It is something that I have written about before: crying my eyes out every night as a child, feeling that I was not honoring my mother and father.
Every week at mass we would read through the ten commandments.
Lord, have mercy upon us, and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee.
So it was there before me. Always there.
And, yet, other than my own silent judgments about their various quirks and behaviors, I’m not quite sure what convinced me that I didn’t honor them.
When my children were young, I remember looking down at them, seeing them looking up at me, and wondering about this whole business of honoring parents. A child, after all, after enduring a day at school, handling time with friends, surviving sports events, and everything else, really doesn’t take the time to honor his parents.
Perhaps when I come in to wipe the soap out of their eyes. Or bandage the next wound. Or help out with a particularly ornery school project. (Just why were there so many school projects, anyway?)
Honor means to treat with admiration. Admiration means great respect and approval.
It’s almost a flipping of the responsibility of the commandment: a parent needs to behave in such ways as to inspire admiration, it seems to me. To impose admiration onto someone who does not inspire it naturally is, what?, brain-washing? twisting one’s arm?
So honoring one’s parents has to mean something deeper; the divinity of this command has to be a perception that is not so obvious to us.
I’ve begun a healing class. I thought that it was going to be just a class that studied spiritual healing. But no, it turns out it is a class in training people to become prayer ministers. And on the first night, the leader warned us to watch out for the time between classes: it seems all sorts of things can happen. All the interesting stuff, he mentioned.
And so, right on cue, all the interesting stuff happened to me the day after the first class.
I was taking a nap. I had, over the past weeks, been having dreams about different members of my family. On the day after the first healing class, I had a dream about my mother. It ended with me looking into her eyes.
And what I saw there was evil.
And in that looking, things about my life fell into place. Not only was my mother evil, but so was my father. I had been raised by evil parents.
No wonder there had been such an unspoken, unrelenting barrier between us. I always took the responsibility for it, I knew I was not the Girl Daughter that they imagined they would have.
I have been asked, Did they behave in ways that made you think of them as evil? And the answer, is, no. I never thought of them as evil.
Just distant. Very, very distant. And judging of me.
But, now, after a bit of time, things come to me. The sound of my mother’s laughter at my brother’s wake, subduing down into remorse if anyone outside called to convey their sympathy.
The college graduation gift of a couple dozen lobsters from Maine. Sent all the way to California.
People were impressed.
I’m allergic to lobster. I would die if I ate enough of it.
If anyone knew of my allergy (I was raised on the coast of Maine, after all), it would be my parents.
And that is when I saw it: my honor for my parents. I didn’t throw the lobsters in the trash. I didn’t get hysterical or accusatory. No. I just had the lobsters prepared in the standard, Maine kind of way. Steamed, simply. Served with melted butter and lots of napkins. I even found a way to provide my family and friends with picks and crackers for the shells.
I served my family lobster on the day that was supposed to be about celebrating me.
And like every Maine festival event during my growing-up years, usually in the form of a clam bake, I ate the side dishes and smiled. And watched everyone else smile and smile over their delicacy.
No, I didn’t feel like a martyr. I just felt like me.
I heard a story a few years ago now about a priest in some African country, who, when confronted by a member of a death squad who had come into the church to kill the priest, knelt down and prayed. He surrendered his life to the assassin. He forgave his assassin.
And the boy, the killer, dropped his gun and cried out that he wanted to feel like that. He wanted to have what the priest had. I think the boy grew up to eventually become a priest.
There is a true divinity to feeling respect for your enemy. Even when your enemy hates you. Even when your enemy is truly evil.
It is a time of impending flight for me. Visions are chanting their approach. And so I look for a prayer. A prayer that I say in my own highly stylized way to a rosary. The two-part prayer said on each decade.
And I came across one that I used last week.
I look back on my life and am grateful for your loving fidelity to me at every moment.
It was originally written, am grateful for God’s loving fidelity. But since the first half of the prayer is to God, I didn’t want to change the tone and all of a sudden become impersonal.
And saying this prayer fifty times a day began a process of turning my head around.
I was saying, I’m grateful for YOUR fidelity. I had to realize that all my life, most especially during this time of questioning my honor of my parents, I thought about MY fidelity to God.
Not HIS fidelity to me.
And it makes me stop and wonder. If I had ever thanked God for being there even in those times when I didn’t want him anywhere near me, would it have made a difference to my heart? to my soul? to my sense of well-being?
It has in this past week, anyway.
And, as short a time as that is, it feels like a lot.