Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Once Abandoned, Always Abandoned?

Photo by Pelipoer Lara on Pexels.com

Families leave legacies to the next generation, and young children likely have little clue what they will get. I don’t mean material goods–though the getting or not getting of those can pack power, too. I mean emotional goods. I hazard that as a kid, you get what you get, and you don’t truly know that it just is what it is, or perhaps not until much later. We come into the world from a watery womb and then it is a bubble consisting of family first and most of the time…. though by school age the outside world seeps in, anyway. Maybe we make nice friends, meet other adults we like. But home is the seat of our emotions. It steers us in ways we may not be conscious of as we grow up, choosing each tentative step to more independence. And when we take off, fledglings no more, it is a surprise that there often seems to be more of the same, a similar content as we attempted to escape.

So what dos that mean to those who have been abandoned early and perhaps often? I haven’t counselled clients in several years about the emotional minefields which being left behind creates for countless adults. It can brings too often self-loathing and self sabotage; it leads to addictive behaviors; it can lead to death. It is likely too big a topic to try to blog about, but I write of it, anyway. And I have been hearing talk of this topic in a broad way within my circle. A sister not paying attention during a visit. A spouse forgetting an anniversary. A friend moving away and never calling. A parent of someone’s niece getting lost in addiction–again. A partner on the verge of calling it quits. We all have “fear of abandonment” and have tasted the bitter fruit of it.

But many seem to be reviewing relationships more closely–that includes the one with our own selves. The pandemic has presented long hours of solitude, time to look into life with an acute vision, to bring up the past as well as try to imagine a more challenged future. Concerns might arise in roundabout ways as people deal with multiple difficult experiences, are worried about family members or see themselves stuck in an situation not as healthy as they prefer. As they intended and worked towards. They see the connections between years gone by and current times. Often issues they thought had been bypassed/outgrown/resolved are resurfacing during the days and nights of stress. More often than not it comes down to being left in actual fact or feeling as such at a vulnerable time of life. Being set aside by someone who was considered constant and trustworthy yet suddenly was not. Feeling a lone even with others around because somehow the ties began to fray.

It feels like getting punched in the heart. Abandonment. We don’t even care for the word: it echoes with crying out, shakes with anger, tells us we are unloved. It defines an emptied place inside us just as a building fully abandoned telegraphs that reality. It’s a big word, and carries a far more powerful feeling that just “uninhabited or “empty.”

What if a parent left you literally or figuratively when young but it was never discussed, even though that parent was basically around? Or if a parent was there for you–then came a divorce and the family decision was to bar that person from even finding you? (That is a true and terrible story.) Or someone gave you up to foster care because you were so “difficult’ or the caregiver was simply unable to deal with life on life’s terms. These are not minor separations from love, what was perceived and believed as love. It is clear that this sort of loss is a pain with staying power. An agony, even. And that goes for the ones who long ago decided they would be impervious to the gaping internal chasms created by those who might–and do–leave them. Even they cannot fully staunch seepage from the festering wound when it comes down to it.

So, once abandonment has occurred, does one ever get over it? Or is this the theme music by which a person is doomed to work and play and laugh and rage? I believe such woundedness can be healed, and know that it does happen. Maybe not perfectly so, leaving no trace, but enough that life is freer, fuller, even happier.

Those who have read my posts a long while know that as a child I was sexually abused a few years by a non-blood relative. I was blithely living my life until then. Soon, the facts were clear: no one was aware of or paid attention to signs of my increasing distress, no one seemed to care, and there was no rescue or plan of aid.

These things made an indelible impression. What had been a life of security and safety, genuine affection, careful guidance and support were about erased just like that. My mother–a caring mother I adored but who knew nothing of coping with such a thing in the 1950s– strongly suspected but never confronted me or the perpetrator. If the abuse was bad enough, the abandonment was as bad–if not worse. With no swift and loving intervention I was left to survive on my own. And that told me that I was weirdly, shockingly, not loved enough, after all, to be saved from constant fear and danger. I would not be surrounded by love like a fortress. It would have instigated a healing process and initiated legal action–which is becoming more common today, thankfully. But unheard of 65 years ago.

And I paid the price, which included a strong expectation of ever more recurrent abandonment. Who can a child and then youth trust if not her parents and others in the family who were kind, capable and just there? Then just no longer there, so it had to be my fault; it made no sense that wonderful parents and siblings could let this happen. Everything that had been marvelous in my life began to feel bad. I felt marked, changed, wrong and wronged, and uncertain of so many things. I took all that with me as I tried to grow up alright, though deeply unwell. Tried to be a credit to my accomplished and respected family, but often failed badly, filled with more shame. How to overcome and rise up? To suture up those torn places that abandonment had made?

