Killer Compassion

It has been noted that I have not blogged in a bit.  Yes, this is true.  I have been dealing with some really heavy grief since my father’s last phone call.  That happened Friday morning, and I let the machine get it because I just couldn’t handle it.  He said he had made it home safely and not to worry.  Well, fuck me.  I hadn’t been worried.  And that, of course, made me feel guilty.  His voice had that new tone–the one filled with hurt, worry, and uncertainty–that he’s acquired since his visit here.  I do not think he’s being manipulative (and believe me, I know how he gets when he’s manipulative); he really is hurting and trying and wondering.

And, again, I could give him nothing.  I did send an email to my mother telling her to let him know I got his message.  He doesn’t have a personal email, and he got home on a Saturday.  He probably went into the office, but I wasn’t sure.

At any rate, I started reeling again.  I feel like the clock is running out (he does not look good at all), and I would really like to give him a moment of peace before he dies.  I feel some pity for him, and I want to have some kind of grace for him–but I do not.

Now.  I have had two disparate ideas running through my mind, and I realize they are tangentially related, so I am going to discuss them both here.  Even if they weren’t related, I would still tie them together because it’s my blog, and I can do what I want.

The first is the idea of compassion (closely linked to the idea of forgiveness).  TNC wrote this lovely piece on compassion on Thursday.   He’s writing a book on the Civil War, and he wrote many thoughtful, engaging pieces during Confederate History Month (April).  A shout-out to dengre at BJ who also wrote many thoughtful, enraging pieces on the South during CHM.

Anyway, I read the piece by TNC and then I read the comments.  Many people brought up the idea that compassion does not mean absolution and that forgiveness is for the forgiver, not for the forgiven.  Normally, I would have thrown in my two cents, but I couldn’t.  Why?  Because I wasn’t up to being excoriated.  I’m not saying I would have been, but it was a fair possibility.

Here is an earlier entry I wrote on forgiveness.  Hm.  In linking to that entry, I see that I wrote an even earlier entry about it, so it’s obviously something I think about often.  I also just realized that the first vid I posted is the same, too.  Oh, well.  I like the song, and it’s my current ear worm, so it stays.

Anyway, since this is my blog, I am going to make a few comments on compassion and forgiveness.  One, I think there is a gender difference when it comes to compassion.  Women are taught as very little girls to always think of others first.  It’s the ‘good girl’ syndrome, and though it’s changed over the years, it’s still pervasive.  Men are taught to be competitive and to be the best.  There isn’t much room for compassion in that.  And, yes, I am grossly oversimplifying in order to make a point.  TNC was writing about the women of the south and how he could find some compassion for them as they were victims of a virulent patriarchal society as well.

The thing I wouldn’t write over there:  I don’t need to learn compassion for others.  In many ways, I am very selfish (in my thoughts, especially), but one thing I have is compassion for almost everyone else.  You know the main reason I did not kill myself coming back from the airport?  It was because I could not figure out a way to do it that would not endanger other people on the road as well.  In my darkest days, when I think about killing myself, the thought of my brother finding me stops me cold.  I give money to homeless people on the street, and I berated myself the last time I didn’t.  Even during the years I couldn’t stand up for myself, I tried to stand up for the underdog.

In short, I don’t need to try to have compassion for others.  My therapist pointed out that I sometimes overdid my compassion for others in trying to excuse bad behavior or taking the blame for someone else’s wrongdoing.

My last session was very painful as we talked about my father’s visit.  When I recounted to her the things I wrote here (and what happened at the airport), she couldn’t help but flinch, especially at the, “You’re not a woman” comment.  She said it was a cruel thing to say and it showed how he viewed the women who worked for him.  Not to mention my mother, added I.  My father is a big believer in equality when it comes to bathrooms (he converted half the men’s bathrooms to women’s bathrooms after he became president because his workforce is 75% female) and pay, but his attitude toward women is strictly old-school.

