(Reprinted from July 2007)
It was a Sunday in September. The afternoon breeze fresh from the south. The sun gently warming. It was the kind of afternoon where one might pause and feel good with the world. The streets of Eagle Junction were quiet and mostly empty, occasionally a child’s voice could be heard or some distant chatter from the neighbour’s radio three doors down. All the Sunday mowers had long since been retired for the day, their drivers resting in the shade with a cold ale and contentment.
She and I were resting. Lazing. Relaxing. It was a peaceful time and did not often occur in the days of raising a young family. For all our struggles and battles, for we had many, it was a moment as I remember where all else was put aside. There was no conversation. Simply two people lying side by side, resting.
I recall feeling at the time, that if that moment could somehow be extended and built on, it might mean our marriage could improve and regain some stability and balance. It was even possible to pretend that it had always been so.
She rolled over and asked me where our youngest son had got to. I said I wasn’t sure but I thought he was across the road playing with some friends. She said she was worried and asked if I would go and check. I said it would be OK to leave it for a while and I would go check a little later. I was not ready for the moment we were sharing to end. She said she was worried and I said she needn’t. All was OK.
Before I knew it, the next few exchanges had gone from mere conversation to accusation. She became very concerned about his safety. I could not see any reason for this as he often played across the road with friends. It was a quiet street with many families with young children like ours. She accused me of not caring for his safety. For being a negligent father, for always resisting doing what she requested, and on it went.
I became incredulous and deeply disturbed that in such a short time our peaceful, everything is OK with the world afternoon, had been shattered. As it turned out before I could get half way down the stairs and up the street to look for him, he had decided to come back from playing with his friends. He must have wondered why his parents were shouting at each other again. And I can only imagine how heavy his heart grew with this. My heart aches even now, some 15 years later when I think of it.
My judgment about her then and until very recently was that she had catastrophised and wrecked a perfectly beautiful moment and that this was typical of the way our marriage had gone right up till the time we separated. Which occurred some 18 months after this particular day.
I have always acknowledged my part in our marriage failure but until recently had never quite understood the occurrence of events such as the one I describe. And I have always judged her for it. I have judged her for her anger, for her rage, for the moments where in an instant she would turn form loving wife to hateful accuser. I have judged her and in some way judged myself for being the cause of this behaviour.
I judged her until yesterday.
In a teary and honest phone call she informed me that as a young girl she had been sexually abused. She was attending counseling and felt she had lifted an enormous burden by naming it and sharing it with her children and now me. She felt free. However she felt great pain and regret for past events.
I explained to her that from my point of view the past must be let go and that our work in the here and now is to look at everything with love and understanding. The past is useful to us now if we see the benefits of the journey and the benefits of the learning, no matter how painful they might be. Our focus now was to work with love and let go all else. She was grateful for my words and I was grateful for hers.
The information she shared put a lot into perspective. It helped me understand many things. With this knowledge and as I reflect on that Sunday in September something is different. I don’t hear a nagging, overly stressed wife berating me. I hear a little girl, terrified that harm will come to the little boy just as it had come to her. She doesn’t know exactly where he is so she panics, she imagines the worst. She can’t share this of course because as an adult she probably does not know shy she is worried. The little girl inside her is terrified.
Had I known, what might I have done with this understanding and insight? How differently might I have reacted? How much less defensive and self righteous might I have been? At the time I could only see the manifested behaviour and judged her for it. Knowing what I now know I can piece together possible causes for this event and others that occurred. And I can see that some of her actions were informed by deeply enmeshed and subconscious fears.
With this insight and reflection I look to myself. I look to others around me.
How often do I judge a person for their behaviour? How often do I make these judgments of another? When might I alter my perspective to simply judge the behaviour and seek more to understand the person? Is it possible to understand the person, to simply love the person and separate them from their behaviour? Perhaps the simple answer is to do this through the love of oneself and the love of others. And to understand that the cause of disruptive and destructive behaviours can never be healed by judgment.
With the benefit of hindsight and a little insight what might I say now to the little girl who panicked? “Sure hon I’ll go and check on him and when I come back after finding him let’s go back to that lovely rest we were sharing.”