I had, it turned out, some decent tools for a better life already.

The most important thing was that I already had known deeply what it was to be loved, helped, included in a family of seven. I had been taught useful values and skills–how to play well with others and so how to make friends; how to plan, work hard and seek good results; how to use my curiosity to learn interesting things; how to get up when I fell down, clean up the scrapes, try again. How to keep clear focus when everything around me was pandemonium in a small house. So I had a basic sense of competency and self worth despite the harshness of a very different experience.

And I knew how to pray for help and comfort. That was a practical skill that segued with daily words from my father: “Chin up, honey”, i.e., be positive and have dignity, look upward, keep going forward. I could do both by 7 years old. If bad things happened to me, to my family, then I would make more good things happen. Nothing was insurmountable, apparently, according to my parents, and according to Jesus’ teachings. We earthlings were meant to be “greater than angels” I had heard, so the least I could do was be a human being who kept trying for better.

But then I had years of trials and errors, false starts and detours that took me to more harm. Still, giving up was not truly an option. I held onto the conviction that there were more choices available, that I’d recover, learn again to live well. I found many. Others were pointed out to me. Some seemed mysteriously there when I needed them. I was relentless in the search for answers and resources– and discovered I was not alone in my difficulties. And I learned that loving parents can be afraid, too, with too few good answers, and lacking adequate support. That they surely seem omnipotent to a child and youth but are mainly bigger human beings still trying to figure things out. They fail. They have regrets. And still they care as much as they can, in the ways they can.

Forgiveness has been helpful. The kind of forgiveness that doesn’t deny the pain and loss and remnants of anger… yet can arise from a greater compassion for the cruel offender as well as those who did the abandoning (for whatever reasons they had, it begins to matter less and less). But also: forgiveness of myself. For the many times I failed myself along the way, the skewed ideas and senseless decisions, the difficult reactions to others, missed opportunities, a sometimes hardened heart. The failure to love enough, even–my own self and many others. If I don’t forgive, then who? And who will give me needed relief if I cannot seek and accept it first? Then comes a new peace, slowly but profoundly.

Love doesn’t come with any pain-free guarantee. I learned that lesson well. I used to change the final page of fairy tales when I read to my own kids. I instead made up an ending that indicated life went on, sure, but with good and not-so-good, and that if there is a someone to share it with then that matters most, not an elusive “happily ever after”. There is going to be hardship awaiting us all. There are no spectacular times without visitations of difficulty or sadness. So, then, why not embrace it all?

There have, of course, been betrayals over the years, ones I thought might break me. Misunderstandings that kept me up at night. Words thrown at me that I wish I never heard. Leave-takings that almost broke my heart. Illnesses that have taken me or another to the edge and back. And there are also triggers from time to time that I feel coming alive deep within: See, I caution myself, there it is, this is a thing that might recall that old abandonment but it is NOT the same so I need to separate myself from it to avoid mistaking it for that terrible thing. It is an illusion; you make of it what you will. Be a grown up and take responsibility, refuse to be a victim of the past, such an old fear. If dipping into the ole self-pity pool happens, anyway, I further counsel myself, then keep it short and get over it; learn something and move on. There is nothing quite as relieving as a storming cry, a kick at the dirt, spouting off in private–then finding something positive to do. If it’s something truly needing a remedy, it is meant to be faced so a plan to address it needs to happen. After that, I hope I have done what I can, then will choose to do the next good thing. But in the final analysis, I will not ever abandon myself.

There are possibilities for change on every level. So many ways to move in a healthier direction and create a better time of it. I believe in myself–that I can be hurt and recover, that I can make something worthwhile out of less than I may want to have. That life is beautiful, still, and so are other people. I have hope in my faith in God. The truth is, everyone everyone on this planet is abandoned at some point; we each carry the memories and it is how we carry them. We love and we lose–romantic relationships fall apart, friends move away or move on, people we adore, die. We face ourselves in dark places and learn how to find courage for the battles, the truces, the peacemaking. Its seems to be the way things go here on earth. But I will risk it every time to experience the power and wonder of loving–and being loved– and how it shapes and propels my life. That’s the sort of legacy I want to leave my children and grandchildren.

