I have been commenting on a book by Quaker Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak. Yesterday I wrote about depression and the need to go down deep to discover the true self as created by God. Having gone there himself, Palmer lists five “shadow-casting monsters.” I identified with each of them in some way, but the one that really helps define me is the fourth: fear, especially of chaos in one’s life. My husband Bernie, in more recent years when he felt safe to speak, told me that I am a controller. “Well,” I said in defense “someone has to be in control.” My implication was that if I left things up to him, our life would be a mess.
Palmer nailed me when he wrote, “Many of us – parents and teachers and CEOs-are deeply devoted to eliminating all remnants of chaos from the world. We want to organize and orchestrate things so thoroughly that messiness will never bubble up around us.”
Wow! I remember how difficult, that is, impossible, for me to accept the sibling rivalry in our home. When I later studied parenting, I learned that the more we interfere with siblings fighting, the less they learn about dealing with differences, compromise and making amends. I learned some excellent skills parents can use to help children move through their differences and to teach the values that are important to them. I guess I can forgive myself. I did not have this information as I was raising my four.
Palmer offers a deeper take on the importance of chaos. “The insight received (from the inner journey) is that chaos is the precondition to creativity: as every creation myth has it, life itself is emerged in the void.” (My artist daughter would love this.) Parker goes on: “Even what has been created needs to return to chaos from time to time so that it can be regenerated in more vital form.”
This makes me think of putting together a piece of equipment or the proverbial Christmas morning toy. Sometimes, we come to a point when we realize that we have put things together in such a way that what is supposed to work doesn’t. I can still remember the day my grandson Charlie was trying to change his transformer guy into the truck that was meant to be. He cried as he threw the toy across the room. I sat with him and tried to work backwards with this piece of plastic which was a total mystery to me. He had to go back to almost the beginning of the transformation process from super-strong-man so he could begin again. With a patience I would not have had with my own kids, he was able to help the toy become what its designer intended.
I think this is true in life, at least in mine. We can’t redo what we have done. Life doesn’t work that way. But we can sometimes work backward to discover where we made wrong decisions or where we acted too hastily. With patience and kindness to ourselves, we can begin the process of recreating. In the case of parenting, I cannot change what I may have done to my children, but I can be much improved parent to my adult children, I can be a different kind of grandmother, I can share my newfound wisdom with others, I can make amends…all this and more.
Lest I sound like a woman who beats herself up, let me add that once I was able to deal with my shortcomings as a mother, I began to remember the good things I did as a parent. When Charlie started