So, I’m gonna go all cool and just use letters instead of numbers and incite Twitter and Facebook riots about how it should be pronounced and whether the change has any ties to the internet conspiracy group the Illuminati, which always reminds me of my friend’s father, Iluminado, who was such a sweet man that in college we made a little tune and dance to his name. So, the group that is spoken in hushed, fearful tones by conspiracy theorists (although really aren’t they more like certainists?) makes me think of a cute old man and a song and dance. Yes, I think that sounds about right on Week X.
I know, you’re thinking, it’s going to be one of those posts, where she wanders all over the place. Who are we kidding, I do that every week. But anywho, this week I want to talk about a suggestion from one of my current favorite people in the world, Esther Perel.
A few years ago, I watched a You Tube video of her TED Talk on infidelity, and have loved her ever since. To me she had such a fresh, mature, thoughtful and systemic view on why it occurs that also gave me insights about sustaining a long-term relationship in general. She’s so talented so of course she had branched out and had a podcasts on couples and family counseling (all varieties) and counseling people on their relationship to work, and now has a series of videos where she talks about all the changes we are going though being stuck in our houses where the boundaries of work and family, personal and collective are even more blurred. And she takes questions from people about their situations. I know I’m being a total fangirl, but here’s the point.
On her blog she made a suggestion that in these tough times, where no one really knows what will happen or when, it can be helpful to look to the past — she herself is the only child of Holocaust survivors. This is from her site:
Resist advice to only be forward-looking.
- Now is a time to look back at the stories that have been passed on in our families and cultures that deal with adversity and triumph.
- This is not the first time we have risen to meet the challenge.
- Some of us have grown up with chaos and loss and are finding that we’re well-prepared for this moment. (A friend told me that she can finally be proud of her OCD, the perfect character structure for this occasion.)
So, in that spirit, I wanted to celebrate both my parents and their families:
My mom’s parents are French Canadian and come from an asbestos mining town of Lac-Noir/Black Lake in Quebec, which was half French and half English. The French worked in the mines, while the English were the managers above ground. Sound familiar? Our family wanted more, so they came down through New England and ended up in CT working in factories. Sounds like a simple sentence, but it’s not. I can try to imagine the logistics of bringing your large family 100s of miles, walking and by train, to start over.
My grandparents married here and started their life together during the Great Depression. Sounds fun, right? They told stories of my grandfather walking miles for a job on a farm, only to see a line of dozens of men for the same job. They moved every time the rent went up, and my mother counted at least 9 apartments they moved to in not so many years. I also heard a story about getting rid of beg bugs with kerosene. My grandmother told me about losing her infant son to illness because they were too poor for the doctor to come and treat him. My mother was very young and didn’t understand what happened, so she blamed them for his death, but over time she overcame that. And my grandmother made enough peace with it to tell me the story, and I am grateful for that. They persevered, and built a house in my home town, and much later built a cottage on a lake for summers that was a sanctuary for us grandkids.
My mother was sent off to an all-girls boarding school in Canada for high school. Can you imagine? When she came home for Christmas she didn’t want to go back and told her parents. Her father stopped talking to her. So guess who went back to Canada? After high school, she wanted very much to become a nun and she tried for 2 years, but came home sick twice, and the second time the Mother Superior gently told her it was god’s will and not to come back. She was heartbroken and devastated, and then discriminated against. When she applied for jobs, she was in her mid-20s and employers wanted to know what she had been doing. Saying you were in a convent was not really a good career move, even in a town with 4 Catholic churches. She also lost a job because she was the cousin of a former employee who had allegedly stolen from the company. She hadn’t done anything wrong, it was guilt by association.
We were a family of 6 on one factory salary and my mother was so thrifty. I learned so much from her that I’m not ever afraid of having to go without. Between my mother and grandmother, I know how to substitute, make do, and when needed, go without. And since I’m in my second trimester of my COVID baby belly, I could probably do more of doing without.
On my dad’s side, he and his family lived in Holland and survived WWII. That doesn’t really need any more explanation. If you’re curious, I wrote a book about it and there are some excerpts on the site here. My dad himself has been thinking back to that time, and how his father managed to sustain their family throughout the war. His father had also lived through WWI. So, let’s think about that for a minute. All those people, many of your relatives, who lived through not 1, but 2 World Wars, when it just wasn’t toilet paper and flour missing from the stores. My grandfather owned a general store and he remembered during WWI that money became useless and cigarettes were like currency. He spent all his money stocking up and used it to trade, and they also had a little garden plot for fresh vegetables. My grandmother was good at scaring young German soldiers away from the door by faking diphtheria.
The thing is we all have these stories, as Esther says, of survival in our families and our cultures, whether they are personal or historical triumphs or even cautionary tales.
I agree with Esther. Take a look back. We got this.