or…the truth will set us free.
I didn’t go to Ash Wednesday services…I had the opportunity…two, in fact. I just didn’t go. It was a choice. It felt like a rebellious act, as though I was intentionally, pettily, childishly, pulling away from an overbearing parent. And that is the way a religious institution can sometimes feel.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Episcopal Church. I could have changed directions numerous times but did not simply because I love the ritual, the bells, the smells, the Tradition and the tradition. There is a freedom that is firmly anchored.
But it is time to detoxify a spirit long held captive by dis-ease. It is time to stop holding on so tightly to some of the sorrows in my past. Can a life be measured by deaths?
To me, my life as a child was as idyllic as an introverted, shy child’s could be. Surrounded by love, great amounts of family, just north of the heart of Texas, in the midst of one huge ranch that we lived on and the two separate farms of my grandparents, nature was our playground; our dogs and cats our playmates. Trees were our jungle gyms; dry creek beds our slides. We rode horses, jumped from the hayloft, swam in “tanks”, read books under big oak trees, felt the green grass and mud between our toes, turned brown under the summer sun and basically lived a life that was unknown to millions of people. We were always fed, always clean (for the most part), always loved. I lived with the words of my daddy in my heart, “You can be whatever you want to be.” It took me a very long time to realize that there were many obstacles within that truth.
It has taken me even longer to acknowledge the sorrows in my life. My view of my childhood as a time free of anxiety or despair is not a reality. There was anxiety. There was despair. We have to look inward before we can see beyond.
My beloved grandfather, my “Poppy” died when I was ten. He was my mom’s step-dad but to me, the epitome of steadfast love. I could do no wrong and I worked very hard to do no wrong. To disappoint him would have been a true sorrow. His death was a tragedy for sure, one that paled the assassination of the President of the United States in comparison.
Medger Evers and Malcolm X were not even on my radar.
We moved when I was in 6th grade from our idyllic setting to a rental house in the town of Comanche, Texas while we awaited the construction of the ranch manager’s house on Prather Ranch outside of town. We always called it the “rat house” because it was a pier and beam where rats had infested the under regions of the place. It was a horror. When we took baths, we could hear the rats running under the tub. We could hear them skittering at night. I shiver to think of it now. Thank God we only lived in the house for a couple of months. It was the cause of a great many nightmares for me.
Not too long after moving to Comanche, while still living in the “rat house”, my mom was in a horrible car wreck. I was eleven. She lived but it took a very long time for her to heal. The old man who hit her died at the scene. I have breaks in my memory from that time. The next few years were indeed a time of high anxiety with multiple surgeries to reconstruct her face, arm and leg.
Not long after that, my daddy’s right hand man, Jesse, and Jesse’s mom died in a car accident. Jesse was driving her home from a doctor’s appointment. She was pregnant with her 14th child. Their family had lived on the Ulmer Ranch with us and followed my daddy when he became foreman of the Prather Ranch in Comanche. The tragedy was close to home. My sister and I were friends with three of Jesse’s younger siblings. They had to move from the ranch after the accident.
Near the end of the “Civil Rights Era”, in 1967, my Granddaddy Sam died of suspicious circumstances. The suspicion was that his current wife withheld his heart medicine which resulted in a fatal heart attack. Of course, that could have been a distraught daughter thinking that…Colleen was not a nice person. It would have been easy to think she did something like that. My mom filed a lawsuit against Collie because she disposed of a lot of Granddaddy Sam’s estate prior without discussing it with Mom. He died without a will. The suit was dismissed. My mom got his guitar.
I have the guitar now. It means a great deal to me. When I was young and in the midst of a terror, I would hide. One of the places I would hide was behind a great big wingback chair in our living room. It was in a corner and a perfect fit for my scrawny body. My granddaddy came looking for me, knowing that I was in one of my fits. He found me in my corner and crawled back there with me. He lifted me up and sat me in his lap and then laid his guitar across my lap and started playing. Before I knew it, whatever fear that had seized me was gone and our laughter and singing galloped through the house.
By the time that Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, we had moved to the big city of Hurst, one of the Mid-Cities of Dallas-Fort Worth. Talk about anxiety…move that shy and anxious 12 year old girl out of the country and into the city...talk about terror. When we lived on Ulmer’s Ranch in Erath County, my fifth grade classroom was also inhabited by the third and fourth grades. All total, there were maybe twenty students in the room. Maybe. When I moved into the Comanche school district, the 6th grade had three times that many. Moving to a suburban junior high school was a leap outside my imagination. I was beyond terrified.
But I survived the onslaught of nasty boys and mean girls. I even made a couple of lifelong friends. There are even a few that I wish were still friends. The other 700 plus Class of 1971 that attended L. D. Bell High School … meh… If I attended high school reunions, it would be only to taunt the ultra-conservative factors that are so vocal today. To say our opinions are diametrically opposed is an understatement.
However, by 1970, I was entering into a state of awareness of those things around me. I had not yet come into the understanding of the correlation between poverty and war/race and war but I knew that many things were wrong. I knew that the basic alienation of human rights was wrong. I knew that the Baptist preacher was focused on the wrong message and that horse racing in Texas was not the real problem.
It was at this age that I began to recognize a deep dark anger. I do not know the origins of the anger. I would like to think it born from a profound sense of justice, a righteousness beyond my understanding. But I do not know that. At this age, that is how it manifests itself most often. But it has been something that I have had to learn how to hold in check. God has worked closely with me on it, I must say. I have overpowered God on numerous occasions. I continue to be a work in progress.
Looking back on my life and comparing it to the stories of others, pssht…it is nothing. It is calm, middle of the road. But there has always been the dis-ease, the certain uncertainty that made all life questionable. The gap that separated me from the lives of some of my childhood friends was wide, Grand-Canyon-esque in some cases. I knew no parental rages, no poverty, no strange bedrooms that were actually utility rooms or closets. I knew that my both my grandmothers had suffered mightily at the hands of one man or another. It seemed to touch me only superficially, but the rumbles were felt deep below the surface.
I have looked outward. I have stared inward. Understanding lives somewhere in the midst of our life’s happenings. These seem random and unconnected but what hurts one, hurts us all. We are made up of the sorrows surrounding us. The unrest and worry of my mom as she wrestled with an altered life due to physical and emotional scars – both from the car wreck and her own childhood; the memories of both my grandmothers as they held in check their fears of abuse and violence so that they could go on to love and be loved by others; the alien goings-on in the lives of friends; all these things and many others are enmeshed within my own life, known and unknown. It is the web of our existence.
I am in a rebellious state and have been for quite some time. I feel as though I have complied with rules all my life. Over the past ten years, I have learned that playing by the rules makes one complicit with a good deal of the harm being done.
Some may believe that I have not played by the rules for a long while now but I tell you this – I have tried. I do not want to try any more.
I am not speaking of those little tax rules that are constantly broken or loopholes greedy ones jump through or those who toe the line to the point that they push the line into the space they want it. I am not speaking about breaking laws and getting away with it.
I am talking about truth. Truth as I see it. Truth as it is revealed to me. Truth as I believe it is revealed to me. Injustice. Disharmony. Dis-ease. Silence.
We are all a part of another, many others. We are connected. What hurts one, hurts all. There are always obstacles within the truth. But it is that connectedness that helps us get around the barriers and over the hurdles. It is the connectedness that holds us together…and sets us free.
I am ready for a new place where the webs I weave are for the good. I am ready to be free.