On my other blog there is a long piece about my stepmother. This woman dealt me great pain as I grew up. The repeated traumas resounded through much of my childhood and set the tone of my adult life. Despite my stepmother’s mistreatment of me, and for reasons I’ve never fully understood, I always loved her.
As the memoir explains, I’m aware that this attachment may be the same affection a prisoner feels for a sadistic guard. But perhaps there was a deeper reason for this love, one I’ve been loath to acknowledge before now.
Without the ordeals of my childhood, and especially my abusive and tormenting stepmother, I would not have become the person who writes this blog. Maybe I would have become a happier person, or a more likable and popular person, or a more successful person. Probably, in fact, I would have become all these superior beings. But I doubt my spirit would have blossomed as fully.
The crush of my upbringing, which led to long periods of despair off and on through earlier adulthood, had the effect of freeing me from my ego. Not all the way, of course, for the ego is a tenacious and hardy creature. But the fiery turmoil of hardship, loss, and defeat tempered my spirit until it grew brave enough emerge from beneath my ego’s false shelter, at least some of the time. I’m not saying everyone needs to go through such trauma to find the soul’s peaceful center, but that was my path.
Why does this come up now? Because of a book. I won’t disclose the title, because that would give a specific that might distract from the message of my experience, which I believe to be universal.
Imagine a person who has harmed you more than any other, a person you have every right to hate. Further picture that person giving you a book on your last meeting, just before she died. You were so upset by this person, and everything that your relationship with her represented, that you couldn’t even open the book for three years. The slender hardcover sat on your shelf until your spouse gently called attention to it.
At last you begin to read the book, and you find profound guidance. You can hardly believe that this person, who as far as you know never expressed a single spiritual thought, gave you this powerful work. The novel she handed you turns out to be an allegory that matches your life and hardships perfectly. The beauty of it makes you weep. And you realize, long after the death of your nemesis, that she handed you a key to your true nature. The person you once imagined an archetypal obstacle to peace of mind is now guiding your next step toward clarity.
My stepmother is gone from this life. But as has been true since she first entered my sphere, she occupies a unique and unavoidable place in my heart. There is much aching in this space, but there is also ineffable beauty, a combination of heartache and tenderness that connects me with the human tragedy we all endure, the drama we hope (or should hope) to transcend.
I forgive her completely, and I did awhile ago, after my heart began to settle at last. But here I honor her for her final, healing gift to me. I recognize the harm she caused me, and I understand one book doesn’t make that injury go away. Still, I appreciate the gesture. I feel badly that her life caused her such pain that she felt compelled to vent her frustrations on a child. I hope and pray that she is free at last.