Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Tyger

I'm back from Thanksgiving break!

William Blake wrote:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Excerpted from Songs of Experience

I've been reading from the Norton Anthology of Poetry and remembering those wonderful days of reading when I was an English major. Some of the poems are so very sad. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a very long, long poem about the death of his friend that is quite painful to read. I skipped to the end, where it was just about bearable. (Many years had passed by then and his grief had mellowed.) As I understand it, he wrote the poem over years from 1833-50.

So, most people have tigers living inside them, as well as lambs, and I am no exception. There is a little girl living inside me who is frightened and anxious, and who does not know the way or the answer to anything. If I start feeling melancholy, often it is because she wants to come out. The best thing I can do is to understand and love this little girl inside me, if at all possible. Not try to ignore her or make her grow up or stop being so fearful. Just love her and let her have some expression, somehow; give her recognition.

If I try to suppress this part of me, it pops out in unexpected ways that are not good. Then my emotions become this tangle that trips me up, because either I don't understand where they come from, or I am deliberately hiding them from myself and others.

My little-girl side comes out strongly during the holidays. There is so much expectation, so much desire this time of year. I guess I can sum up my expectations, from my earliest years, as this: Christmas is about love and family. This year, love and family will prevail in my home. My parents will stop fighting and will show how much they love each other, and me. They will do more than give me a great bounty of gifts: they will give me the love I need, in the way that I need it. I will be able to feel secure when I am home and stop worrying about what will happen next, and when the other shoe will drop.

My parents fought a whole lot when I was young. They weren't good at showing love, though I know they loved me and my sister so very much. As I remember it (and I know memories are faulty), they used most of their energy to attack each other. Mom had this way of constantly dragging Dad down and telling him what a failure he was, about everything. Usually it was really simple things that he couldn't do right. He couldn't do what was needed around the house. He couldn't get the right groceries. He was a terrible provider for the family. And on and on. Dad would reach a simmer, and then a boil, and he would explode finally and yell back at Mom.

I felt like I spent a lot of time cowering in the corner nearby. It is hard, as a child, to watch your parents seemingly hate each other, without feeling rather hated yourself, or feeling like it's your fault. As I grew, I felt like if I could do everything perfectly, the fighting would stop. Once, I ran away -- first loudly announcing, "I'm running away!" hoping that would distract them for a while and get them to focus on something together. So I ran down some streets and alleys for a while. I think my sister was very upset about me running off. I wonder if she remembers? It wasn't long before I let myself be found.

 There was one time I remember vividly, because it was so surreal. My Mom and Dad, sitting on the bed in their bedroom, smiling. My Mom saying warmly, "I love your father so much!" and caressing him. My Dad smiling, in a bemused sort of way. This only happened once, that I remember.

In high school, I spent a lot of time at my best friend's house down the street, and went off to college (for a while), and married young. Gotta get away, gotta get away ...

Oddly enough, my life has not repeated the pattern of my parents' life, though those beginnings certainly influenced me in many ways. Sometimes, I realize that I am lucky to have experienced some suffering, far less than people from truly broken and dysfunctional homes. Let's look at the things that were not true of my parents: they did not physically abuse me or one another, or abuse alcohol or drugs, or live in dire poverty, or fail to provide for our every material need, etc. etc.

My experiences led to the development of empathy for others. I can't always use it effectively with other people, but I sure feel it. I see situations from the point of view of the underdog, and from multiple angles.

The Tyger that destroyed my parents' relationship with one another, and that I saw controlling my parents so often, has persisted in me, from the brokenness of that relationship and all the sorrows that resulted. My inner Tyger sometimes rages at others, but often it starts attacking me from the inside out.

Here's a recent picture with my Dad and his Chinese wife, Han, when she cooked us a delicious meal. Everyone seems to be thinking, can we eat already??

Despite this inner Tyger, I feel that I have been able to demonstrate my love for my kids effectively. I have been able to take better care of myself than my Mom took of herself. I have been able to feel genuine self-love, the first step toward loving others.

This little girl inside, this Tyger, was crying out this holiday season. So give her a little latitude and a lot of love, please. And next week, my inner Lamb will continue posting. Said with a wink and a smile!

Here is my advice to everyone else who is plagued by a Tyger: keep going, and act like the wonderful, loved and loving person you are.

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