Fathers’ Day — A Mixed Bag of Emotions


 

–by Neal Lemery

 

 

 

Fathers’ Day is a challenging holiday, and I’m relieved it has come and gone. The event is idealized in our culture, presented as a day of barbeques, family time, and lots of smiles about idyllic childhoods and loving, kindly fathers who have inspired us, who have taught us all about love, family, and healthy parenting. It comes across as cuddly and warm, yet for many, the message is one of conflict and contradiction.

 

On Sunday, I had good communications with many of the men I am proud to call “son”, and good friends, guys I can talk with, heart to heart. I’m relieved that they are doing well in their emotional lives, and able to freely express their feelings with me about fathering and growing up.  We’re at a stage, finally, where “I love you” is more easily spoken or written.

 

Yet, I have others I’ve mentored and parented who choke on saying the word “love”. I know they are struggling, challenged by how to find themselves and make sense of the confusion and chaos in their lives. Depression, addiction, broken relationships, and even jail time challenge them, as they keep searching for the tools and the paths to heal themselves and be able to move on in their lives. Guys don’t easily pick up the phone or text that they’re suicidal, high, or behind bars.  There aren’t any texting emojis that say that they aren’t good enough, that they’re failures and can’t get their lives together.

 

I love them anyway, and try to communicate that, but often it is a one way street. Some of my letters addressed to a prison don’t get a reply, but I write anyway. I’m a gardener and planting seeds and adding water and fertilizer on what appears to be infertile ground is part of that work of faith.

 

Like other holidays, what we are supposed to be honoring and acknowledging conflicts with our own reality and our emotional journeys through life. None of us have lived the idyllic life, being parented with the ideal, perfect father, and living our own life free from emotional baggage left over from our childhood. We experience our own roles as men, fathers, and the complex task of helping to raise kids and navigate our own turbulent emotional waters of adulthood. The road is often bumpy.

 

It is a day of conflicting emotions and fake messages, including this Instagram posted on this Fathers’ Day from Bill Cosby, once television’s ideal dad, and now an imprisoned, convicted sexual predator:

 

“Hey, Hey, Hey…It’s America’s Dad… I know it’s late, but to all of the Dads… It’s an honor to be called a Father, so let’s make today a renewed oath to fulfilling our purpose – strengthening our families and communities.”

 

Emotional predators, especially those who have projected a wholesome image through the media, and hold themselves out as a role model of virtue and integrity, have no credibility coming across as the ideal dad. No, Mr. Cosby, you are not “America’s Dad” anymore, and I reject what you are trying to project upon us.  Your social media posting is a mockery of what Fathers’ Day needs to be.

 

I’m not alone in thinking about the challenges of being both the child and the father, and dealing with sons and daughters who are conflicted about dealing with the idealization of parenting, how to emerge whole, or at least not emotionally ravaged from childhood.

 

I Googled “father anger” and saw there were 185 million hits. It is a rich topic for writers, and all of us who are trying to make sense of masculine anger.

 

“It’s not being a man that makes men prone to anger, but being socialized to be “masculine,” which studies suggest is hard to separate from a propensity for angry emotions. Societal expectations about how to be a boy are evolving, but many men are still taught that anger is one of few acceptable emotions for them to express. When toughness and independence are highly valued in men, this inevitably leads to outbursts.”

–Virginia Pelley

https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/relationships/good-dads-anger-problems/

 

The greeting card section at the grocery store doesn’t have Fathers’ Day cards about anger, about emotional abuse, and the challenges of having a real deep conversation with dad about growing up, and how to navigate those troubled waters.

 

Talking about emotions and childhood trauma are still taboo topics for many men at social gatherings, as well as one on one.  I’ve also seen adult children who are called at a funeral to eulogize their parent struggle to put into words stories about their parents’ lives, trying to balance truth telling with unresolved emotions about the tough times with mom or dad.  A funeral isn’t expected to be very healing for anger and rage.

 

However, the subtleties in the stories that have been edited to be spoken at a funeral can convey a willingness to be real, to connect with family on what has often been stuffed away in the family closet of secrets. There remains the deep need to tell the truth, and to heal.

 

Being open and honest about such experiences has been seeing the light of day in recent years.  Popular figures have been telling their stories, and numerous books dig into the challenges of familial rage and dysfunction.  The “Me Too” movement and other acts of cultural courage over the past few decades have modeled the benefits of being open and having the courage to start to heal.