Monday’s Meander: Pumpkin Farm Visit on Sauvie Island

What a glorious afternoon last Saturday on Sauvie Island, one of the largest river islands in the country and an fecund agricultural gem. Sitting at the confluence of the Willamette River and the Columbia River, there are 24,000 acres to ogle and appreciate. Many enjoy the sweeping landscape of prosperous farms, several beaches, abundant fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking. You can find many u-pick farms, gathering or purchasing delicious berries, apples, and the freshest vegetables.

Today’s post highlights our stop at Topaz Farm to see how the pumpkin crop was coming along. Afterward, we circled around the island as usual, stopping at Wapato Greenway for a hike in early fall’s sparkling sunshine.

Enjoy the photo tour with a first photo as we exit from the bridge, with a few of a large community of houseboats that dot the channel.

Though the farm wasn’t packed with people yet, those who came were enjoying themselves.

Why are pumpkins so pleasing to look over and touch? The shapes, colors, textures, likely–they are rotund and fill the hands and promise of good things to come.

On to the few fall flowers, which were U-Cut to take home. As much as I love flowers–marigolds grew so tall!–we were about to go on a long hike so I passed.

This interesting twig and branch structure captured my attention.

So happy the good earth shared her bounties despite the drought….

There will be many more chances to visit apples and pumpkin farms in October, perhaps even next week-end in the Columbia Gorge. So we headed to a state park on Sauvie Island, taking the circuitous way to see more lush agricultural country.

Thanks for reading today. Hope you can stop by next week when I take you on what ended up being about a 3.5 mile hike at Wapato Access of Willamette Greenway. It’s a good jaunt within the 170-acre Oregon state park at the western side of the island. We were surprised after rounding Virginia Lake (now a rather dry wetlands area until seasonal rains fill it) that we came to a spot along serenely resplendent Multnomah Channel.

A preview of Wapato via a wildlife viewing blind, below.

Friday’s Poem: Flowers Do Not Forget

Every other breath could be a reminder

of where he was that day when

much that was wild and miraculous– like raindrops

illuminating the backs of her strong hands–

came to an end.

The finality held no sound;

his breathing paused as

she measured her steps through the grass–

as if afraid she could lose her balance–

and so it was she departed, soon a ghost of love.

He returned to the garden, watered flowers,

kept all pestilence at bay;

watched bees circle and taste offerings, flit away.

He called her after time carried him forward.

She answered, said

your voice still sounds like honey,

and laughed away sadness.

It was those words, her laugh that he recalled as he

sliced flower stems, separating very few

from the group, embracing them with a loose grip

until he found a vase for a home.

And the bees followed, sunshine blessed and waned.

But he did not bring in bouquets, anymore,

those colors and fragrance a triumph.

Such a gift he could not accept–

so left them to the quiet of evening,

forgetfulness of night,

until another tending of his garden,

more gathering of any love left there.

Wednesday’s Words/Short Short Story: Ardis and the Feathered One

(Photo by Jack Bulmer on Pexels.com)

It had come to this absurd situation. One wrong footfall and boom!–her ankle puffed up like it was packed with dense stuffing. Except it had nerves, too, and persistent pain. Swelling that made the skin ugly, tighter. So much for the fearless, iron-legged hiker that Ardis had always been. An easy trail through the woods brought her to her hip, now bruised and sore. But the ankle twisted on the way down a rutted, rocky slope.

Slouched in her cushioned and creaky rocker, she stared out the picture window. Books she’d piled at the side table were hardly touched. The TV in the corner was blank, meaningless. Her pitiful right foot, encased in a rigid plastic and padded therapeutic “boot”, made her angry and at times tearful. It lay there like a forgotten thing, a useless thing that taunted her from the old leather ottoman. Until she reached for the crutches, forced herself out of inertia to hobble to the kitchen for sustenance or down the hall to answer nature’s call. She hated to drink too much or she’d be often compelled to make that miserable trip.

If only the sun would shine. Ardis then might see past the low grey clouds, be able to envision an end to 6 weeks, make plans for resumption of her life. At first her buddies Harry and Joanie stopped by after work; Aunt Ellie brought scones and steaming cappuccinos; her co-worker brought magazines– as if Ardis was in the hospital and could only handle cheesy reading material, but at least she came by. Now, almost no one came. Except birds and squirrels, but there were far more birds in her yard–which she had only half-seen before.

