I’ve launched upon a quest--to learn about people’s very first “moment of enlightenment.”
I’m finding out that folks don’t require the surroundings of lofty cathedrals to get that first message, much less angel voices or beams of light from the essence of God or Goddess. Typically, that first moment of “knowing” unfolds in a simple context that subtly draws us into a remarkable new balance and refreshed ability to face our daily human experience.
I remember my first moment of “knowing” in full color and great detail. I was five years old, bewildered by life and the lack of love and safety I experienced--despite all my attempts to be good. I knew I had guardian angels. I knew a Higher Power held me close. But I yearned to be embraced in human arms, to know the nurture and love of a mother.
I spent one rare afternoon with our neighbor Mrs. Grow and her granddaughter, enjoying Looney Tunes and Jiffy Pop popcorn. Tom and Jerry came on ... you know, the black-n-gray Tom cartoon kitty and his pesky little brown-n-beige mouse-nemesis. This particular cartoon clip opened with a fleet of airborne storks, gliding quietly through a starlit night sky with lullabies playing in the background, each calmly delivering a little bundles of joy to the animal families in town. Father critters stereotypically paced in front of their homey fireplaces, puffing nervously on requisite cigars, while mother animals wore broad smiles as they knitted baby booties in varying dimensions, rocking peacefully in their maternal rocking chairs. There were kangaroos, giraffes, lions, elephants and, of course ... the Jerry Cat family.
Each stealthy stork zeroed in on the chimney of their designated expectant family and dropped a wriggling bundle of baby bliss safely down the sooty chute into the warm, waiting arms of a pair of proud and adoring parents.
But one particular delivery stork was behaving notably weird ... weaving to and fro ... eyes slightly crossed ... hiccupping frequently, bubbles floating up from his bill. (At age five, I didn’t know this meant he was drunk! I just thought he had a bad case of stomach flu and had been drinking 7-Up.) The ailing stork ultimately focused on the only chimney that came into sight. He clumsily dropped his precious cargo, and, with great fortune ... made his mark! Mrs. Tom-the-Cat leapt from her rocking chair just in time to catch the cooing bundle in the ashy fireplace. She beamed with motherly love as she pulled back the layette blanket, revealing the sweet face of a healthy gurgling Jerry-the-Mouse-Baby. In her motherly eyes, this wee babe was perfect in every way.
However ... Mr. Tom-the-Cat immediately saw the reality of what his feline missus held in her arms. With those little dot-dot-dot thought-bubbles, I saw Tom, the would-be dad, dreaming about barbecuing this baby Jerry-Mouse rodent on a rotisserie over an open fire--golden brown and juicy. He drooled in anticipation. His fantasy quickly shifted to slapping the baby Jerry-Mouse between two slices of rye, complete with fresh-slice tomato and lettuce, for a wriggly and delectable picante mouse sandwich finished with Dijon mustard, olives and a wooden toothpick. Now he leapt to don a red-and-white checked bib.
As I watched that brief and bizarre cartoon, my youngster heart was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief. I realized that I was not bad or unlovable. I had just been dropped down the wrong chimney! Nobody’s fault. Whew! These things just ... happen. All I had to do was grow up and find my own people to love me. (And not get eaten in the meantime.)
Childish misinterpretation of a benign cartoon? No, it was the beginning of a lesson that’s taken me another forty years to learn to articulate: that there can be a graphic difference between kin and kinship. And when blood kin are unable to provide what we need in the way of acceptance, encouragement, love ... we can take steps to independently seek the solace and connection of kinship. We can intentionally create a kindred sense of family, of clan, of trusted community. Even more, we can learn to hold our early kin-caregivers harmless for their human limitations.
Carolyn Berry serves professionally as a public policy dispute resolution coordinator throughout Oregon. She is also a writer, a social/environmental activist, and public speaker. Contact Carolyn at [email protected]