The unexamined life is not worth living. – Socrates
April brings rain to the Midwest – a lot of rain and the possibility of severe weather, too. The cold air that once held a tight grip is now being usurped by the warmer, but more unstable air coming in from the south.
The clash of the two air masses creates an imbalance as well as instability in the atmosphere. At times the deafening noise from the thunder drowns out the sweet sounds of the replenishing rain.
Startled by the booming reverberation of the thunder, our attention is momentarily diverted. After the last echo of thunder rumbles out of ear-shot, we can return to listening to the rain and, if we choose, we can feel it heal the earth after a particularly harsh winter.
It’s like this in our personal lives, too. We can be startled by what we keep down deep inside of us. We become surprised by its noise when it demands our attention. We are shocked by its force and energy. We may forget the goodness that continues to exist in each one of us when we are reminded to deal with the unpleasant and uncomfortable parts of our souls, too.
The Power of Our Unconscious Mind
We believe our actions, for the most part, are a matter of conscious choice. This is not necessarily true. In a few weeks my wife, Mary Beth, will graduate from the School of Social Welfare at Kansas University. She often reminds me that our unconscious, or unaware mind, is constantly working behind the scenes influencing our behavior and actions.
To better understand this Freudian concept, begin paying attention to the nature of your dreams and the slips of your tongue. Once you acknowledge there exists, somewhere deep-down underneath your consciousness, a repository of unspoken desires then you have made an important step to self-discovery.
These unspoken desires create the storms in our life when we ignore their warnings or recklessly attempt to obtain them. Some things are better when they are simply acknowledged, but left alone; some things should never see the light of day.
When these things do come to life the storm gathers force and the thunder reverberates through our bodies leaving us weak and in pain. This is when the thunder hides the rain.
The noise is a signal though – a reminder to deal with what lives hidden in our unconscious, but can be brought to the surface from time-to-time. When this happens, we are given an opportunity for healing and self-forgiveness.
Awakened by the Storm
One night last week one of these thunderstorms rolled through our Kansas town. I woke to a very loud clap of thunder followed by the frightened and concerned voice of my nine-year-old daughter calling to me.
I walked upstairs to Emily’s room to find my daughter with her blanket pulled up close to her face and slightly below her eyes. She told me she was scared. I sat next to her on the edge of the bed and asked if she wanted me to stay for a while. She did.
The storm had just arrived. With the comfort of my presence in her room, my daughter attempted to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t. I sat there looking through the window waiting for the next lightening strike in order to brace myself, and my daughter, for the next bout of thunder. I wanted to be prepared.
In that moment, thoughts of my mother surfaced. It felt like a surprise attract. These unexpected feelings caught me off guard and startled me. Until that moment, I had not given myself permission to really acknowledge these emotions. They were living deep in my unconscious mind and far from the light of day.
A Mother’s Choice
For my entire life, my mother chose her addictions over her children. Her cigarettes, alcohol and pills trumped the needs of my sister, brother – and me. The demons that live deep down inside of her could only be quieted through self-medication.
A few weeks ago my father called to report my mother was in the hospital. She was not getting enough oxygen and the doctors couldn’t find the source of the problem. My father went on to say the doctor suggested the children come home; perhaps to say good-bye.
I have seen this pattern too often. Mom would get sick, be admitted to the hospital, and the prognosis would look grave. Then she would recover and return home. The pattern repeated itself this time, too.
This time she was discharged from the hospital with a firm and sobering warning from the doctor: “Your health, your life, is squarely in your own hands now. You need to stop smoking and stay on the oxygen at all times. If you don’t, there may be no recovery next time.”
On the way home from the hospital, my mother convinced my father to stop at the store to buy her a carton of cigarettes. A mother’s choice, I suppose.
An Uncomfortable Truth
About thirty minutes after responding to my daughter, I could tell the storm was passing. The thunder was moving off in the distance. The only noise left was the rain bouncing off the window. Emily was asleep and my job, for now, was over.
After returning to my bed, it was difficult finding sleep again. Both anger and a dose of shame had just passed from my subconscious to my conscious mind. This transition was uncomfortable and painful. It was hard accepting I no longer cared if my mother lived or died.
I declined my father’s request to come home because I was numb and indifferent to the possibility of ever seeing my mother alive again.
To be honest, I want to be relieved of the knowledge that as long as my mother is alive I will never be her first choice. That privilege is reserved for a bottle. Remember, some things should never see the light of day.
This unspoken realization has been welling inside of me for some time now. Mothers should love their sons and sons should love their mothers. When this doesn’t happen, nature seems out of balance and unstable – just like the ingredients necessary for a thunderstorm.
Balance, however, can be restored when we make the commitment to break the cycle and choose to forgive the sins of our fathers and mothers so our children will have a better life. There’s some hero in each one of us when we respond to the cries of our children and offer them comfort. There’s some hero in us when our children do not feel they are second choice.
The storm did eventually move on to the east. The thunder no longer kept me from hearing the rain. I listened intently and allowed the rain to cleanse my soul as I drifted back to sleep.