Saturday, July 8, 2017

Pursuing Peace—#2

In 1941, I lived with friends of my parents while my dad worked in a munitions factory in Parsons, Kansas. By the time I was in first grade, Mom, Dad, and my baby brother had returned to Kansas City. Dad then began to work at Salt Lake City, another munitions factory close to where we lived in Independence, Missouri. I was too young at the time to connect munitions with either war or peace.

Dad was thirty-six when the war began and blind in his left eye from a mining accident. Because of this he could not join the army. However, he hoped to become a Seabee. The Seabees were construction battalion units that built naval bases in the various theaters of war. Dad was a steamfitter; he felt certain he could serve his country with his work skills.

The Seabees, however, turned him down because of his blind eye. Not being able to serve devastated him. It made him feel, I realized much later, as if he weren’t a real man. The consequence of this was that Dad became an alcoholic. He drank for the rest of his life, always feeling, I believe, that he was a failure as a human being.

Throughout the war and during all my grade and high school years, my father’s drinking terrorized me. When sober he was a kind, thoughtful, gentle man. When drunk on hard liquor, he became belligerent and sometimes violent. The arguments Dad and Mom had at those times frightened me because I feared he would harm, and possibly, kill her. 

I longed for quiet, for no arguments, for calm. That is how I began to think of peace—as a great calming of the waves of rage, fear, pain, and abiding grief within my father and mother.

When they argued, I would go to my bedroom, lie face down on my bed, and imagine myself lying on a grassy hillside. I’d be on my back, looking up through the branches of a white-blossomed apple tree while swallows swooped overhead amidst cushiony clouds edged with the gleaming gold of sunrays.

In that place. On that hill. Beneath that tree, I found peace—a peace that I came to know as serenity many years later.

As the arguments raged, I initially heard all the anger and pain because there was no door to my room, just a privacy curtain hanging in the frame. But as I lay on that hill and listened to birdsong, felt the whisper of breeze against my cheek, smelled the rich loam of the earth and the fragrance of apple blossoms, all my senses settled into the calm of peace. In a world of my own making, I lived beyond the arguments. That, then, was peace for me.

Many years later, Dr. Nimlos, the psychiatrist who saved my life, said, “Dee, if you hadn’t had that hillside you would, I think, be totally psychotic. Or dead. It saved you.”  A few months ago, I heard for the first time the song “Pure Imagination.” Its lyrics helped me remember what Dr. Nimlos had said: it was my imagination that enabled me to live through those tense days. My childhood imagination had enveloped me in peace.



That blissful scene on the hillside may have saved me, but it also became what I expected from life. In the convent, I expected no dissension. In friendships, no dissension. I remained caught in the romantic notion that peace meant a life devoid of any kind of disagreement. It took years for me to let go of that idyllic view of peace. The peace I wish you now is not idyllic. It is hard won. Peace.

22 comments:

  1. That blissful scene did indeed save you. Sadly I doubt that at the time you could have coped with a reality which involved dissent. It would have been too close to the terror which gripped you, and needed a quiet hillside to escape from.
    Dissent is something I think a lot of us wrestle with. I know I do. What is right for me, may not be for you - but I tend to black and white/right and wrong views. Which is silly of me.
    Hugs.

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  2. Dear Sue, I'm fortunate that Mom tried to guide me away from black/white--wrong/right. She used to say, when I would complain about something a classmate had done or something she/he had said, "'Everyone to their own desires,'" said Mrs. O'Mara as she kissed the cow." Puzzled I asked, the first time she said it, what it meant and she explained that everyone thinks differently, loves differently, has different dreams of what is important in life.

    I never forgot that and yet always--for more years than I care to admit--I expected everyone to be the same--kind, upright, compassionate, hopeful. Those were the virtues I strove for and I assumed everyone else did. But finally, Mom's words took root. And I'm able to let people just be who they are. Able also to let me be who I am and to appreciate myself . . . and them. Peace.

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  3. When Inread your pists like this one I wonder how you came to believe your values were more universal than they actually are. And you have written posts before that gave accounts of the harsh side of people. Peace seems to be a very imortant concept to you yet it challenges you even now.
    I believe peace is a physical connection to our universe.

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    1. Dear Heidrun, I think that so many years of Catholic school training by nuns was part of my thinking that all people had the same values and goals about goodness. Not sure about that. I know only that Mom expected the best and I tried to always be the best I could be. And yes peace challenges me and probably will until I die. Peace.

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  4. I learned to dissociate as a child, too. The war affected my dad as, the opposite of yours, he DID go to war. Not because of marital arguing but because of the crying and moaning all night and I believed he was sick and going to die.
    Sometimes I wonder when I meditate and go very deep if it isn't the same as the dissociating I did as a child to cope. Or maybe the reason I am very good at meditating.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dee.

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    1. Dear Cynthia, I didn't know that word "disassociation" but I can see exactly how it fits what I did and what you did. I, too, go deep into meditation and find peace there. A letting go and simply being. Peace.

