Dreams of Kindness, Love and Grace by Carolyn Berry
I was born and conditioned to passivity, trained to be numb, much like the Jersey milk cows on my Granddaddy’s farm. Dynamics of abuse, coupled with my family’s fundamentalist philosophies about the insignificance of females, guaranteed it.
Like thousands of others, I have worked to heal my inner child—confronting abusive and painful aspects of my childhood. This work has helped me reclaim my curiosity, creativity and ability to play. The deeper work involves more than merely healing past abuse; it brings us to a place where we re-member and re-create spontaneous delight in the world.
Along the way, the path to healing often reveals unexpected dichotomies—and so begins my story. One of my childhood allies was of colossal significance: Grandpa Andy—a tall, God-fearing, somber, frugal, hard-working Norwegian farmer.
My daddy wasn’t around during the first decade of my life. Our circumstances relentlessly pushed my mom’s limits, and my mom, brother and I lived on welfare. Life at home was both bewildering and unsafe.
My childhood durability sourced from Granddaddy. I spent nearly one-third of my first ten years with him and Grandma on their country farm. Due to their influence, I managed to maintain my own sanity as my mother’s slipped away.
Evenings in the country brought the security of ritual. After 12 hours spent in the fields and milking, Granddaddy would draw a hot bath while Grandma cooked supper. After supper he and I would sit quietly outside in the silence of deepening dusk while Grandma washed up.
I found silence discomforting, so repeatedly asked, “Grandpa, what are we doing?”
His response was always the same. “Sis, we’re havin’ us a little starrin’ time. See the colors of the sky? Smell the air. That’s rain comin’. Listen! That’s the coyote out in my south forty. And if you’re really, really quiet . . . Sis, you might even hear God.”
Sometimes, in order to fill the suffocating silence, I would launch into a wish list of all the things I wanted. Granddaddy would patiently listen, then give the same simple response, “Sis, most times the wishin’ is better than the havin’.”
When Mom came to retrieve me, the numb place would again envelope me. Granddaddy noticed that—he noticed everything, actually. So he created a parting ritual.
“You know where the Oregon Trail runs through my north forty?” he’d say. “You’ve seen how the ground is so damaged where the wagon ruts were that crops still won’t grow there.” I’d seen this apparition winding through the field, and was in awe of the soil’s ability to remember. Granddaddy would then stoop low to pick up a secret, our secret—a small, square-ish, white stone. He’d reach through the car window to fold it into my closed cub-paw and say, “Sis, hold onto this ‘till you come back. It’s a tooth from a horse that died bringing settlers West. Whenever you’re afraid, just hold it tight. And remember, everything passes with time.”
Like the soil in my Granddaddy’s north forty, my body remembers my own life’s ghostly trails—sweaty, life-and-death travel, unfitting a child. These memories reveal a shadow of Granddaddy’s life as intense as his light. An evangelical believer with rigid views regarding male dominance, power and sexuality, he left me with lingering wounds. Is it possible for the very same person to represent a protective, loving force as well as perhaps the most deeply abscessed pain? My answer brings me little justice. It is a hushed and sincere “yes.” Could it be that justice is actually more about compassion than pay-backs?
On our journey, we must reach a point where we refuse to limit ourselves with deceptive security—a place where we are willing to feel the pain, and to move through fear of the unknown. Without risking to remember, we will never fully open to life and to vast possibilities. With pain comes healing.
“Be at peace and see a clear pattern and plan running through all your life...Nothing is by chance.” —Eileen Caddy
Carolyn Berry is a speaker and writer about authenticating and simplifying our lives. She welcomes readers’ comments by mail at PO Box 612, Salem, OR 97208-0612, or via e-mail.