the very structure that supports me

image by Katie M Berggren

This morning’s self-healing message arrives again in an image, this time a painting of a mother cradling her child, enwrapping her in love. I came upon it while scrolling for a gift for a sister-friend, whose child is hurting. Suddenly I notice that this feels abit like the exercise I used to lead at retreats, where you flip through pages of a magazine, letting the images choose you, tearing them from the magazine without forethought or calculation. In the end you have a stack of messages from your soul to your self, for the soul speaks in image.

Like yesterday’s image of the Beloved – the mother earth of my heart’s home- this one caused me to stop scrolling at once. To pause and remember. To notice the deep feelings and memories it instantly evoked.

Mother Mary Love. Protective Love. Nurturing Love. Tender Love. Forever Love.

My home was once filled with such images – photographs, paintings, sculptures – of humans, but mostly mothers, tenderly holding another. I had an entire coffee table book of them- images of Love. They hung in a gallery on my wall. One greeted each visitor who graced my foyer. I carried a miniature in my pocket, like a touchstone, to finger as a reminder – of the way I was to be held. The way I should have been held. The way I’d longed to be held.

That kind of love was first awakened in me with the births of my own children, the overwhelming feeling of falling in love flooding my being with light — me writing love letters to the doctors who delivered them, thanking them for the gift, after the deaths of the others.

Several weeks ago, when the news came crashing down upon me about my mother’s final rejection of me, I’d had tentative plans to go weekend backpacking in the snow, a new venture for me with new friends. When they’d asked and I’d said yes, I’d missed noticing a granddaughter babysitting date on the calendar, of which I could have asked to be relinquished, and the parents would have done so with grace, but in the end, I needed the human touch of the familiar (notice the root, family, as in belonging to one, in that word) more than I needed to test my capacity to survive in another cold shelter.  I needed the warmth of love—both to BE love and to be encompassed by it.  The following week, there were 2 childcare dates on the calendar, slow, quiet, connective inside days…. coloring, reading, building puzzles, playing board games.  

My sons’ and daughter’s hearts opening to hold me in their love was another sort of encompassing embrace, in which I’ve wrapped myself. The day of my mother’s funeral, I found my body carrying me to stand in their encircling presence… a blanket and a shield of love. They’ve brought to me laughter in group text conversations, when all I wanted to do was cry.   In a heartfelt conversation last week with one of my sons, he filled my heart with goodness, like fresh air rushing in a deep breath, pushing out the stale, the toxic, to be exhaled at last. Listening to love songs with another son, preparing for his wedding day mother-son dance, the vibrations of love flowed through my nerve endings from head to toe.

It’s hard for me to understand why my mother didn’t feel that way for me. This is the endless, unanswered question of my adulthood. This is the searching the photographic record for clues, this is the piecing together the puzzle of her life story, this yearning to know what went wrong between us.  Unable to comprehend, there remains the nagging primal root that whispers to me that I was the one at fault.  I suppose this is a human response to random suffering in life, to those things, which are out of our control, that besiege us. We try to construct a scenario by which we would’ve been safe from harm.  If only we had done this instead of that, been there instead of here, kept the doors locked, worn the right clothes, not lifted that heavy garage door, kept our eyes more trained upon our child, not uttered the rage-inducing word…. as if we behaved absolutely perfectly, did and said all the right things at the right time in the right way, we would be safe.

We would be loved.

It wasn’t until I was 40 years old, in a healing therapeutic relationship with a tenderhearted woman, that I understood love from an adult that was not about me being perfect in order to earn it.  I’d been shamed. I’d been put on a pedestal. I’d been measured. I’d been objectified. I’d been desired. I’d been possessed. I’d been controled.  Recently, I’ve been recalling the long walk I took the night my first husband left me, questioning myself, wondering why I wasn’t able to receive the love he’d said he once had for me. Even then, I thought something was broken inside of me.  The words I clearly heard in response, ‘It was not LOVE you were receiving”. But it was what I had learned love felt like.

This last year of my mother’s life, I was right back there, hoping to earn her love, or at least her positive regard, at last– the little girl in me still whispering the words she longed to hear, after the door had closed on the darkness— but that door remained forever closed.  Yes, my actions and intentions were authentic– understanding and forgiveness, tenderness, empathy, compassion– but it seems some part of me was secretly hoping a small measure might be reciprocated. Some tenderness bestowed… last.

That same oxytocin bath perhaps that I referred to in yesterday’s post, in naming the feeling flooding through me when gazing upon photographs of my beloved Algonquin Park?  Perhaps I need a bolus of that.  Do they package that stuff? Could I fill my tub with it, immerse myself, let it soak into my bones until Love is the very structure that supports me.

The very structure that supports me.

The very structure that supports me.

The very structure that supports me.

May this be my prayer.

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