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    2. Yes, that's what I thought of right away also--disassociation. Sometimes you have to do that to cope--to survive. When I was in counseling in my 30s she told me I dissociated from my emotions. That is how I found peace. Took me decades to learn how to cry. I could cry at a movie or a book or the news, but not over something that hurt me personally. We all find ways to survive. We are remarkable, adaptable creatures.

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    3. Dear Rita, as I said, it's a new word for me. It truly was a coping device. The emotion that has given me the most problem is anger. For years, thinking it always negative, I pushed it down. Dr. Nimlos helped me with that too.

      How hard it must have been for you to associate with your feelings after so long a time. And in your posts there is most always joy. That's an emotion you live.

      We are indeed "remarkable, adaptable creature." Thank heavens. Peace.

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  5. How many paths we've all walked, to the center. I completed a medical questionnaire today, and wondered again why I am still here. My first life threatening episode happened at six months, and I do not recall it. But from an early age I do remember pain, back when pain relief was not available. I taught myself to succumb, to listen, to be hypnotized by the pain, and eventually to pass out. It's a magic technique and I found I could apply it to investigating many aspects of my life.
    I taught my grandson. He was four, and I found him whimpering in the middle of the night, with an earache. I produced the obligatory hot water bottle, then sat on the bed, hand on his cheek, and whispered: breath with it. In Out. Hear it. Don't fight. He went to sleep. We went to the doctor in the morning. Of course his ear drum had burst, somthing that simply doesn't happen to children these days, who live close to medicine (we didn't). He's twenty odd years old now, and told me once that's how he works on current problems.

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    1. Dear Joanne, what a remarkable way you found to cope with pain. And what a great gift you have given your grandson. I, too, found a way that I hope to write about soon. It involves the color blue.

      It's vastly interesting to me that your "magic" technique helped you investigate other aspects of your life. Until I read your words, I didn't realize that I do that also with my coping device. It's wonderful that we've been fortunate enough to find--in the deep center of ourselves where Oneness dwells--a way to find peace. Thank you so much for sharing. Peace.

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  6. That song is perfect for you!!

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    1. Dear Fishducky, I watched Josh Groan's "Stages" on PBS a few months ago--or weeks maybe--and heard this song. I immediately thought. "YES!" Peace.

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  7. It is amazing that you were aware enough to find a safe place in your imagination to go to when things got ugly. The mind is very clever when trying to keep the harm away. Finding that safe place is a tool too often we lose as we grow up.

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    1. Dear Patti, you probably didn't have time to read the comments left here, but because of what you've said, I'd like to suggest that you read the comments left by Cynthia, Rita, and Joanne. All are about "disassociation," which, come to find out, is what I was doing. So I've really learned something from this posting. Peace be to you.

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  8. I cannot imagine growing up in such an environment my dad went through a stage when he drank too much but he was never violent and mum and dad rarely fought.

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    1. Dear Jo-Anne, it was a tense environment but when Dad wasn't drinking he was a delightful man and I knew always that he loved me. Actually, he cherished me as the baby he and Mom had waited for over eight years after they married. Still, I can't deny that at times all I wanted was for Mom to leave him. But after her death, he and I, in our loss, became the best of friends. Peace.

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  9. My father was an alcoholic, too, but I always enjoyed those long conversations he had with me when he was drunk. He was only occasionally violent when drinking, but he only lived to be 62, dying of a heart attack that was caused by his stopping drinking. A month after he stopped, he had a massive coronary event, and I've always thought it was because alcohol was how he coped. I'm glad you found a way to survive, Dee, and thank you so much for sharing it.

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    1. Dear DJan, I know about those conversations! Dad's were long and rambling and sometimes I couldn't make sense of them, but they did happen. I suspect you are right about the alcohol helping him cope. I think it was the same for my dad. Peace.

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  10. What a sad but in the end heartwarming story.My own experience mirrors Ritas in some ways. Having lost a son and caretaking a spouse with dementia and other family issues I'm still unable to cry. Diassociation does seem to cover it....

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  11. Dear Troutbirder, I am so sorry that all this is happening in your life right now. As one of the commenters said, disassociation seems to be a way to cope. I suspect that at some points those tears will come, but I know that if they did now it would be a comfort to you. Be gracious to yourself, please. Peace.

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  12. YES---unfortunately, there will always be dissension... That is hard for me also because I always want to see and feel that calm/wonderful/peaceful place where there is nothing by JOY/LOVE/UNDERSTANDING.....

    We all need people in our lives. People are human and full of uniqueness. People have flaws; people sin; people don't always believe or look like we do; People disappoint us....

    BUT--in the midst of that, people love us and all of our uniqueness... People are there for us... People admire us... People are fun to be with....

    How to we find the 'right' people who will help us find that peace --through all of the hard times??????

    Hugs,
    Betsy

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  13. Dear Betsy, thank you for your comment, it sums up, I think, what most of us feel about peace and about the wonder of friends in our lives. How do we find those "right" people who touch our lives with so much goodness? I don't know. That remains mystery for me. Peace.

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