So, by default, Ardis had become a bird watcher. Not that she knew much about birds. They came and went, pecking at the soil or berries in bushes, hiding in potted plants on the deck, snagging a spot in a makeshift bird bath created by rain in a cereal bowl used and forgotten. Their chirruping and singing were pleasant, and before long she was trying to figure out who was partnered with whom, where they were flying off to, and if they’d scatter or fight when crows–birds, sure, but lately seen as titans of trouble by Ardis– descended. Where did they all go when it rained hard? Did they have family to help them find food?

She thought the same handful returned every day and so began to name them: Johnny Red, Angel, Big Talker, Ivan, Little Mo. It was entirely unlikely she could identify them well–she couldn’t even tell what species they all were–but it didn’t stop the naming. She’d attempted wrestling with her crutches–which conspired to topple her between Point A to Point B–to go outdoors. Once at the back door she’d opened it with difficulty, then only listened and watched from there. The early fall air smelled and felt sharply soothing. But after ten minutes of leaning against a hard door jamb, crutches cumbersome and her ankle beaming at her with pain–that was the end of it.

One afternoon she kept trying to read a book Aunt Ellie had generously brought her about Pacific Northwest birds. (Though no coffee or scones.) It was far less dull than her aunt had warned but less thrilling than imagined. But she kept at it until her eyelids slid shut, fluttered, fell again. In a flash her mind had hopped on the sleep train and gone elsewhere. She was high up and everything was shining in whites and blues, a chilly, bright landscape. Calm, silent. Free. Far from feet and other human and mysterious impediments. Her rocking chair afternoon rolled away from her as she moved effortlessly.

Thwack! Ardis’ eyelids flicked open.

Something had hit a wall, the window, maybe the picnic table outside… was it the neighbor kid’s ball? a pinecone rolling off the roof from last night’s rainstorm? Then she replayed the sound and suddenly bent at the waist in the rocker, straining her neck to better look out the window and to the deck. There were some feathers. A bird had flown hither and thither as usual, then rammed right into her big window.

Trying to get a better view, Ardis rocked forward little by little, began to slide off the seat and steadied herself. But were those bird feet? She shouldn’t be able to see feet sticking out in the air. Her heart stirred. She grabbed the crutches, positioned them so she could stand and better look out.

Yes, the bird was certainly knocked for a loop, lying on its side with twig legs and clawed feet straight out. It lay stunned, perhaps paralyzed. Or–dead? She looked from every angle she could, noting the sleek black head, white stripe, two black stripes above and below dark bead of its eye, a dab of yellowish color by its face, body clothed in greyish-blue—taupe?– feathers, a colored breast. But its small face, still as can be. A handsome feathered thing. She didn’t think it had been given a name. Maybe a visitor? What sort? She watched then concluded her window had sent it to its demise. And she was filled with an attack of sadness, eyes going misty. What to do? She shouldn’t touch it, move it. Flummoxed, she retreated to the ottoman. Waiting for something to happen, hoping it might get up.

Hearing that awful thud again and again in her head.

It just couldn’t die.

She sat with hands crossed flat against her chest. Perhaps five minutes went by, then she skootched the ottoman to the window. Looked down at the bird, noted its right wing set a bit apart from its soft rounded body. The wing seemed to move rapidly; she deducted it was a breathing movement. She held her own breath, put forehead to glass wondering if the wing was damaged. If it would ever fly even if it lived. Suddenly, the bird smoothly hopped upright onto its feet. Stood still, just breathing more gently. The wing didn’t look bent but who was Ardis to determine anything? It wasn’t taking a step. It just stood there on spindly legs, not even the head moving. Maybe it was brain damaged and couldn’t figure out what next. Or, after all, there was that wing– or maybe something was hurt inside?

Ardis was pondering, still, how she might help, then admitted with a mutter that she was no use to a bird, surely not one nearly accidentally murdered in her own back yard. By her own picture window as she sat there, unaware. The beat up creature–why wasn’t it giving the offending window a bad look or, more appropriately, gazing toward sky and trees? She wanted to get up and walk out, make apologies to it–crouch down eye-to-eye with it.

Damn that ankle. Her inability to find a good solution.

From the distance there rose a clear bird call. And the not-so-dazed bird turned its head to the call, lifted off the deck and swiftly flew off with nary a wobble. Just like that! Ardis’ hand flew to her mouth as she grinned like a kid, amazed.

She pressed her face close to the glass, searching tree branches, the hedge next door. Not a feather to be seen. No significant bird chatter. The bird just recovered its senses and strength and oriented itself. Took right off. How could that be when it had looked like a goner? Unlike Ardis, it had not sprained a thing when it met with sudden changed circumstances; it had just lost its bearings, and perhaps consciousness briefly.