 

In the last few years, work on addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACEs) has been a breath of fresh air and provided opportunities for understanding and healing, much to the benefit of our society. Educators are now becoming informed and are implementing innovative approaches to helping kids.

 

Many of the men I’ve mentored have had the benefit of good counselors and therapists, friends, and lovers who have helped in removing the thorns of abuse, self-debasement, and emotional sabotage.  For many people, the vicious cycle of generational emotional paralysis and impotent rage has been exposed to the light of understanding, and been broken, or at least interrupted.  For all that work, I am heartened, and I can see society moving and changing, Bill Cosby’s recent comment notwithstanding.

 

I try to convey to my sons and the other men in my life that we are all entitled to our anger and our rage, that the wounds we have experienced should be acknowledged, and that healing is possible.  Dealing with the mixed emotions of Fathers’ Day is part of that work. It is a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we need to go in our journeys.

 

6/17/2019

Simply Listening


 

 

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

            Leo Buscaglia

 

It is the simple things in life that are often the most meaningful.

 

A young man and I were working on his math. He’s been working hard and now the formulas and methodology of his algebra was making sense to him. My tutoring today consisted of listening to him explain his processes, and watch him work his problem, applying his knowledge, and seeing him find the answers.

 

“I think I understand this now,” he said.

 

Pride filled his voice, and he gave me a seldom seen smile.

 

“What else do you need to work on?” I said. “You’ve clearly got your math under control.

 

He looked down at his shoes, then out the window. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, as he pondered my question. A minute, then another passed without an answer.

 

He cleared his throat, finally cluing me in. His therapist needed him to make a list, a list of challenging events in his life, times when he was abused, and was abusive to others.

 

This would be the last barrier to complete therapy and move on with his life, to becoming free of what has burdened him, held him down.

 

He looked away, tears filling his eyes.

 

“It’s so hard,” he said. “I can’t seem to get started. I can’t write it down.”

 

“Hard because?” I asked.

 

He fell silent, still looking down. A tear ran down his cheek.

 

“It’s…. it’s overwhelming. There’s just so much,” he said.

 

We sat there, letting the heavy words fill the air. It was hard for me to breathe, the air now thick with his emotions and the weight of this task.

 

“Take a breath,” I said. “This is a safe place. We’ll take this on together, and work on it just like we do with math.”

 

“In math, one of the first steps is to write down the problem, give names to what you’re working on,” I said. “One step at a time.”

 

He looked at me, and I nodded. Another tear ran down his cheek. He took a deep breath, then another, re-inspecting his shoes. A few more minutes passed. He gave me a slight nod.

 

“I can be the writer today” I said. “I’ll be your secretary.”

 

He looked away, over my shoulder, and started to speak, beginning his story with the last time he was in a difficult situation, a time of chaos and pain.

 

I picked up my pencil and began to write on the tablet we’d used for our math, starting a fresh page.

 

He spoke almost in a whisper. I leaned closer, barely able to hear his words. The room was silent except for the scratchings of my pencil against the paper, and his soft words, his voice cracking and choking over them.

 

I gulped, feeling my own sense of revulsion, panic, horror, and angst build up in my gut, as he told one story, then another, and another.

 

Working backwards in his life, he moved quickly from one incident to the one before it, giving me two or three sentences, names, ages, what happened, how he reacted, how he felt. At first, it seemed jumbled, but I began to see the order, how he’d been preparing his story, rehearsing and editing it in his mind, probably for months.

 

He spoke fast enough that each story was only a line on my tablet, often just fragments of sentences, a first name. I wrote quickly, finding myself near the bottom of page two before he took another breath and looked down at his shoes.

 

Once, I had to prod, a few words of encouragement. His look told me he thought I’d be a harsh judge for this story, condemning and berating him.

 

“It’s OK,” I whispered. “It happened, so it needs to be on the list. No judging today.”

 

He took a big breath and let it out. Another long minute of silence.

 

The first time, I can’t remember much,” he said.

 

“I can’t remember,” he finally said. “I was two years old, and there was something, something with a friend of my dad’s.”

 

“I don’t know, but there’s something,” he said.

 

“It’s OK,” I said. “When you’re two, you probably don’t remember a lot, at least consciously.”

