Reflecting on being brave with Leo
You are here with me, dear child. You are safe from the dangers of the world. It’s okay to turn your superhero cape into a blanket, to come in running from the water’s edge. Sometimes, the bravest thing is to admit that the waves are scary and you need refuge here on the beach. Here I will rock you and shelter you from every danger, here with me you are safe. Together we’ll construct a tiny shelter for two, out of the tree branches in the forest nearby. We’ll crawl in, leaning our backs against the one sturdy wall, the backs of our legs solid in the warm sand. I promise that nobody can see or touch us here, in this shelter of the earth.
You don’t always need to be brave. It is okay to take shelter, to admit that you need help or yearn for a cuddle. You can ask to be held, rocked in a warm and fluffy towel, snuggled close. My body is made to hold and protect you. In our shelter, you and I can truly rest. The vigilant piece of ourselves is at the doorway keeping watch, and there is no danger that will escape her. We are safe and free to enjoy the warmth of the sand and the slow rocking melody of the waves.
Dear one, you’ve carried with you the shame of trauma for years now. The trauma of bringing forth a scared and vulnerable piece of your heart to your parents for clarity, and being met with rejection, fear, and blame. In you, this trauma manifests as flinching, wanting to shrink away and not be seen. Head bowed, eyes downcast, sit-bones and pelvis paralyzed on the ground. Heat tingling in my face as I let the shame arise in my body. Leo sounds incredibly far away. My upper body is dis-associating, as if I am watching the scene from afar. Only my sit-bones call me back to the present moment.
I was a child asking her parents for help.
I was able to admit that I was scared and needed help.
I am grateful to you for asking, Melanie. You were a child looking to adults for guidance, and now I see your bravery in asking for help. How painful it must have been to be unmet by your parents in your time of need. How scary and disappointing to be sitting alone, how lonely and isolating. I am sorry, dear one, for the difficulty of what transpired. I forgive you for any unskillfulness in your words or actions, for you did the best you could with the tools you had.
And as for the shadow of trauma you grappled with then, and still carry now, I believe you. The truth is in your body, your body doesn’t lie. I notice the fear when your back is to an open room, the disgust and alarm that arises unasked when an old man gets close. It does not matter if the person was your grandfather or another man, or even if any incident happened. It happened in your body, and that is enough for me to believe.
Today this trauma is carried in my body as recoiling, running to a stable corner to curl up into a ball, eyes closed and face hidden. I am sobbing as I run, releasing the paralysis of years past. I can run, I can hide from the danger, I don’t need to be visible. Energy is released and heat rushes to my face. I cannot hear anything Leo is saying except: Take your time, find a place in your body that is safe. You are safe. I am crying and hiding when I realize I am safe. My feet are on the floor in my dear friend’s kitchen. I am resting against the back wall. My legs intuitively extend so that I am anchored to the earth. I imagine that I am on a beach, my legs grounded in warm, comforting sand. I am safe. I invite my child self to sit down next to me, and she too extends her legs in the sand. She is peaceful.
Look, dear one. We are safe in this present moment.
We stand up and walk holding hands back towards Leo, our friend, looking for guidance and a welcome home. He is there with a smile, and I return to this moment in my body, the shame of trauma now safe, believed, welcomed too.
I believe you. And I am here for you, to provide safety and shelter, the warmth of open arms.
I am sorry your parents were not able to hold that moment for you with the belief you were looking for. In this moment, I see their disbelief, fear, and desire for harmony alongside your unmet need. I see that meeting you with belief, in their minds, could have toppled the little balance there was in our family. Understanding the roots of your parents’ actions does not invalidate your feelings. Your disappointment, frustration, and anger are welcome here. I am sorry that I've blamed you for all of these years.
And I welcome in the recognition of all the ways in which your parents were able to meet you. During this same meeting, your dad and mom wrote letters looking deeply at their own lives, taking account of their own actions in your childhood. Your dad apologized for his anger and displays of favoritism, as you had interpreted them; he spoke of a love for you that went beyond money. And your mom showed up too, in her simple acceptance of the way things are. Loving you and your brothers without question, with clarity and ease.
There is a deep love for my parents in my body. I don’t want to cause them harm; I want to be gentle and kind, to take good care. Each time I return from abroad they are more fragile, soft, vulnerable. My dad injured his shoulder and is doing physical therapy to lift his arm above his head. My mom has the remnants of a cough and hasn’t been able to go walking in months. The truth of my love arises: I love them just as they are. They are enough.
Maybe they are not able to hold my delicate emotions, my trembling fear or recoiling shame, as I would like them to. There may be no safe container at home to share the deep feelings in my heart, to discuss the suffering of violence or fear in political conflict. Maybe I cannot discuss our economic privilege, the impact of patriarchy at home, the challenges of building relationships while abroad.
While I yearn for emotional intimacy with both of them, especially my father, I accept that it may not be possible now, given who I am and who my parents are. That trying to speak may create more harm than good. Leo shares the story of Thay encouraging Sister Annabel to wait two years before trying to speak of difficulty with her father. Patience, dear one, it may not be the right time. It may never be.
Perhaps my disappointment is more alive now because my father has the emotional capacity to meet me in many ways. He is patient and kind with my brothers and in touch with his emotions, much more so than in the past. When I came out as bisexual, he greeted me with: “That’s a surprise, but we just want you to be happy. We’ll love you no matter what.” If we are trees, I am grateful to have been planted near him, with the same capacity for deep looking and presence in our roots. I will never give up hope that we will be able to speak openly one day.
And yet right now, my father is not capable of meeting me where I am, to receive my work and life in Israel-Palestine. For whatever reason – fear, uncertainty, pain, anger – he is unable to be present with me in my truth. This is his own challenge to meet, if change is something in his heart. I cannot make the choice for him and I cannot expect it will ever come. Out of my love, I can accept where he is and let it be, my hope an aspiration guiding my actions at home.
I want to let my own practice blossom within my family.
I want to water my dad’s flowers without any expectation for change.
I want to take care of my brothers as they start out in their careers, with steadiness, patience, not turning away.
I want to make agreements with my mom so that we argue less about little things and can truly enjoy each other.
I know that I am not alone, and that I do not have to carry my needs on my own. There are friends and partners on the path that can and will meet my open heart in my vulnerability, my playfulness, my wonder, the desire of my soul for emotional intimacy. I must discern who is willing and able to meet me where I am.
I revisit the little shelter on the beach, its walls the stable branches of the tall forest trees. I peek into see the two of us still snuggled in the sand, resting and warm.
Melanie, do you know how loved you are?
It is okay not to be brave sometimes.
You can ask for help, and take shelter when things get scary.
You do not have to face anything alone, for I am with you always.