Friday, March 4, 2011

Parents and Children

We know our parents in one way when we are children, in another way when we are youths, and yet we do not truly know and understand them until we are well into adulthood, if we ever understand them at all. It takes many decades for us to see them clearly and with compassion as the complex and sometimes contradictory human beings that they are, because we need time and maturity in order to see them through the lens of shared experience.

When we are children, we see our parents through the lens of our own needs. Because we are fragile and cannot fend for ourselves, we are entirely dependent on our parents and so need to believe in their strength and wisdom, no matter how flawed those things might be to the less biased eye.

When we are young adults, we recognize how vulnerable we have been, and resent the flaws in our parents that kept them from meeting our past needs and keep them from meeting our current desires. Both parties long for the days when the child believed wholeheartedly in the strength and wisdom and love of the parent, and both resent the loss of the pedestal the parent formerly occupied, even as both recognize that there
was a great deal of illusion involved that was bound to be dispersed sooner or later.

The worlds of theatre and childhood share a similar dependence on the willing suspension of disbelief, and neither is improved by the cold light of day.

Still, as youths we remain protected from many of the rougher aspects of life, by our parents and by society at large (if we are lucky). We are free of the burden of housing and feeding ourselves, we are free of the responsibility towards others that becomes so compelling as we build our own nests. We may fear abandonment, but we don't fear for our survival. We can indulge in idealism and judge our parents by pure and relatively untested theory, measuring them against the yardstick of What Should Be.

Few of us measure well against that particular yardstick.

For one thing, the adult world is made up nearly entirely of Compromise, and to the youthful eye, Compromise bears a striking resemblance to Hypocrisy. To the middle aged eye, it sometimes bears a striking resemblance to Failure; that dream-filled and critical youth still lives deep inside us, for whom we bear a sense of nostalgia, sympathy, and a certain degree of ironic condescension. That youth can be a loud and unforgiving audience to our lives. Finding happiness in adulthood often requires us to find some sense of peace with the gap that develops between the dreams and beliefs of our youth and the realities of our later years.

What I hope for you is this:

That you can forgive your parents for being sometimes selfish, neglectful, foolish, harsh, unthinking, critical, forgetful, impatient, and otherwise human and flawed.

That you can forgive yourself for being likewise.

That you can remember that most people - including your parents, your grandparents, your friends and yourself - do the best they can with what they know at a given time. Sometimes what we think we know is incomplete or just plain wrong. Sometimes the experiences of our past get twisted in our heads, and teach us lessons that damage us and hurt those we love, that lead us to behave in a way that is against our own interests and against the interests of those around us.

But in spite of all that, we mostly stumble on, doing the best we can. You shouldn't let people hurt you repeatedly, you have the right to protect yourself from even inadvertently inflicted harm, you should love and protect yourself as much as you love and protect your friends and family. But maintaining a stance of compassion and understanding towards yourself and others will help you set aside the burden of bitterness that poisons life, and will allow you to step forward with hope and love and appreciation.

I hope you will remember this throughout your lifetime: we have loved you more than life itself, and we always will. That love is a given, a bedrock on which to build your life. You are lovable, and you are loved.

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