Ardis moved backward and sat down, thrusting the crutches aside. Stared out her window a long while, replaying what had happened. Her alarm, sadness, concern, surprise. A sudden desire to protect birds from her windows and even more from her ignorance.

And then: what bird was it? A nuthatch? A warbler? A chickadee? Those two black stripes, a white stripe between, some yellow or was it orange or…? She grabbed the Northwest bird identification book and began the search. It was taxing to recall the specifics of birds marking, beak shapes, coloration. It was hard to figure out what birds lived where or, if migrating, when and why. But she persisted awhile until she had come up with five different possibilities. She should have taken a photograph.

As time passed she also thought how she needed more patience with herself. The swollen ankle. Her mistakes and frailties. Her lack of knowledge of so much. The bird did what it was meant to do so it might regain its sense of self, its righted bird-ness. She could do the same with her own circumstances, couldn’t she–wait it out, let healing happen until she regained her Ardis self. Just be still. Worse might have happened to them both. She could manage this interval of time, as her little miracle bird had managed its situation.

Her fascination with the identification process continued until the room dimmed, then filled with soft rosy light. She put the book down, looked through her window. There was a bird sitting on dangling branch, looking right at her. Her feisty bird? Wishing it so, she imagined it had come back–or maybe it was a sibling or a cousin. No matter. Redux: she named it in case she saw it once more. Redux, as it had been restored to itself, to nature, to her. Ardis offered a wave and it flew beyond a scrim of deepening dusk.

Monday’s Meander: An Often Happy Small Mountain Life

The symbol for Mountain Park trails and a “No Smoking” warning.

Living on a forested (modest) mountaintop outside of Portland, OR. is in some ways a perfect fit for me–it is billed as “nature’s neighborhood”, and I greatly appreciate trees and other nature offerings. We left a densely populated if charming neighborhood in NE Portland two and a half years ago for what seems nearly like country in comparison. I am grateful we moved, now–the last few years have been trying, often sad. But here we daily can find increased health and serenity in the natural world.

Mountain Park offers 8 miles of well maintained trails throughout 200 acres of wooded, hilly landscape. I now and then have shared the trails in different seasons and weather. Today I set out to snap photos of greenery aglow with sunshine that will diminish as months of rain return, the daylight dimmed by repetitious cloud cover. Of course, the terrain remains greener than most places all year long… (We had the first true rainfall over the week-end after months of drought–a joy to hear, feel and smell early autumn rain.)

My hour walk today began at our higher elevation by entering a tunnel. It took me down steeper paved trails, though there are some dirt pathways. The neighborhood was designed in 1968 as a planned community amid woods, and there are typically modern NW-style houses that I like–sharp, clean angles of natural materials with large windows/skylights– ranging from good-sized but simpler homes to impressive ones, all blending in with muted woods and stone. They are half-hidden among foliage, often sequestered behind fences.

One of many tunnels in the neighborhood to avoid street crossings.

The paths are often steep and windy–great “interval training” for the body.

The footbridge is a favorite spot to pause–but the creek still has little water.

There are brighter areas along the way with open spaces to relax, where residents’ dogs can play.

The house hidden here is interesting in that it was built so close to two adjoining paths, its swimming pool and perhaps a gardening utility shed barely disguised by latticework and vines. I once saw a man reading poolside on a chaise lounge, but have never seen or heard anyone swimming. At night there are fairy lights aglow.

A favorite tree, below, lovely as it spreads its great limbs up and out. There are lots of mighty Douglas firs and other conifers, but also wonderful big leaf maples and madrone trees, among others.

In the midst of shadows are occasional play areas–and seven small parks. Often they’ve been empty since the pandemic has taken hold. I have brought my twin grandchildren to play a few times–outdoor play and fresh air are required for kids!

If you look closely you will glimpse foothills of Tualatin Mountains, part of the Coast Range.

Please click on the slideshow to view the end of today’s enjoyable meander. There are many more miles of trails to explore in beautiful Mountain Park; all I have to do is turn in another direction outside my front door and go forth. I am guaranteed great exercise and a peaceful spirit as I roam.

Rising from shady forest, I emerged into brilliant sunshine, breezy air warmed–not quite abandoning tail end of summer weather. But very soon. Chilly rains won’t stop me. There are always more trails to appreciate in the great outdoors, even in the city.