As many of you know, I already have difficulties with my femininity.  I am not feminine in many ways, and I do occasionally wonder just how much of a gender freak I am.  However, my father’s comment was so outrageous and stupid, I could only shake my head in bemusement.  It did touch a raw wound, though.  Much of who I am as a woman is either because he made me that way or in direct reaction to how he views women.  When he and my brother were talking about jobs and chores, my father said, “Minna won’t like this, but Mom does all the housework.”  I said, “She has a job, too.”  He said, “She only works half-time.”  I said, “When you both lived here, she had a full time job, looked after [my brother] and me, and did all the housework.  Don’t even.”

Anyway, it cuts at the very essence of a person–one’s gender, especially, as I noted above, for someone like me who already has difficulty reconciling being the person I am with the notion of what a woman should be.

Back to compassion.  In my session, I was just terribly sad and exhausted and full of grief.  My therapist said she couldn’t imagine how much I was hurting, but that she was proud of me for what I’d done.  Because I can no longer pretend to be the cipher I’ve been for the last thirty-plus years, I am forcing my family to change.  The disastrous trip to Taiwan triggered something in me.  It really showed me that no matter how hard I tried to do away with my real personality and try to play the dutiful daughter, I failed.

Then, the letters my parents sent me telling me everything that was wrong with me.  That hurt, but it only underlined the notion that I could never please them, so why bother trying?  Then my mom’s 2-month visit in which we had some really difficult conversations and started the yeoman’s work of dismantling the relationship we never had in the hopes that we could build something together.

Then, my father.

If you read the previous entries I linked, you will see that I wrote about letting go of my anger for my father.  I wrote about not fearing him and not caring one way or the other about having a relationship with him.  Throw all that out the window.  During his visit here, I realized I still had a bunch of rage at him.  I realized that I still feared him, though not physically, and I realized that I wanted to find some grace for him in the worst way.  Partly for him as he is a pathetic shell, and he is mentally-crippled as Natasha pointed out to me.  He is emotionally-stunted and a shell of a human being.

And I should be able to summon up something other than guilt, grief, anger, and exhaustion when I hear his voice.

And yet, I cannot.  Not only can I not, I feel a sliver of resentment that I think I should be able to find compassion for my father.

The whole time I was reading the TNC thread, this is the thought that kept running through my brain, “Where is the compassion for me?”  Now, I am not talking from my friends.  They have compassion for me in spades.  I’m talking about from my family in general, and from my father in specific.  When he asked me why should he care about me (that was the last thing he said to me), I wanted to tell him it was part of the fucking job description.  He had asked me how I felt about the family and the house (loving the house, apparently, means loving him–like a good little whore), and I said it was complicated (motherfucking understatement of the year).  That’s when he asked, “Why should I care about you, then?”  As I said, I wanted to tell him it was his fucking job.   Instead, I swallowed back the tears and the pain and said as evenly as I could, “You can choose to care about me or you can choose not to care about me.  That’s your choice.  You do not get to say that Minna made me choose not to care about her.  You do not get that.”  I wished him safe travels, and I left.

As my therapist pointed, he did choose to care about me by calling me and telling me he loved me very much.  She said he was making a step that he saw as huge and that I saw as small, and that we were both right.  It was huge on his side, and it was small from my perspective.

Here is another problem I have with forgiveness/compassion–it’s one-sided and an awful lot of work for one person–the aggrieved party.  TNC talked about being selfish in his compassion because he wanted more knowledge (and he was limited in his knowledge if he stuck to his old paradigms).  I kept trying to apply that to my own situation, and I kept failing.  I do understand that if I can let go of the past and the anger and the whatnot, it will be better for me as I am weighted down by all this shit.

My therapist said she was talking to a friend about the ethics of compassion.  The friend said that in the system we know best, Judeo-Christian, there is a tenet to love everyone.  What women especially forget is that to love everyone is to include themselves.  My therapist said that the most important thing for me right now is to love myself first–nobly.  In other words, not just be a selfish bitch, but to truly love myself.

That’s hard for me.  It’s easier for me to hate myself or to self-destruct.  I’ve binged and purged after each phone call from my father.  This was also how I hurt myself after coming home from the airport.  It’s a twofer, really, because it feeds my self-destructive side and it stokes my ED issues.