 

We talked about the conscious brain and the subconscious, and how different parts of the brain have different tasks, and work differently. And how we deal with trauma, and don’t deal with it very well. But, our body remembers, in ways that aren’t always clear to us.

 

He nodded, relating all of this to what he’d learned in therapy and his psychology classes, and in all the thinking he’d been doing.

 

He looked at the list, shaking his head.

 

“Wow, that’s a long list,” he said.

 

“A good list, “ I said. “You’ve done good work today,”

 

Our time was coming to an end, and I needed to leave.

 

I tore off the pages I’d written, and handed them to him.

 

“Here’s your list,” I said. “We’ve written it down, so you don’t have to keep it in your head any more. But, you’ll have it if you need it.”

 

He looked at me, penetrating deep into my eyes.

 

“Oh,” he said. “You mean I don’t have to keep all that inside of me, thinking about it all the time?”

 

“No,” I said. “You have your list, on that paper. Kind of like a grocery list, or a list of chores for the day.”

 

“It’s a reference, I said. “You can put it in a safe place, and refer to it if you need to.”

 

“And, once you’ve put words to all that, then you’ve named the problem, you’ve identified it, and you don’t have to keep thinking about it,” I said.

 

He nodded, and let out a big whoosh of air.

 

“So, the problem,” he said. “Kind of like a math problem then?   Write it out, apply the formulas and work the solution, huh?”

 

I nodded, and he chuckled.

 

“Just like a math problem,” he said. “One step at a time.”

 

“Uh, huh,” I said. “Just like a math problem. And, you can solve it, right?”

 

“Yes, I can,” he said.

 

“Yes, I can.”

 

—Neal Lemery 12/19/2016

Building Community — Ubuntu


How do I build community? How do I help make my community stronger, more resilient, more viable? How do we improve our ability to take care of each other, and become healthier, a better whole?

 

In South Africa, there is a concept of Ubuntu.

 

“I am what I am because of who we all are”

 

“A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

Desmond Tutu

 

 

“Ubuntu is a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the individual.” Stephen Lundin- Ubuntu!

 

The word ‘ubuntu’ originates from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa, and is pronounced as uu-Boon-too. It is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities.

 

“Or as the Zulus would say, “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, which means that a person is a person through other persons. We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others.

 

“The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as:

‘It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.

 

They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”

 

(https://motivationinspirationandlife.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/ubuntu-i-am-what-i-am-because-of-who-we-all-are/)

 

Who am I? A citizen, yes. Yet, I am a part of my community. In defining that, I am who I am because I am a part of the community.

 

My community defines me.

 

If I want to advance myself, and advance my community, I must, as a part of the community, also advance the community.

 

Ubuntu is unity, being a part of something bigger than myself. And, that “whole” also defines me.

 

In my work in the community, when I strengthen others, I strengthen the community and also myself.

 

When I mentor someone, help them with a school subject, take time to listen to them, work in a community garden with them, talk with them in the line at the grocery store or the post office, or just smile at someone on the street, I am building my community, and I am engaging in and being an aspect of Ubuntu.

 

And, when I am tearing down my community, not taking care of myself and others, when I am exploiting weakness and divisiveness, then I am working against Ubuntu. My negativity is destructive, of myself, of others, and of my community.

 

Racism, sexism, bigotry, ignorance, indifference — all work against the spirit of Ubuntu.

 

Today, I resolve to be a builder and a force for strength, wholeness and health. I strive to live within the spirit of Ubuntu.

 

–Neal Lemery, November 16, 2016

Taking A Moment To Be Still


It was unusual for me, just sitting there in my garden, being still and looking around.

I’d had a long session with the trowel, the weed eater, and my hand pruners, attacking the weeds, setting out some plants, and generally tidying up my shade garden. Sweaty, dirty and tired, I found a chair and a bottle of water and decided to catch my breath.

At first, I looked at what I’d done, and what I needed to do, mentally composing additions to my “to do” list.

This is becoming a job, I thought. Gardening is a lot of work, and I’m tired.

Maybe I should just take a moment and enjoy all of this, my own quiet corner of the world. I could let the sweat dry, thinking its OK that I just take a break.

Lately, when I’ve been reading about gardening, I’m nose deep into the science and the methodologies about how to grow the best of whatever is involved in my latest garden project.

