The Many Faces of Hate

§  To wear the mask of a stranger is to see merely unimportant specks on the rim of the mask’s limited vision.  §

While a young woman, I had a coworker—let’s call her Angela–who endured troubling memories of her paternal grandmother. At the time I knew Angela, I’d just begun re-establishing a close relationship with my own paternal grandmother; years of family squabbles had kept us apart. So I was shocked to hear of the treatment this likeable woman had received from her grandmother.

Angela explained that Grandmother absolutely despised Angela’s mother—had hated her from the very day Mom and Dad began dating. It’s been 40-odd years since our conversation, but I still recall the troubled expression on Angela’s face as she told me that her mother and father tried countless times to heal the sorry situation. Sadly, nothing had ever worked.

But Grandmother’s hatred extended to, when they arrived, the children of the marriage. She never put aside her contempt for her daughter-in-law for the sake of her grandchildren, who were, after all, her son’s children. No, in ways both overt and subtle, Grandmother made certain that those youngsters knew that they did not measure up to her other grandchildren.  Her favored offspring were not “contaminated” by a birth relationship to the despised daughter-in-law.

Angela recounted Grandmother’s worst insult, which centered on the kids’ school photos. One wall of Grandmother’s house displayed her grandchildren’s school pictures.  But the photos of Angela and her siblings were not flaunted among the rest. Instead, they were hung in the bathroom, facing the toilet.

Hearing the ache and indignation in Angela’s voice as she described this stinging memory, I felt heartsick on her behalf. To be the victim of such spite and cruelty from a person who should have loved her unconditionally—well, it stunned me.

The memory of that conversation has never left me. Many times after our discussion I daydreamed, inventing scenarios to bring resolution and revenge to my coworker’s bitter experience: Of all the Grandmother’s children, only the marriage of  her son and despised daughter-in-law thrived. The marriages of all her other children failed, and bitter divorces meant that she was separated from her favorite grandchildren.   Or:  Mean Grandmother lived out her final days quite alone and helpless in a substandard nursing home, visited by no one except the despised daughter-in-law.  Or, best of all:   Those other, favored grandkids all grew up to be ungrateful little wastrels who scammed Grandmother for money, became drug addicts and alcoholics, and were jailed for multiple crimes. Meanwhile, Angela and her siblings lived quietly successful, happy lives, but obviously never bothered with the Mean Grandmother who had treated them so badly.

That’s not the way life works, of course. Mean Grandmother probably wound down her life warmly surrounded by the love and attention of the children, in-laws and grandkids she preferred, smugly self-satisfied with her contemptible treatment of her reviled daughter-in-law and unloved grandchildren.

Hatred can wear so many faces! It can be disguised as the face of a grandparent or an in-law; someone who should be both loving and beloved, but is instead malevolent. It can wear the face of an abusive spouse or parent, or even a job supervisor.  It can focus on skin color, or ethnic origin. It can manifest as religious or even generational intolerance. It can be masked in passive aggression, calling itself teasing when it is in fact intentional torment and insults.

Or it can wear the face of a total stranger.

This last really struck me, and is the reason I recalled my former coworker’s sad little tale, as I sat one recent morning watching a video examining the causes and motives behind the many mass shootings of recent times. Unlike the malicious Grandmother, these cases so often involve total strangers who go on a rampage, wounding and murdering innocents with whom they have absolutely no connection. Is it easier, I wondered, to do so? To harm those with whom a person has absolutely no relationship? To wear the mask of a stranger, and see, not other human beings with lives and loves of their own, but merely unimportant specks on the rim of the mask’s limited vision? Is exterminating unknown strangers guilt-free?

Or does it all—murdering strangers or murdering the spirit of those who should be loved ones—come with consequence?

I have no answers. I only know that I clicked off that video, and sat, remembering Angela’s long-lasting emotional wounds. Then I sighed and selected some financial work I needed to do on my computer. But as I tapped the mouse, I noticed in surprise that my face was wet, and that tears had splashed onto my keyboard.

I had not even realized that I was crying.