This weekend, I was insane with grief, sadness, pain, and, yes, some anger.  And, this is where the second idea comes in.  Thought I’d forget it, didn’t you?  No.

The second idea is about my self-perception as a pacifist.  Yes, I wrote an earlier entry about this as well.  And, yes, there is an earlier earlier entry linked in said entry as well.  That’s just how I roll.

In Taiji, Choolie is teaching me some two-person sparring martial arts as well as some Bagua drills.  The latter are mostly to substitute for meditation because I’m too psychically fragile to deal with any more flashbacks.  In the last class, she set up some ‘posts’ and taught me a figure-eight approach.  I was to picture each post as the enemy (five of them in all) as I walked around them.

Something happened inside of me as I started circling.  Everything around me faded as I zeroed in on the enemy.  As I approached, I adjusted my stepping so I would have the optimum leverage in a fight.  My mind was cleared of everything but one thought:  Kill him.  It wasn’t an enraged or angered thought–it was a dead-cold one.

I talked with Choolie about it after class.  I said it was hard for me to accept–the kill mentality.  She said it was part of the good girl syndrome (lie back and enjoy it rather than fight) and that it was hard to dispel.  We talked a bit more, and I said the part that was hardest for me to accept was that by saying that if it came down to him or me, I choose me, I was saying I mattered.  Not only that, I was saying I mattered more than a mythical abuser.

I know this seems like a pretty banal statement, but it was deeply profound to me.  I have spent most of my life hating myself and thinking the world would be better off if I were dead.  For all my railing about my parents not seeing me or valuing me or caring about me (all true to an extent), the deeper issue was that I didn’t care about me.  I thought I was toxic (and I still struggle with this), and I didn’t care about myself.  I didn’t think I was worth caring about, frankly.

Now, this is a good realization, obviously (that I matter), but it’s a huge paradigm-shift and threw me into an even deeper tizzy.  My whole framework for my life is evaporating at a rapid rate, and it’s not easy for me to adjust.  I don’t do well with changes at my best–and I’m not at my best right now.

Choolie and I also did some two-person circle walking so she could demonstrate a point.  The first time, there was a feeling of anger surrounding our walking.  I was on alert, and I slipped into fight mode.  She asked me afterwards what I thought about it, and I said my thought had been, “If I were equal to you in terms of skill, we’d be sparring right now.”  In other words, it’d be on.  She said that she had been focusing aggressive intent on me as we walked, and we definitely would have been fighting.  She also said that most people freak out if she shows even a tenth of that aggression toward them the first time doing this exercise.  The fact that I hadn’t told her that I had the fighting spirit.

We walked again.  This time, there was an expansiveness that hadn’t been there the first time.  It was friendly.  When she asked how I felt afterwards, I said that we had just been practicing.  There was no negativity there.  She said she had been focusing compassion instead of aggression at me.  I could feel it.  And, as I thought this over while typing, I realized that the scenario could apply to how I view myself as well.  For the most part, I am hostile and aggressive toward myself.  Then, of course, I respond in like, and it’s on.  I have been at war with myself for all these years, and it’s fucking exhausting.  If I could manage to do the latter (focus compassion on myself) more often than not, then I wouldn’t have to be a soul divided.

I am still heavily grieving the loss of my family.  Or rather, the loss of the illusion of my family.  I am sad, exhausted, grieving, angry, and in pain.  However, as I told my father it was his choice whether to care about me or not, I have the same choice myself.  I cannot choose how my family treats me or sees me or if they care about me or not; that is beyond my control.  The only thing I can choose is to matter to myself.

P.S.  Yes, the music is emo today.  Deal with it.  Oh, and cellos.  I love cellos.

11 Responses to Killer Compassion

  1. I’m so sorry that you’re in such emotional turmoil. You have my deepest compassion.

    Unabashedly, I have to say that I find you eminently lovable, Minna. Eminently. Lovable. I don’t know how else to express that feeling. Your spirit is very precious to me. My heart swells when I think of the word exchanges we’ve shared. I crave healing for you.