In the midst of research on an interesting new plant, I’d come across a quote about gardening and my soul.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
― Ray Bradbury

Take a moment, take a breath, and enjoy the garden for what it is, I reminded myself. Too often, my time here becomes an obligation, a project. Hurry up, get it done, and move on to the next task.

But, I am a gardener, not a laborer. Gardening really is nurturing, and being IN the garden. It is a time to nurture this place and my soul, to find peace, to let my mind be still and just BE. After all, I am a human being, not a human doing.

And, so I became still, and sat there. A swallow was building a nest in the new birdhouse, a hummingbird was enjoying the honeysuckle in bloom, sunlight played on the rhododendron bursting out in full glory. I breathed in the fresh air, and all the smells of spring.

In the distance, a neighbor was mowing her lawn, and a farmer was tilling his field. Off in the forest, a logger’s chainsaw provided the bass line for the house finch’s serenade in the snowball bush.

The real beauty in the garden, I realized, was not all the work I’d done, though I certainly had provided some tidying up and structure to this little piece of paradise. But, I realized, the real joy in this place is all the creatures and plants that make this their home.

I’m only the host, and I only add a few of the finishing touches.

And, I realized, the most important part of my job here, as a gardener, is to sit in a chair, and just be here, finding my own peace, and be part of this magnificent paradise, to simply be in this moment.
5/16/16

Getting Our Brain In Shape


Getting Our Brain in Shape a 3-part series
January 12, 2016

By Neal Lemery

There’s a lot to learn about our brains, and recently, I heard Dr. Neil Nedley engage several hundred of my friends and neighbors in rich conversations about the human brain.

We can improve our brain’s health, and get it in shape. It’s time for a brain fitness challenge which is as important as working our muscles and getting our bodies in shape.

Yes, we can change our brains, our behavior, and our attitudes, and we can change the functioning of our brains.

We can move through depression, anxiety, fear, and other unhealthy “stinking thinking” by improving our nutrition, exercise, social life, and our attitudes! By learning of new developments in brain research, we can improve our thinking and our lives.

Here are some of the things I learned. All this is a great start to a rich community wide education and conversation about mental health and our well being.

PART ONE

Oregon has the second highest suicide rate in the country. Tillamook County has the third highest rate in Oregon. Mental health is an issue we need to address as a community.

The brain has 100 billion nerve cells. There are 100 trillion nerve synapses, and there may be the possibility of ten times that amount. Each one of these cells has 20,000 possible connections. There are thousands of categories of cells.

As complex as the brain is, we now know the brain can repair itself and, with the right tools, even re-wire itself. Our research on the brain is just beginning.

There is a lot we can do to optimize our brains. Consider the acronym NEW START. We need:

• Nutrition – especially from vegetables. Nutrients in food provide the building blocks of our nerve cells and what makes them function
• Exercise. At least 20 minutes a day, ideally using our hands, moving in three dimensions, to stimulate the brain
• Water, more than you might think but yes, you can get too much
• Sunlight, natural or from a light box
• Temperance – Avoid harm. Live in moderation. Practice self-control. Understand the long-term benefits that come from delayed gratification
• Air. Fresh air is vital. Get outside and move.
• Rest. Early to bed, early to rise.
• Trust. Have a trusting relationship with others, with Spirit.

PART TWO – What’s the Frontal Lobe Got to do with It?

Depression and Anxiety

We are experiencing an epidemic. What we have developed to improve happiness actually often impairs brain function. Electronic screens with flickering light reduce frontal lobe activity and induce a hypnotic state in the brain. Increased sexual stimulation actually reduces pleasure and interest. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise and lack of exposure to light and fresh air also reduce the ability of the brain to respond and function.

26% of Americans have a major emotional disorder. Over 50% have a minor emotional disorder. This phenomenon is found across all social, economic, and education groups. One quarter of physicians are depressed.

We must look for long-term gain. Once brain health is optimized, a family is able to leave poverty, reduce violence, addiction, unemployment, and hunger.

The frontal lobe is the least studied aspect of the brain and yet makes up 33% of the human brain. If it is compromised, it affects moral principles, social interaction, judgement and foresight. The frontal lobe takes 30 years to fully develop and is home to such things as abstract reasoning, mathematical understanding, and empathy. When enhanced, the frontal lobe increases a person’s creativity, originality, curiosity and adaptability.

