Saturday, June 25, 2005

Families

“Four girls and four boys he had, robustious little heathens, every one of them, as he said himself. But good fortune is not only good fortune, and over the years things happened in that family that caused some terrible regret. Still for years, it seemed to me to be blindingly beautiful. And it was.”

Doesn’t that just say everything about families? Blindingly beautiful. And terrible regret. Inescapable.

I am reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and having the unaccustomed experience of savoring every page. I don’t usually have the patience even to read every page, so eager am I to get on with plot and life. But the woman has a gift. She understands what it is like to be alive, what it is like to live simultaneously knowing the blessing of your own life and the dismay when others judge.

“I don’t think it was resentment I felt then. It was some sort of loyalty to my own life, as if I wanted to say, I have a wife, too, I have a child, too. It was as if the price of having them was losing them, and I couldn’t bear the implication that even that price could be too high.”

People think I have chosen my life, and in many ways I have. I have chosen not to be whipsawed by others’ judgments, no matter how close to me they are, no matter how well-intentioned. But did I choose to be alone? Not really. Still, it has been a blessing to me to learn to love solitude.

I love my mother, my sister, my brothers, their families. I would like to know them better, as people rather than as the figurehead roles they prefer to play in my life. It is a source of unending sadness to me that they see me only as the one who left, the one who does not behave properly, the one who is to be judged and found wanting. I am expected to behave in certain ways because….well, just because.

I have definitively opted out of that game. But should anyone want to start a new way of relating, I would be all over that. Like white on rice, like a duck on a June bug, as they say down South, where I come from. And where I can never return.

5 comments:

Visual-Voice said...

It's a beautiful book. I went to hear Marlynne Robinson talk about her book on Wednesday night in Kansas City, and regrettably, I was hit with food poisoning just as she began her talk, and I missed the whole thing! Ahhh! My mom said she was very soft spoken and very interesting.

zhoen said...

Oh, yes. I could forgive so much of what I went through as a child, but it is how I have been neglected as an adult that is why I am really estranged from my genetic family. All could be healed if only they would acknowledge what went on before and listen now. If only they would look at me as an individual adult, worthy of friendship and interest.
To be fair, my adult life is not interesting to them, immoral (not a practicing Catholic) and unsettled -in their view, just as their small minded, unthoughtful, lives are of little interest to me. No motivation for the very difficult work of reconciling on either side. So we float away, or chew at regrets, according to our nature or the day at hand.

Karen said...

It is true that some days I feel neglected, but mostly I realize that for whatever reason, I am simply irrelevant. After all, each of us is most interested in our own life, so I guess it is natural. It just seems funny to me when I go back into a situation where nobody sees me as a person, where I am only a daughter, a sister, or--worse--the pitiful relative who is thought to have no life of her own.

In fact, I love my life and would love to share.

But I am not the person my family knew when I was nine or nineteen or even twenty-nine.

zhoen said...

We are blessed that you do share your life here.

Karen said...

(Blush) Thank you. You do realize that I write only for my own purposes? But I am happy to hear that you think I have something useful to say.