Mimsey’s Vow

§   If a newborn can’t smile, how is it that she could, dreaming, laugh?  §

Newborn babies can’t really smile. All the parenting books and articles, all the pediatricians and obstetricians, assure us of that fact. Oh, babies “smile”, even in utero, they explain, but it means nothing. No, no, it’s not gas—that explanation is old hat; after all, do you smile when you feel gassy? Heavens no—you grimace. But, neverthless, for a newborn, it’s not a smile; it’s just a reflex; just “testing the equipment”, as it were.

And, of course, all new mothers and fathers know this is absolute, total hogwash.

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That wide-eyed, beaming grin…

A newborn’s smile may not be that wide-eyed grin, the delighted beaming countenance that it will be in just a few months, but it is, unquestionably, a smile.

When my first grandchild was born just a year ago, I remembered and hunted down the newborn photo of her mother, my own daughter. Thirty-three years ago, there wasn’t a camera living in everyone’s pocket; photos required posing, planning, film. And so on the day the two of us left the hospital, I dressed my two-day old daughter in a white dress and shoes sprinkled with tiny pink rosebuds and handed her over to a nurse who carried her down the hall for her very first “official” photograph. Returning her a few minutes later, the nurse laughingly explained that she’d done her best to make my little one not stick her tongue out at the camera by tapping her mouth gently and exclaiming, “We don’t do tongues!” It hadn’t worked. But when I picked up the photo package later, I could not help but smile myself: tongue or not, that baby was smiling.

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That baby was smiling!

Everyone who saw the picture exclaimed over that fact. “I think she is happy to be here,” her Grandma Mary explained.

I myself, by the way, didn’t plan to be “Grandma”. Because of family divorces and remarriages, my lucky little granddaughter was going to have a plethora of grandparents.  The titles Nana and Mamaaw had already been co-opted, while being called the old-fashioned “Grandma” just didn’t appeal to me. But choosing my moniker turned out to be easy, because I’d already come up with it. My “extra daughters”—young women who my daughter had grown up with–all called me either Mom 2 or sometimes Mimi’sMom, jumbling the two words into one. For their children, we’d run the syllables of “Mimi’sMom” into a further sliding scale, creating a fresh version for my almost-grandchildren: Mimsey. So for my own grandchild, also, I would be proudly a Mimsey.

So Mimsey I was, sitting there in the hospital an evening three days after Morrigan’s birth, as my daughter endured her prolonged recovery from a difficult, fruitless labor and C-section. An old friend had dropped by to see our perfect new miniature human, and was holding the little one as she quite obviously dreamed; we both remarked on it as we marveled, watching her tiny eyelids twitching and moving in REM sleep. Not wanting to wake her,  we adults spoke quietly together…quietly enough so that we all heard it when this three-day old, tiny person chuckled in her sleep. That’s correct: chuckled. Laughed. Chortled. Our eyes rounding, we stared at one another before all bursting out, our words tumbling over each other’s, “Did she just laugh?!” “Did you hear that?!”  “Was that her?!”

If a newborn can’t smile, how is it that she could, dreaming, laugh? Laugh in her sleep?

But then, I had no reason to doubt the laugh, even if there had not been three of us to hear it. After all, I already knew from raising my own daughter that the “newborns can’t really smile” presumption was utter nonsense. Even had I not known it, though; even if this  sleeping newborn child had not just laughed in the presence of three witnessing adults, I would have known the “can’t really smile” theory was utter bunkum because of what had already happened on the very first morning of Morrigan’s life.

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Mimsey loves you

As my daughter and son-in-law each slept the deep, healing sleep of exhausted new parents, I held that ever-so-small, magnificent child in my arms, whispering to her of all the wonderful things I hoped awaited her in this lifetime; blessing her; speaking not just to her tiny, listening ears, but, I hoped, directly to her soul. Her little eyes remained closed while she slept and I murmured, until I finally made my solemn promise to her: “I am your Mimsey, and it’s my job in this lifetime to protect you. I vow to you that I will do anything to achieve that, even to giving my life for yours.”

And she smiled.