The frontal lobe is the seat of critical thinking. Current research shows that 45% of college students lack critical thinking skills. Lifestyle and behavior choices play a large role in the development of the frontal lobe. Drugs that can impair this development include illicit and prescription drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and marijuana. Alcohol can impair brain function for as long as 30 days after consumption. Repeated use of marijuana lowers IQ permanently, also lowering emotional intelligence (EQ) and motivation.

Intelligence is the capacity to learn, retain, and apply knowledge. Advancing in a job is NOT related to IQ but rather to Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Creativity, logic, and persuasion are tied to EQ. Improved EQ increases longevity, enhances the immune system and improves social relationships. Emotional Intelligence can be taught and increased over one’s lifetime.

PART THREE – “Know Thyself”

Enhancing Emotional Intelligence (EQ) occurs in five stages. The first of these involves self-awareness and understanding your own primary and secondary emotions. Why are you feeling that emotion? What thoughts and experiences are tied to that emotion? Feelings can lie. How we think, influences our reactions to problems and situations. Use the THINK technique to identify if these thoughts are helpful or harmful. Are they True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary or Kind? This is at the root of “Stinking Thinking.” The second stage of Emotional Intelligence involves the ability to manage our emotions and the thoughts that lead to them.

The third aspect of enhanced Emotional Intelligence is the ability to accurately recognize emotions in others. This is coupled with the ability to practice empathy, or the ability to understand and feel the emotions of another person even though you are not experiencing their situation firsthand.

The final two aspects of Emotional Intelligence have a lot to do with social relationships and “getting ahead” in life. How well we manage relationships with others and how effectively we can motivate others are features of a well-developed EQ.

There are many ways we sabotage the development of our EQ. Negative self-talk yields to adverse emotions. Magnifying minor issues or minimizing major issues are signs of impaired EQ as are defensiveness and denial. The alternative to this is an attitude open to repair and redemption. “A man who commits a mistake commits another mistake if he doesn’t correct it.” – Confucius

Practicing self-control, expressing gratitude, finding hope, seeking “bright lines” of morality, seeking worthy goals, and giving of self willingly are part of living the “psychological good life” and are the foundation for personal transformation.

We can turn setbacks into victories. Find the lesson, apply it, and
Move on. Then look back on defeat and smile.
–David Schwartz

A Letter to My Son


Dear Son:

It was a good visit yesterday!

I’d like to give a bit of fatherly advice.

You are now of an age and in a place where you can truly be your own man, your own boss.

Write down your short term goals and your long term goals and dreams.

Then, each day, make a list of tasks you want to accomplish today. One of those tasks should be something that advances one of your long term goals. Several of those tasks should be something that advances some of your short term goals.

If you work ten minutes a day towards a long term goal, then you will ensure that you achieve that goal.

Check off your accomplishments. At the end of the day, update your list, mark off your accomplishments. Even doing something that is part of a task is an accomplishment. Be proud of moving forward. Be proud of the direction you are moving in.

You are a man now. You get to decide who your friends are and who is your family. You get to decide what kind of relationship you have with family. You define who is family.

Just because someone is biologically related to you doesn’t mean you need to keep them in your family. Family is how you define it.

You will always have some sort of relationship with your mother. But, you are the guy who decides what that looks like and how that works. That is pretty much what you do about your relationship with your dad. You have decided how that is, and you make sure you protect yourself and work through all those feelings about your dad.

Same with your mom. Your job is to protect yourself and to make sure you have a healthy relationship with your mom, whatever that is. You decide. You set the boundaries. Don’t let yourself get hurt, or let her run your life. You are in charge of running your life. You are the boss, the manager.

Figuring out our relationships with our parents is tough stuff. I am still doing that, and both my parents are dead. Yet, I hear the old voices, the old ways. But, I am the one who decides what I listen to, and how I respond. I am the boss. I have the power.

You are smart about relationships and about feelings. You have the power, and you have the brains about all that. Put your learning to work. Do what is best for you. Only you get to decide what is in your best interest.

You are the only one who really knows what is best for you. Practice self love and self care. Protect yourself from giving other people permission to hurt you and to make you feel bad.

You have done very well as you have grown up. You have new skills and new power. You have self confidence, and self esteem. Keep up that good work. Move ahead, and go in the direction you want to go in. Be proud.

No one else gets to run your life. You are in charge. Do what is good for you. Go live your dreams.

Take those hard steps, and move in the direction you want to go. Don’t try to please other people. But, please yourself. Do what is good for you.

