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Blessings!- or what else is the sublimity of my absurd existence?

"Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand - that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us." Annie Dillard in "Teaching a Stone to Talk"

There was a timed writing exercise a few weeks ago: Count your blessings. At first it seemed easy enough, since life was good. O.k., I thought, give me a second and  I just might do that.
But then, I couldn't do it and the more, I thought about why, I understood: before I count those blessings (plenty plenty) I feel, I have to do justice to pain, a feeling I never acknowledged properly. My childhood hurt, and I didn't admit it. Which has led to an entire life, that hurts at times, when it should'nt, even with all those blessings. So I guess, I have to write about the pain a little bit.

I grew up in a very small german city, it was almost a village. We lived in one big house, eleven people, all family. My aunt and uncle, their three daughters, my grandparents, my parents, my brother and me. In the surrounding houses lived other family members, more aunts and uncles and cousins. I used to play outside a lot. The meadows and orchards all belonged to my grandfather. There was a creek in the orchard (yes, I know, this all sounds like paradise and in a way it was). The creek was called shitty creek though, for obvious reasons. I used to play in it, even wash my hair in it and smelled like a shitty creek myself afterwards. My mother scolded me a lot, for this and other things, mainly I did not behave like a proper girl, but was always dirty and my clothes were torn.
She never beat me. She beat my brother though. My father beat my brother too. He was the difficult child. Apart from shitty creek and some other minor points, I was the easy child.
I don’t remember, when I noticed, that life in our house was unhappy? That it was not normal, to have a yelling mother, a drunken father and that there was a kind of love among my family members without tenderness, but mainly dressed in funny insults, harshness, no understanding for each other at all. Love never showed itself in a recognizable manner. It hid behind many different masks. This was like, it hid, because it feared to be hurt, in case it showed up too obviously.
Its funny, how you hide facts before your own consciousness. I probably knew all along, that we were an unhappy family, but I didnt know any other, so I tried to pretend, this harshness was tenderness and the fights were love and the insults were declarations of admiration. I pretended, the masks, behind which love was hidden, did not matter to me. Even today, when somebody is really mean to me, I might still think, he likes me deep down and is just too shy to show his true feelings, which he hides behind a mask. I never learned properly, to decipher feelings. Like learning a new language, it does get harder, when you get older, but it is never impossible and never too late, to start the learning process. 
My parents fought all the time. I never saw them kiss or hug, not once in my entire life. I didn't know, there was such a thing like hugging and kissing parents.
Instead I was told by my mom, what a bastard my father was and my father just never talked about my mom, he just closed his eyes, when she entered the room and left. I never saw them interact besides the fighting.
I loved my father most of all – he was my favourite person in the world. But he drank too much. And sometimes he disappeared. He was gone for days and we would look for him everywhere and each time, we thought, he had killed himself and we might find his corpse somewhere in the woods. But he always returned and pretended, nothing out of the ordinary had happened -  until the last time, when he didn’t return.
They found him far away from home. He sat in his car, dead, in a parking lot. The main feeling I remember expressed over that traumatic incident was my aunts' shame to go into the village. People would certainly talk about us. She felt embarrassed.
I also remember feeling completely unfree: I now was the daughter of the suicide, which kind of defined me and my opportunities for happiness.

My mom didn’t get along with her sister. Sometimes they would not talk to each other for days and the atmosphere would be icy and dark, it would fill the entire house. I never experienced them solving a conflict. After a few days, they would just talk again and pretend, nothing had happened. My mom is dead now, and her sister still carries this conflict within her. I can tell, because she has photos of all dead family members on her walls, some of the living ones too, but not one of her only sister. 
I don’t know how I developed selfesteem or selfrespect ( I mean, I didn’t until a while ago and it was a LOT of work to get there) because nobody ever told me I was smart, beautiful or lovable. Nobody ever said, I love you, when I was young. Nobody ever hugged me. Well, my dad did once, before I left for a vacation, and the hug was so clumsy, that he broke my glasses and my mom freaked out and I had to go to Paris with those super ugly substitute glasses, but I still have not forgotten that one hug, and it still fills my heart with tons of love for him, gratitude also.
Nobody ever was nice to anybody in that house really, not because they were bad people, they weren’t. They all were really nice in a way. They just didn’t know any better. They truly gave their best and I love them for it.  But my childhood hurt and I never admitted it. 
When I return to my home today, most people are dead, but new people have been born, it still shocks me to see, how they treat each other. Another harsh generation. Their hugs are always almost brutal, and their compliments resemble insults. They all hurt and they could never admit it. It would ruin their lives.
I would describe my family life to others, as if we were sort of the Waltons in Blue Ridge Mountain/Virginia, which was a total escape from reality (or not, when you consider, that we all shape our reality by what we think about it, so in my imagination we were the Waltons, but I was also Simone de Beauvoir writing away in her little office upstairs, in the house with 11 people but no books)  I would pick the funny things that had happened and exaggerate them, because I found my pain very embarrassing. I would hide the ugly things, the pain, pretend, they didn’t hurt, they didn’t exist. After a while I even stopped to tell people, that my father had killed himself. I did not want them to see me in such a dramatic light. I wanted them to see my humour, my intelligence, me, without my pain and my family, me, sitting at my desk, looking so much like Simone de Beauvoir.

So, before I start to count my blessings (plenty plenty), something, I will never ever been done with, I need to list the pain and feel it, to see, that the first blessing is: the pain is over, a mere memory, something that shaped me and after feeling it, I don’t even have to let go, it will let me go.Yes, I am almost there! And then I see, what blessing this family has been after all and how much love there was and is underneath the steady current of harshness and that harshness is always a very proper medium to hide fear and pain. Which makes it even more lovable, because I wanna go back in time and give everybody there a very big hug, with broken glassen and all, because super ugly substitu te glasses really do not matter, what matters is the hug and the kindness. 

© Susanne Becker


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