This post is archived on The Grieving Time page.
While I appear, on the outside, to be normal, I’m not. No. I’m touchy, defensive, like a bristly thistle, especially when criticized by others for something I’ve done that’s “not perfect enough” (my translation), or, not done with the “right” technique, (again, my translation), etc.
I usually harvest tomatoes by cutting them from their stems, close to where they grow. But yesterday, I was in the garden without a knife. So I was pulling them from their stems, and one large tomato just wouldn’t give way. I mentioned this to my young housemate, Jim, who was nearby. “Oh come on, Ann,” he said, sarcastic (my description of his tone) as he marched (my descriptive word) over and pulled the tomato off. I didn’t see him do it. I was too angry, and had turned away.
It seemed to me that, once again, Jim was berating me for something I had done that wasn’t perfect enough, or I had not used the right technique. Just like when I was a kid. We were all subjected to Dad’s rigid, perfectionistic standards. And we weren’t ever praised for what we did do “right.” I used to get straight-A’s as a kid, and all I got from him was $5 for every A. I guess that was his way of praising me, but to me, who disdained money, it didn’t do the job. I wanted a personal relationship with my father. I wanted him to be my Dad.
But, the adult self in me asks, how could he have been? There were eight of us, and a busy medical practice, and a wife who needed him to help her maintain her equanimity.
And yet, and yet. As my kind, gentle brother Mark said to me in Seattle after Dad died, “Since none of us ever got any real physical affection, or encouragement, I think we should all start giving it to each other!” With that, Mark enveloped me in his arms, saying, in soothing, dulcet tones, “Ann, you’re such a good daughter, such a good daughter.”
In any case, the residual anger that still, apparently, festers down deep inside me from our upbringing in a strict German family was demonstrated by my touchiness yesterday.
Jim said as much, that I was defensive, touchy, taking what he said way too personally. I shook my head and marched back into the house. Started cutting up the tomatoes I had picked for dehydrating. And as I did I began to feel myself back into our encounter in the garden: who I was, existentially, in context with what was going on around me and what Jim had said. I had to admit — ouch! — Jim was right. I had been too defensive.
He walked in. I apologized. And it was then that I realized how my behavior connected to the loss of my Dad, that this bubbling up of my old resentment, projected on this day out onto the nearest available target — Jim — was actually part of my grieving process.
And then Jim told me something which I did not know, and was glad to find out. He told me only then because I had not given him the space to tell me before. And that is this: when, instead of cutting it, you pull the tomato from the plant, carefully separating it from where it grows on the stem, then another tomato can grow from that same place.
Wow again! And thanks.
I could go further, and talk about the dream I had lately, of a relationship with a dominating male, or of the movie Jim and I watched two evenings ago, “Bad Timing,” about a male/female relationship, where the male was controlling to the point of obsession. About the controlling part of me, the part of me that is like my Dad, a big part. In fact, I’d say that the male dominator part of me is much stronger than the submissive female part, and that because of this, male/female relations with lovers have always been difficult. This aspect of life, of learning equality and equanimity in personal relationships, still eludes me.
That I have an opportunity now to practice the equal exchange of energy, with a male housemate who is 40 years younger than I, as strong-willed as I am, and as willing to learn from his process and our encounters, is a blessing. Such great good fortune!
And of course, our intense encounter in the GANG garden occurred during this intense Uranus/Pluto week during which time transit Pluto, at 7° Capricorn, happens to sit exactly on my natal Mercury conjunct Venus!
No wonder I took it personally, this seemingly top-down power-over attitude of my father that Jim’s behavior, yesterday in the garden, vaguely reminded me of. I was grieving my dad by moving back into the tenor of our relationship. And though I didn’t like it then, it formed me. Only by becoming aware of this form, this dynamic pattern — both in myself, and in my relations with others — will I have any chance of dissolving it, to release the creative energy still damned up inside.