Sunday, April 15, 2012

Blame & Forgiveness: the Ultimate Cage-Fight (Part 1 of 3)

Everyone asks me the same question after they've heard my history. They say tentatively, " how's your relationship with your parents now?" They ask it haltingly.

Now I answer, "It's the best it's ever been. I love them."

I say this with all honesty. My parents live a dozen miles from me here in the wilds of upstate New York. They moved here twenty-some years ago to watch their grandchildren grow up. And watch me come to terms with my life. Our lives. My progress seems to have allowed them to stretch past their previous comfort levels that were as rigid as the leg I had amputated. They are getting older and I'm glad we've found this balance. 

There were times I didn't think I ever would. I used to think I would never want to try.

What is your relationship with your parents...I didn't have to answer that question until I was in my mid-thirties. Until then I refused to identify any rift in my life, definitely not written in the jagged scars on my fused-solid leg. I bobbed and limped with every step I took in my twenties, in my late teens. After I'd ditched the crutches, which was after I'd climbed out of the wheelchair, which was after I escaped the bed in a small room of our house where I spent most of the year I was fourteen. 1976. The bicentennial year celebrated the nation's declaration of freedom. One of those more recent freedoms was a "blue" law that permitted parents to choose prayer over medicine in treating a child's illness or injury. It set the bone disease free to ravage my childhood and my sanity as well as my left leg.

As second generation Christian Scientists surrounded by church-member friends, relatives and practitioners (who pray for money), my parents were cocooned and isolated. Their confidence that my sudden knee infection would be healed was tempered (I sensed this) by terror that a doctor would amputate my leg immediately. The worse my condition grew, the more imperative it was for me to be healed. The Christian Science church claims it has a method--a "science"--that doesn't pressure the individual to heal herself. Especially a child. But. As I outlasted the disease, as I gained weight and the horrible gouges in my limb began to close, when my knee eventually bore my weight without any sign of bending or flexing, I accepted it was my fault I hadn't been  completely healed.

I carried that weight for twenty years. I remained a devout Christian Scientist the way a battle-scarred soldier might refuse to renounce the war that destroyed her body. If you give all you have for a cause that means nothing, how can you go on? And I still expected to be healed. Gradually, or maybe instantaneously. Christian Science promised my physical body wasn't real but changeable as any dream. Healing would erase my little incident of being bedridden, my odd gait and scars, like a bad debt forgiven.

"What happened to your leg?" This was as far as the conversation got for many years.

"Oh, I had an infection when I was a kid and it's stiff." Sometimes I added, "I was healed by Christian Science."

I never held still long enough for anyone to argue. I said my activity was my true spiritual being shining through. At fifteen I climbed onto my horse from the crutches before I could walk unaided. I completed a grueling course of stable work, riding and teaching in England to be certified a British Horse Society Assistant Instructor at eighteen. At twenty-two I married a dairy farmer, did chores, exercised racehorses, and square danced at the Grange on Saturday nights. I was healed!...or mostly. My firewall was solid. My family and I had our story straight. We stuck to it. There was no blame.

Just the black rot in my heart that ate at me like the infection had. The need to be normal. The ache to run. The fear that today was always the last day of my physical freedom.

My emotional lid was screwed on tight. Super-glued. Sealed in concrete. It was a time capsule that could never see the light of day. Because something was alive in there. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, I screamed and swore. Pain equaled rage disproportionate to the moment. Rage equaled pain. And both bled back in my self-hatred. But asking if it was related to the shiny scar-tissue on my rigid leg was like looking at the sun. The blinding light of reason turned my healing to ash, fallout of a treatment that had approached human sacrifice.

Of me. As a child. By my parents. Overseen by a church. Protected by a state law.

Programmed as I was, my reflexes reassured me. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, always had an answer. FATHER. Eternal Life...commonly called God... And, MOTHER. God...My parents were the mortal manifestation of God's care. God is the parent Mind, and man is God's spiritual offspring. My parents loved me as a spiritual idea.

Then in my late twenties I had a baby. I became a parent. And everything changed.

To be continued.


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  2. You're right, Liz. This is the million-dollar question. "Does she forgive her parents?" "How the hell should I know?" I said. I felt defensively protective. But I was curious too. I didn't want to ask you because I wouldn't blame you if you didn't. But it sounds like you actually let yourself get really angry at what happened. Someone once told me that you have to do that so you can stop blaming yourself. Great job, this is the heavy-duty stuff.