Birthday Blessings and So Much Joy to You, Morrigan Lynn
  Great Queen of the Water
Mermaid Queen with the Heart of a Dragon
From Your Mimsey
Who Loves You Beyond Life Itself

Letters to the Future

Shortly before the baby shower for my pregnant daughter, a friend sent me a YouTube video of a young girl on her 16th birthday, opening letters that had been written to her by family and friends—some now passed on—at her birth.

I loved that idea, and shared it with my daughter; she was enthusiastic. And so it was that at her own baby shower we passed out paper and pens and asked that those present write a Letter to the Future to be saved for Morrigan Lynn and opened on her  16th birthday.  Laughing, I told the participants, “You can’t tell her that boys suck; she’ll figure that one out on her own!  But give her your best advice, or a blessing–not Maleficent-style, please!–or tell her the most important thing you’ve ever learned in your own lifetime.”

We gathered together the finished letters, carefully sealed into their envelopes, and placed them into two special wooden boxes, painted gold and decorated with dragons and mermaids.

But when it came time for me to write my own letter to this as-yet-unborn granddaughter, I found myself at a loss. For two months, I struggled with what I should say to her.  And then, finally, I simply sat down and started writing, and I found that the words flowed easily.

My dearest granddaughter,

As I write those words above, I wonder…will you be my dearest granddaughter? Will you be someone whom I love, of whom I am proud—an amazing young woman on the brink of life, right at the starting line, preparing to run the good race?

Even more, though, I wonder what you will think of me. Will I be a woman you admire?  Will you dislike me?  Be totally bored by me? Think I’m a fool?

Will I even still be on this side of the Veil when you read this letter?

There are no guarantees in life. Any or all of the above may be true 16 years from now.  But none of that really matters, because the purpose of this letter is so that I may share with you whatever I’ve learned in my 64 weary years of walking this planet.  So here are the bits of wisdom I have assembled in my life.  And though they all seem to be very different, they all essentially amount to the same thing: living your life with courage and kindness.

 The truest thing I’ve learned is that my entire attitude is up to me. No one can “make” me feel anything—anything at all. No one else can “make” me angry; I allow myself to get angry. No one can “make” me feel small or insignificant; only I can take ownership of the belittling behavior some people express, and decide within myself that they are right. I, and I alone, can make myself happy, sad, depressed, exalted, fearful, resentful, joyous. I decide every minute of every day what my response will be to every event and every person I encounter.

 There are truly only two emotions: Love and Fear. All other emotions are merely subsets of those two. Make your own decision about which one you want to act from.

 Read poetry. Remember it. Poetry is wonderful material to think with. Read Kahlil Gibran. Read “The Desiderata”. More than read it: try to live it.

 Be thoughtful. Remember people’s special days. Run an errand for someone who is busy. Go to see someone who is sick. Hold the door open for the person whose hands are laden with packages.

 Always says to yourself, “How would I feel if…” Then behave in the way you would want to be treated.

 Do nice things for people for no reason at all—yes, even for the people you don’t like very well. Especially for the people you don’t like very well.

 Dance with the ugly or geeky guy who has no partner. And then smile at him and thank him for dancing with you.

 Stand up for the person who is being bullied or mocked.

 Remember that, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

 Say please and thank you. Especially, say thank you.

 Give to charity—not just your money, but your time.

 Stand up for what you believe in.

 No matter how angry you are, calm down before you speak. And remember that it matters less what you say, then how you say it. There are a thousand ways to say even hurtful things in a kindly manner.

 Be slow to anger. Learn to keep your temper.

 Remember that there is no failure. There are only lessons to be learned.

 Be grateful even for the bad times. You cannot appreciate the light if you’ve never seen the darkness.

 Keep an open mind, but keep it like a window: put up a screen for the bugs!

 Remember that resentment is like taking poison while hoping the other person will die.

 Go ahead and cry; it truly does help, and there is no shame in weeping.

There is never enough kindness in the world. Be sure that, at the end of your own life, you will be remembered as the person who was kind.

 And, finally, always forgive. You don’t have to forgive the wrong done to you, but always forgive the person.

All my love to you, my dearest granddaughter,

Mimsey

Welcome to the World
Morrigan Lynn
“Great Queen of the Water”
Mermaid Queen with the Heart of a Dragon
August 23, 2018