I had the strangest thing happen to me the other day. I was watching an old movie when, all of the sudden, I was hit with a feeling of repulsion. Now, my sister, CJ, would say she always has that reaction when watching an old movie. I realize there are many who feel as she does; however, this isn’t a movie review. Rather, it is about the movies affect on me and why.
The movie is about the strained relationship between a mother and daughter. The mom was a famous pianist who toured the world; the daughter grew up unsure of where she fit in her mothers heart and life. The mother visits her now grown, married daughter – things are fine, constrained but fine, until a conversation escalates into a scathing vitriolic attack on the mother. Every feeling from the daughters childhood was thrown at the mom.
I had been feeling a little anxious as the movie went along, however, it was at this point I started feeling sick to my stomach. I remember thinking it was an odd reaction. You see, there was a time I had wanted to have a frank talk with my mother about certain times in our past. Actually, early in her illness we were in the middle of one of our daily chats when something was said that provided the perfect segue for bringing up the past.
I felt my heart beat quicken. It felt as though my brain turned into a bog and the words were too weighted to form any sort of coherent thought … it was like I was wading through mental quicksand. At that moment I knew I could not say what I wanted; I knew I would not bring up the past.
I was reminded of that passed-up-opportunity while watching the daughter spew all sorts of hurt and angry feelings at her mother. After taking a little time to mull things over I came to a few conclusions about myself. Foremost, it pulled back a veil on the way perceptions of circumstances, especially those from childhood, can be flawed, incomplete, exaggerated, and/or outright wrong.
I thought about my own mother/daughter issues – the various circumstances from my childhood that had morphed into the unsettled feelings I carried into adulthood. And yet, at that moment, watching the movie – that particular scene – I had one repeating thought…
I am glad I didn’t say anything.
Well, okay, if truth be told, it’s probably more like I chickened out. But, regardless, I am glad I didn’t do that to mom. It would have been selfish of me. Interestingly, though, shortly before mom died we did talk about a few things. She was the one who brought them up. I realized being consumed with my side of the relationship, my perception of anything and everything mom said or did, prevented me from pausing long enough to consider she, too, had a side, her perception.
I had never thought of how unfair I had been with mom. I was holding her hostage to the past – wait, let me reword that, I was holding her hostage to my past. You see, it goes back to that word I keep using, p.e.r.c.e.p.t.i.o.n. I needed to understand how so many of my feelings were tied to those little girl perceptions I’ve been carrying since my childhood.
Of course, I still think honest conversation is definitely important in relationships – to move them forward, heal feelings, etc. However, when it comes to things beyond our control, things that we just can’t change, well, it’s better just leaving the past alone. The daughter in that movie came to the same conclusion … but a little too late.
After the dust settled and her mother promised she would never intrude on her life again, the girl was forced to pause – she finally realized that she hadn’t made allowances for her mothers side of the relationship – she saw how the majority of her feelings towards her mother were based on percep…, uh, okay, let me use another word here, conclusions from her childhood … and set the tone for their relationship.
The only thing dredging up the past accomplished in that particular situation was more pain. The movie ended with the daughter writing a letter to her mother pleading for forgiveness, begging to be given another chance – she finally understood she couldn’t blame her mother for her unhappiness anymore. She is the one who looked for and fed on anything and everything negative as a way to rationalize (condone, perhaps?) her angry, hurt feelings towards her mother.
Is that what I had been doing in my relationship with mom? What about other areas in my life?
These are some of the questions I started asking myself. I thought about the way I had envisioned bringing up the past to mom compared to the way she broached it with me. Stripping away any and all reasons I could find for wanting to talk about the past, I have to acknowledge my core reason for wanting to “go there” with mom was to, somehow, oh, wow, this is harder to say than I thought … okay, here goes … I wanted to avenge all the long ago hurt feelings.
I made so much of our relationship about me, about my hurting inside, and I figured the way to stop the hurt was to bring it out in the open. And, actually, it would have been a good idea 20 years earlier when some changes were feasible, doable. Many of those feelings had expired long ago. I kept hanging on to them and, just like anything that exceeds an expiration, they became toxic, putrid, and of no benefit to me whatsoever.
I had to let go of those feelings and, incredibly, it was mom who helped me do it. It was the day she brought up a few things from the past. Now I look at that conversation as a sort of gift – unfortunately, it is only now that I am fully grasping what it was that mom really did for me. And though it was a little too late for us to enjoy some of the changes taking place in our relationship, I am glad she lived long enough for us to make a start in moving our relationship forward.
So, do I think the past should be buried, ignored, forgotten, blotted out, repugned? Not at all. There are times delving into the past during a healthy, “open-faced” conversation is good for a relationship. But that is a conversation I have planned for another day. Or, more to the point, my next post.