You are surrounded by people who care about you and who support you in all of this. Use that energy and that support.

Believe in yourself.

You are finding your power in what you are writing. Be proud of what you know and what you are feeling, and what you are dreaming. Go where you need to go.

My job is to be a cheerleader, and to believe in your dreams, and to support you in the direction you want to go. I don’t get to run your life, and no one else does, either. Don’t worry about what I think. What really matters is what you think, and where you want to go. What really matters is what is best for you.

If you need a tool, ask for it. You live in a place where there are lots of tools. You live in a place where people believe in you and support you.

Anything is possible.

All my love,

Neal

Cleaning His Basement


The lock on the door is rusty, his key barely wanting to fit into the hole. An awful screech fills the air as he turned the key hard, his hand trembling, his heart pounding. For most of his life, no oil has seen its way into the lock or the dead bolt on the door, or the rusty old hinges. The door screeches its reluctance to his visit here today, a place he seldom visited. There are too many memories here, too many monsters to wrestle with.

A puff of stale, moldy air seeps out of the darkness below, filling his nose with the dark, fetid stench of a place he’d always been terrified to enter, let alone even acknowledge that it exists, deep below the rest of his life.

He’s lived here all of his life, and all of the other rooms, finally, are fixed up and remodeled, reflecting his idea of what a happy house should be. It has been a long journey, but, finally today, he’s ready to tackle the basement. Until today, he wasn’t ready to take this on. But, now, at last, he is.

Large windows, often open to the fresh outside air, and the bright sunlight of happy days, polished wood floors, and the fresh green of house plants fill the rest of the house with brightness and contentment. Cheery art work, and vases of fresh flowers brighten his living space, where he plays his music, read his books, and fixes meals for his friends and family. Books and pictures of family and beautiful places he’s visited crowd the bookshelves, and the shiny floors brighten his heart as he sips his afternoon tea, reads his books, and visits with his friends who drop by.

He’s worked hard to make a good life for himself, to bring the sunshine into this house, brightening the rooms and sweeping away the darkness and gloom of his childhood. He’s landscaped the yard, planting beautiful flowering shrubs and annuals, taking care to arrange secret little refuges under the trees, places where one can simply sit and enjoy the day, soaking up the quiet of the neighborhood, taking in the fresh air and birdsong.

Others come here, too, neighborhood kids and young lovers, looking for a place for some solitude and communion with all the plants and the birds and the squirrels, creatures calling this place their home, their place of safety from the chaos of the world. His friends and neighbors tell him he has a beautiful life, that he inspires them to be happy and fulfilled. Yet, the dark, scary basement is still here, underneath all of the beauty and peace.

It’s taken most of his life to re-order this place, this home of his, to truly make it his space, a place where he can relax, a place he can finally call his own
.
Every time the trash man came, he managed to fill up the trash can with the results of his remodeling, his sweeping of the trash, his emptying of closets and shelves, sometimes the remnants of entire rooms, as he cleared away the old, the mildew, the unpleasantness and the dirt of days past. He’s brought in new wood, new sheetrock, windows, and cans of bright, cheerful paint, covering the old and remaking this place into what he really wants, a home, filled with real love, a place where his soul can be, at last, at peace.

Yet, late at night, in the quiet of moonless nights, or when a storm moves in and rattles the windows, rain beating on the glass, he hears the old monsters, the old memories, the old ways, lurking in the darkness of the basement. In the dank of the sunless space, where cobwebs and the occasional rat lurk, the old thinking, the old way of childhood life, still linger.

“It’s always been this way,” they whisper, in the black hours before sunrise. “You’re not good enough,” is the response to the emptiness, the quiet. “You can’t change. You are a failure.”

Even before he could remember, even before he’d thought about arguing with those thoughts, those voices, those words of doubt, those thoughts of worthlessness, those horrid voices filled the house, finding a place in his soul. They ate away at his young heart, even when he was so wanting to find love and acceptance. Yet, that is what he heard, all that he heard, and so, he believed those voices, taking their messages deep into his soul, believing that such words were the truth in his life, the way it would always be.

Part of him knew the truth, yet, he could not escape, not then. And, when he failed in his efforts to leave, the dark voices laughed, reminding me once again that he was a failure, that his despair was just the way life would always be. Hoping for happiness was just ridiculous.

