Monday, 23 September 2013

How my family broke my heart

In this life we can be lucky, we can be happy, we can have it all. Or so it seems.

This is a story of nothing being what it seems.

Once upon a time there was a man who was born into poverty and through hard work and determination saved diligently while working as a teacher and at the age of 28, was finally able to go to university. He graduated from St. Andrews University as a chemical engineer. He fell in love with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and on the fifth chance encounter with that woman, he proposed marriage. She said yes. They married against the advice of their families, spent their honeymoon in Innsbruck and soon after entered the British Colonial Service where they embarked on their first posting. Three children were born of their union.

Seven years later the family moved one last time and settled for good. The children grew up in an idyllic environment, in a large house and attended the best schools. There was an early sign of disharmony where slapping replaced reasoning and scenes of great drama played out daily. Those of a more sensitive disposition suffered greatly in such an environment.

In 2006 the head of the family died after languishing for several years in the throes of a disease related to shattered nerves and a broken spirit. They say the best way to train a dog is to break its spirit so that it will never disobey you. Humans do that to each other as well.

Human beings have a great ability to endure dark and terrible things and like the circus clown, conceal a bleeding heart with a painted smile. Love is both a noun and a verb; it implies an act of doing and a type of being. The nearest relation to deep love is divineness- a God-like act, devoid of all ambiguity yet honest and true.

In our daily lives, we compromise our existence away. We never really say what we mean for fear of offending or suffering the consequences. Many a marriage is a compromise - staying together for the sake of staying together or for a thousand and one reasons but the real reason being fear of life.

The end result of crappy marriages is unhappy children. The family unit is how human beings become socialised. It is where children learn to conform to the demands of society - to eat with a knife and fork, to be considerate, to develop social graces, to learn how to behave. A baby enters this world crying and its parents weep with joy. The child grows up and weeps at what its life has become.

When there is betrayal in families there are no victims and no winners. Betrayal is like setting fire to a house where not only does the house implode but all the occupants perish as well. Everyone loses.

We come to this world and are soon gone. But while we are here we choose how we wish to live. It is true that suffering is part of life but what distinguishes homo sapiens from plants and animals is that we knowingly hurt each other. There is no animal on earth that consciously will torment and sadistically harm its own kind.

Therapists the world over have grown rich preying on those who cannot answer for themselves the following question: why do people hurt each other? Because they can. If we take away the will to choose to hurt another we are left with an understanding that harming other people is wrong. When we decide to carry on regardless, we are essentially lost for good.

The following Latin saying sums it up: the wolf changes his coat, not his disposition. We are who we are before we are even born. Furthermore if we understand the temporary nature of life, our acts reverberate a thousand times more in every breath we take. Put it this way: by doing bad things we are reinforcing who we are but also condemning ourselves forevermore. Worst of all we will never become better versions of our flawed selves. Rather than reaching for the stars we choose to remain in the gutter.

My brother, who is a lawyer (along with his wife, who is also a lawyer) have chosen to do something truly heartbreaking and in the process, rob his two sisters of their peace of mind and cause the family to implode. When I learned what had happened in my family, there was a swell of disbelief, extreme sadness and complete devastation. The only reason I carried on was my faithful hound whose smiling face greeted me every morning as my heart disintegrated piece by piece. There were times that I cried myself to sleep. I wept mostly for my father who was a good and loving man and whose downfall was to love too much. I wept for myself for having to carry this burden for the rest of my life. I wept for the loss of the image of happiness that I craved.

When I look back at my life I see the many mistakes I have made. I also see the things that I did despite knowing they were wrong. I am aware of what I did and I regret my actions. Would I change any of it? Who knows? What I think now at the median point of my life stems from a maturity and the 'school of hard knocks'. My behaviour today is very different to the fatuity and recklessness of youth. Would I do any of that again? No. I have learned from my stupidity and have moved on.

My brother, on the other hand, is like a needle stuck on an old vinyl LP. He could choose to change the situation as it is but cannot see the value to himself of doing so.

I collect rocks, stones and pebbles. My house is full of these objects spilling out of cupboards, turning up in hidden corners and being fished out from under chairs. These ancient bits of our earth get washed up on the shore, get dug up by torrents of rainwater and get kicked around by restless feet. Rocks, stones and pebbles all share one thing in common - as hard as you might squeeze them in your hand, no blood will ever come out of them.

Copyright photo and painting, oil on canvas, "Cocktail" by SvD.

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