Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Cornerstone - Part II

In the spring of 1988, roughly three years after my mother went into the mental hospital, the carnival came to town and set-up in one of the large parking lots on the college campus. I became friends with the young man running the "Himalaya" ride, and not long after that, I decided to "join the carnival" myself, thinking it would be fun for a summer job (the fact that this guy looked a bit like Tom Cruise had nothing to do with my decision, of course! : )). Normally, the carnival did not allow women to travel alone, but since I would be working for this young man's mother, and his father was the manager of the show, they were willing to bend that rule in my case.

In general though, deciding to join the carnival was one of the first real choices in my life that I feel I made for myself, simply because it was What I Wanted to Do.  In other words, it was not about living up to any of my mother's expectations, or a boyfriend's, or a teacher's, etc.  It was just me doing something for me, trusting my own "gut", if you will.

So in June of that year, I boarded a Greyhound bus for the long trip from Tennessee, across the Ohio River into Indiana where I met-up with and became an employee of Cumberland Valley Shows. I went to work for my friend's mother helping her run her "Shoot Out the Star" joint. I adapted very quickly to all the routines of setting-up and tearing down, collecting spent lead shot for recycling, and loading the good shot into the straw-like metal tubes, that were later used to load the air-powered b-b guns. I became familiar with other members of the carnival, as well as some of the people who worked in between the various carnivals around the region, delivering stuffed animal prizes and other supplies.

One of these "inter-carnival" workers was an artist whose name might have been, John, but I remember him more as the "Zen Painter".  His talent was in creating these really bright colorful back-drops for the various games and rides and even the occasional truck trailer door for the "houses on wheels" that were quarters for many of the game owners and show managers.

This "Zen Painter" took an interest in me.  He listened to my life story and eventually loaned me a book to read.  It was The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller.  It was a short book, under 200 pages, and I read it very quickly as I did not know when I would see my friend again and I wanted to be sure and be able to give it back to him when he returned from his travels to other carnivals in the region.

I remember being in my room, one of 10 or so built into an 18-wheel truck trailer, so it was pretty small.  I was sitting on my bunk bed, and I was reading through the sections where Alice Miller explains how one's parents are the only two people in the world who are really obligated to Love them Unconditionally; and how, if children do not receive that from their parents, if they do not get to experience a "happy childhood", there is no way, as an adult, to go back and "redo" that. Instead, in such a case, it was appropriate to Mourn the Loss of one's "happy childhood" and then Let It Go.

It did not take much for me to understand how this applied in my own case.  Right there and then, I started to cry, in the closet of my living quarters, a carny with Cumberland Valley Shows, a young woman, alone...I mourned the loss of my "happy childhood". And right there and then, I also Let Go.  I stopped expecting any other person to make up for what I did not receive from my parents as a child. I stopped seeking "unconditional love" from anyone else.  And at the same time, I realized that the only person left to "Love Me Unconditionally", to love my still present "inner child" unconditionally, was Me.  And, in many ways, the only person left to parent (or "re-parent") me was Me.

Now you may think that this was a very sad and maybe even terrible moment in my life.  But, actually, it was one of The Most Liberating.  Not only was it Truly Liberating for Me, but it was to be Liberating for all of the other people I came into contact with in my life from that point on, because I did not come to them with Any Expectations for them to "Love me Unconditionally" or to try to Make Up for the Loss of My "Happy Childhood".

Furthermore, I did not continue into my life feeling that "I have already suffered so much, I just can't bear to suffer any more and all I want is for someone to love me and take care of me" the way I was not loved and taken care of (in any functional way) as a child. In other words, I did not walk around with a sense of entitlement based on my previous suffering, nor was I bound to the inevitable disappointment over and over and over again, where those expectations were not fulfilled, because they Could Not Ever Be Fulfilled. I understood that my Childhood was over, it was dead, in the past, and could never be revived.  Yes, I recognized that loss, and I mourned that loss, but then, as a quickly awakening adult, I moved on with my life.

Now, more than anything else, I feel that understanding became the Cornerstone of my new life apart from my mother. I will not deny for a moment that Every Child Deserves the Unconditional Love and Functional Support of their biological or adoptive Parents. However, the sad fact is, most of us living today have not had that, and, unfortunately, most of the children living today are not getting that, although there are more today then there have been, thanks in part to wise and compassionate people like Alice Miller. My life, though not particularly extraordinary, is still a demonstration for others, that it is possible for all of us who have not grown up with truly "happy childhoods", to mourn that loss, and then Let Go, so that we can, in the here and now, accept responsibility for loving ourselves unconditionally, and for continuing on in our lives as the Adults that we are now, rather than as the children we might otherwise long to be again.

This world needs Adults - truly mature, empathetic, and rational human beings. It needs people who understand what it means to be Responsible for Oneself and ones actions, rather than people constantly clinging to the fantasy of some day being "taken care of" by an employer, by a lover, by "God", or by "The State."  I will not deny that there may very well be Larger Forces at Play here, but there is also a level at which we have to Take Part ourselves, consciously and responsibly, as Adults, and not as "children" still seeking the unconditional love and support of "someone...anyone" where their actual parents have failed to provide that.

So I will say again, Do Not Hesitate to Mourn the Loss of your "Happy Childhood" if this is appropriate in your case, but then, Let It Go and be ready to Move On.

I am very glad I "joined the carnival" - that I courageously "followed my gut" because there was a very, very, important message waiting for me, that I might never have received if I had not made that "crazy" choice in the first place. And as I have suggested here, the understanding I gained from reading The Drama of the Gifted Child became the "Cornerstone" for my life of learning apart from my mother. There have been many, many more ideas that have filled in that "structure" of my life, and in some cases, liberated me from ideas that were too limiting. It is those ideas that I am sharing through this blog, so that others might be strengthened and liberated as well.

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