Yet, later on, when he found love, and there were people who came into his life who would love him for what he really was in this world, he began to hear other words, new messages. He began to learn new ways of thinking, new ways of feeling, learning that he wasn’t who he had been, not who he was expected to be as a child, a person who could only know shame, and guilt, and looking at what he wanted to be only as a failure.

Other people opened up the blinds, and washed the grime from the windows to his soul, bringing flowers and sunlight into his life, asking him to breathe the fresh air, and to drink from the pure waters of sacred springs, asking him to truly live.

At first, he hid from those loving people, knowing deep inside that he was a failure, that he wasn’t good enough, not worthy enough to sit in sunlight, and sip rich, sweet tea with others, to think new thoughts, and to actually know love. The old voices were strong, and they had always been there. And those who should have loved him told me that the old voices were right, that he wasn’t good enough to live any differently. It was just the way life was. He should just accept that, accept that he wasn’t worthy of anything else.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he opened the door to the people who came into his life, the people who loved him, and who talked about love, and acceptance. He finally heard them speak, as they told me the idea that life can be filled with joyfulness and with purpose, that we are here to love others, and to be loved, that we are truly children of God, and that the God we should know is a God of love, and acceptance.

He breathed in that fresh air, and soaked up the sunshine they offered, his soul craving the goodness that was offered to him, freely and with love.

His doubts and his wounds, always bleeding, and always painful, soon began to go away, and he began to heal. Life without pain and self loathing was still new, but he began to know what a minute, then an hour, and then a day could be without that darkness hanging over him that life could be more than breathing the fetid, dank air of despair and worthlessness.

And, he began to grow, and to hold his shoulders back, taking in the fresh air, finding strength in the act of loving others, and of being loved. The anxiety, the ever-present cloud of worthlessness began to leave him, then, and he saw life in a new way, in a way of hope and joy, and real purpose. He had something to offer the world, something more than being the sack of rotting garbage, getting in the way of others, no longer being the putrid, worthless trash that the rest of world simply had to tolerate, until he finally died of terminal worthlessness and self-pity.

Yet, the old ways were still there, still living in his basement, still whispering their hateful message to him in the darkest moments of the night.

Today, he opened the lock, pushing open the door, letting the rusty hinges creak and moan as the door swung open, the old spiderwebs and dust of those old years now lit up in the bright sunlight of his new life, his healthy, vibrant life, a life filled with purpose, and meaning, and the intention of doing good works, being a part of the real world.

His friends came behind him, their hands filled with brooms and mops, and fiery torches, following him down the steps into the darkness, into the basement of all of his fears and doubts, and the old voices that still called to him in the dark times in his life.

They set to work, sweeping and cleaning, and sacking up the filth and the grunge of the old times, the old voices. The dumpster outside was soon filled with old, stinking trash. They ordered another dumpster, and then, another, filling them up with all the old memories, and the old ways, and the old, poisonous litanies that had filled his childhood with all of its anger, and rage, and degradation and loathing that they could find.

As he and his friends worked, they sang, their voices filling the rapidly changing darkness with hope and love and community, songs of love and happiness filling their hearts with the satisfaction of getting a dirty job finished, of cleaning out the cesspools of one’s old ways, and bringing into his life a basement filled with purpose, with joy, and with the love that a good life has, a place of contentment and vibrancy, a place where good things are nurtured, and allowed to grow into their full potential.

Soon, the dark, moldy basement of his house, once filled with those old ways of looking at life, the nightmares of despair and hopelessness, was transformed into that last room in his house to know the sunlight, the music, and the warmth of love and satisfaction of a happy, productive life.

Their work done, they climbed the stairs, ready for their feast, their celebration of a great day of cleaning, of the purging of the old ideas, the old ways, the old voices of disapproval and bitterness.

Surrounded by his friends, his heart now filled with love and happiness, he said goodbye to all that, all that darkness and voices in the past.

“Begone,” he yelled. “You no longer run my life. You are released, and I now let you go.”

He took the old lock, rusty and seldom used, no longer needed, and threw it in the last of the dumpsters containing all of the trash, all of the bitterness of the old life, knowing he didn’t need to lock the basement anymore. All of the monsters, and all of that evil was gone. Instead, his basement now was truly part of his home, filled with all of the love in the world, and all of the happiness in his heart.

6/23/2014
Neal Lemery