, for her and all of us when we were teenagers. It wasn't fair, and I am so sorry it happened to you.

So I guess this is what the Body of Christ is about - I have a firm faith that you should never, at ANY age, have been made to feel worthless, so as part of one Body, you can hold my faith and I'll hold your unbelief, and we'll make it through together.

I see my sis is aching for you but doesn't have to words to say. Maybe we can all hold together?

Givinya De Elba said...

Five commas and one dash in the same huge sentence. Sorry about that.

Long dark hair, blue eyes said...

You are precious and very smart. I love reading your blog.

You are very good at putting your experiences, feeling and thoughts into words. Thank you for sharing them with us.

Isn't it great when you are thinking about things and come across something someone else has written that really hits home or makes you think about something in a different or particular way!

Hippomanic Jen said...

Thank you for trusting cyberspace (and us) with your vulnerability. I'm indescribably sorry that your experiences have touched you so deeply and with such long lasting effects. Simply stating that you are unique and special doesn't help now. You needed to hear that all through your childhood and be protected from any influence that would threaten your happiness and self-worth.

But for what it's worth during the time we've known each other I have seen a woman of compassion for others, who is trying to stand up for herself, who can laugh with others and at herself when necessary. A woman who has educated herself and supported herself in our world. Who has created for herself (and one tiny feline) a HOME. A beautiful princess, daughter of God, who is fighting to grasp her true value.

Your value is there, created by God and protected by Christ. May the Holy Spirit so inspire you to be able to trust and believe that you are unique, special and of infinite value.

For my part, when we sing "God Made Me" at Mainly Music this Thursday I will be thinking of and praying for you - "You're made in His image, special, it's true, there's nobody else like you". I'll also be praying that all our little not-yet-school-age-participants can truly know this about themselves.

Sorry this is so long, which is amazing given the fact that I really had nothing to say except to say I hurt for you even if I can't fully understand where you're standing.

Swift Jan said...

Jen said it so well.

Thinking of you lots ((hugs))

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