Single Parent Faith

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Say


It was some time ago when I saw the movie “The Bucket List.” I recently heard the movie’s theme song, “Say,” written and sung by John Mayer. I listened closely again to the lyrics, as few of them as they are, and find their simplicity compelling.

You can heal a lifetime of pain and regret, by one word, “say.” How many of us have something we have left unsaid? I’m not talking about the ”I ought to give you a piece of my mind!”  kind of  “say.” I am, however, referring to the words we will regret not saying if the person passes away with us never having expressed our feelings. Second chances are guaranteed to no one.

What keeps us from saying them?


Walkin' like a one man army
Fightin' with the shadows in your head
Livin' up the same old moment”

How many of us have walked around “like a one man army fightin’ with the shadows” in our heads? I think we all have held onto something and churned on it, not letting it go, not forgiving. These things can cast their darkness over us for a lifetime, making us bitter if we do not learn to let them go. We need to forgive—
forgive others, forgive ourselves. Otherwise we keep “Livin’ up the same old moment” in our heads, keeping alive resentment, anger, and pain.

We do the same with situations that we should have, could have done differently. Regrets can also dance around in our heads, eating away at our peace.

I recall when I was in high school asking my father why he never told me (or my siblings or mother, for that matter) “I love you?” His answer was, “I don’t have to say it because you already know.”

“But I don’t.”

My mom got involved and before I knew it, voices were raised and arguing ensued. After a bit of arguing myself, I retreated with a cloud in my head having formed, one where I felt anger and disappointment for what he could not bring himself to say.

Fathers do not understand the damage they do to their little girls when they do not “say” what they need to say.

Many years later, after the birth of my daughter, I could not feel anything but gratitude for my baby. The miracle that is a new being, makes one see the world differently. It made me learn more about what love is. Love is something you feel and give even if it is not returned. I did not have the expectation that my baby had to say the words in order to be able to love me.

I saw the parallelism between this revelation, and my experience with my dad. What if, instead of me waiting on my father to say the words, I say them first?

I spent many years focusing on all the ways he failed me, he missed the mark, he did not express his love. These shadows in my head were never in short supply. The thing is, shadows exist only when we choose to interpret someone’s behavior as something they are doing “to us,” rather than “to themselves.” My father had no true understanding of the damage it causes when one withholds the words or the affection.

But what if instead of focusing on what he didn’t do, I focused on widening and opening my own heart to love him. Surely me loving him is not conditional on him saying the words. In his way, and only in his way (the same can be said for all of us), he loves me. He can only show me in the ways he knows how. If I judge him according to my ways, I will always feel unsatisfied. I will always set myself up to experience pain. He will never make the mark. It’s a good thing our Heavenly Father shows us Grace and doesn’t expect us to show him love the way he defines it. Maybe some Grace is in order here for my own father.

When I got to thinking about this again, my daughter was four years old, and I was in a different place with the shadows in my head. Though I still carried with me pain from the absence of my father verbalizing his love, I came to understand what Maya Angelou means when she says, “When you know better, you do better.”

I picked up a pen and began to “say” on paper. Twenty-eight pages later, I wrote my father what amounted to a love letter for Father’s day. I decided to honor him and shower him with the things that “he did right.” I had no expectation, other than that I would give him a gift with no strings attached. A gift given freely, with the intent to show him love. My dad rarely experienced it as a child.

Some excerpts of my letter:

“You taught me at an early age the value of knowledge and an education. I want you to know how proud I am of you for your fortitude and strength to work hard and not quit until you got your Master’s degree.”

English was a second language for my dad who was born in Mexico. He worked nights to raise 3 daughters and a wife, while he went to the University during the day. He became a bilingual education teacher, and is retired now. 

“You are a smart man, you are a good man, and you are a good father. I know that you love me. I know that it is difficult for you to express your thoughts and feelings to me. But I have always known and felt your love by all that you’ve done for me. You always did what you could to facilitate and support my interest in learning. From providing me access to many books, to providing me reference material, and reviewing my school papers. I recall also your encouragement when I showed an interest in your oil painting. I felt so special to know that my daddy trusted me enough to allow me to play with his paints. I know now that your supplies were very expensive, yet you allowed me to be a kid and share your love for painting. No matter what my art looked like, you always made me feel good about what I painted.”

The memories flowed on and on as I listed the ways that he showed me love. I did not judge the manner that he showed me, for the bottom line is that he showed me.  Shortly after he received the letter, when we spoke on the phone, it was not about the letter or its contents, because that is not his way to express himself. But at the end of the call, he ended it with, “I love you.”

Say

A couple of years ago during a visit to NYC, I was in my parent’s apartment helping them clean, and he came across a blue envelope containing that Father’s day card and letter written some 14 years ago. He asked me to take it with me. It wasn’t until some months later that I stumbled across it again at home, and this time I read the letter. I noticed that on the backside of the last page, there was some writing. My father had written me a letter. It was dated two years after mine. I was humbled to think that my letter touched him so much that he would revisit it and write me, though my eyes would not read it until some twelve years later.

“ Ella,
I also love you and I am very proud of your personal achievement. I know you will teach Anita love, respect and humility. After all, a mother is the first teacher a child comes to know….

Eternal love for you and Anita,
Papa”

My father is still my father, imperfections and all. I am also his daughter, imperfect as well. Love cannot be conditional, wrapped around our expectations of how a parent should express their love. These dark shadows will prevent us from loving and will have us miss the opportunity to “say” while we can.

What have you left unsaid?

“Do it with a heart wide open”

Ella Venezia
Copyright © 2012 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.

Image Source:  © All rights reserved by Hjem

YouTube Video:

Say lyrics
Songwriter:  John Mayer

Take out of your wasted honor
Every little past frustration
Take all your so called problems
Better put them in quotations

Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say

Walkin' like a one man army
Fightin' with the shadows in your head
Livin' up the same old moment
Knowin' you'd be better off instead
If you could only

Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say

Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say

Have no fear for givin' in
Have no fear for givin' over
You better know that in the end
It's better to say too much
Than to never to say what you need to say again

Even if your hands are shakin'
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closin'
Do it with a heart wide open
A wide heart

Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say
Say what you need to say….

Lyrics from: http://www.elyrics.net/read/j/john-mayer-lyrics/say-lyrics.html

4 comments:

  1. I like that perspective of writing a letter about what our parents did right.With Mother's Day right around the corner, this post gave me a lot to think about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alvarado- I'm so glad this post inspired you to think of what you can share with your mother for Mother's Day. I think everyone, including our parents, need to hear the good and the love we feel for them.
      -Ella

      Delete
  2. A beautiful story with a point well taken. Thank you, Ella!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michael- I appreciate you and your supportive words.
      -Ella

      Delete

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