    If there is anything I can say or do to support you while you are going thru this period of profound change, please don’t hesitate to let me know, anytime of day or night. I am continuing to envision you being relaxed & laughing, aglow in the love of your many caring, adoring friends.

  2. No wonder your entries are so long. You have so damn much to talk about! And I mean that in a good way. But I must try to find a concise way to comment. I’m glad we’ve discussed some of this already.

    If your father dies before you are able to show him grace, that is his problem. He has a ton of work to do, and he’d better get cracking if he wants your grace. It will not be your fault if you cannot find that. He still has a long road to even meet you a quarter-way.

    I’ve known you have the fighting spirit in you for some time now, but it was amply evident Saturday. You simply needed someone to show you where the door was. I promise many more opportunities to get in touch with your warrior spirit. I think it will be as healing for you as it has been for me, and for many of my colleagues. May my compassion for you help you find your compassion for yourself. It is much easier than fighting with yourself.

  3. Dan, snort. I like that. I’m stealing that. Consider it stolen.

    Friend, thank you. I appreciate your walking with me on this journey. It’s always a blessing to find kindred spirits.

    Choolie, yeah, I do have lots of thoughts in my head clamoring to be heard. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I walked into your Taiji studio two-and-a-half years ago. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without you. Thank you for your gift of compassion. I will need it.

  4. Not to put too fine a point on it, or compare my situation to yours, but my dad died before he could grow into my respect. He made a lot of mistakes, was emotionally damaged, and was mostly unable to truly relate to those around him. It may not have been entirely his fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that he never reached for help and was not able to change. I feel compassion for him in the regard that he was a tortured person, and died unable to be at peace, but that was his choice and his burden.

    I guess I am trying to say that I think it’s okay for you to not have a relationship with your father. It’s okay to feel resentment and anger, especially when it’s justified. It’s even okay to feel grief and sorrow when you see that things cannot/will not change. But realize that it’s not you.

    I am not a professional, and I am not close to you, but I would like to offer whatever encouragement I can as a survivor of dysfunction. Good luck.

  5. Choolie, I know, and I cherish it–and you.

    Jado, welcome to my blog. Thank you for stopping by and for commenting. Intellectually, I know that I can’t force myself to extend grace to my father in any set time-frame. I just wish I could give him that gift–and it would be a gift. You are right, though, that I have to let go of the guilt I have for not being able to just wave a wand and make everything perfect.

    I’ll take the encouragement wherever/whenever I can. Drop by any time.

  6. Minna, remember this: You cannot give him this gift until he can accept it. At this time, he would simply squander your expansiveness, and probably interpret it as his return to power. That gift would be difficult for you to give. To have your generosity treated as something he deserves would be another crime.

    Be patient. If you can avoid throwing yourself in the path of this mess, you will prove to yourself that you can avoid volunteering for abuse.

  7. Choolie, good point. My therapist said that I need to give my father this space in order for him to actually change. My need to rush in and ‘make it all better’ isn’t going to do any good in the end. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but there is growth in the unknown. Or something.

  8. Great post, Minna. I agree 100% about having to have compassion for yourself, having to love yourself. It took me years to get from the intellectual realization to mainly having succeeded, but it’s worth it. It really does make one more able to serve others.

    Regarding your compassion for others, could it be that some of that is actually anxiety about the feelings of others? Or anxiety about how you think of yourself? Or anxiety about how you think other people will think about you if you do something that makes them feel bad?

    I think those are different than compassion. They’re still useful, I hasten to add. Externally, observationally they’re close. But for me, as I let go of the fear and the compulsive niceness, I found more room for true compassion.

  9. 300baud, oh, there is definitely some of, “What will they think of me?” in my compulsion to be nice. That’s part of the nice-girl syndrome. As you noted, it’s far different from actual compassion. The daily stuff when I worry that I offended someone by what I said is the former. Compassion usually occurs when I see someone suffering and I feel an accompanying suffering (and, I realize, it’s usually when I am not the cause of such suffering).

    You are also correct that the anxiety not to hurt someone or to be judged as being ‘bad’ precludes true compassion because it stems from fear. Compassion and fear do not coexist very well.