Tuesday, 03 April 2012
Overhearing one’s parents fight is among the most terrifying things in the world for a child (and for a teenager, and for an adult, too). My brother and I have been very fortunate in this regard; our parents love one another and have stayed together through difficult times. But they’re human. They’ve had moments.
I can remember waking up in the night and hearing the argument. I was maybe 16 at the time. Somehow, being awakened by my mom and dad fighting was worse than being awakened by Willie having a meltdown. By then, I expected Willie to have meltdowns in the middle of the night. I didn’t expect to hear my parents yelling.
I tried to coax myself back to sleep, but instead, I found myself creeping to the top of the stairs. My heart was pounding. Like most teenagers, I had friends whose parents had divorced. And despite my youthful idealism, I was beginning to have a sense for how fragile our bonds can be, especially in times of extreme stress and tension. Especially for parents of individuals with special needs. Especially if those individuals have severe behavioral difficulties.
Yet my parents weren’t arguing about me or my brother that night (though I might have missed an earlier part of the dialogue). Instead, my mom was upset because she wasn’t feeling loved during that difficult time, and my dad was frustrated because he felt he was giving all he had to give, and that it wasn’t being received.
Back and forth they went, hurt and hopelessness in their voices. I felt my heart speed up. I knew they loved each other, but that night, the love wasn’t coming through. I was terrified that it wouldn’t come through.
And then my father said something that has stayed with me since. My mom was saying that she didn’t know if my dad loved her anymore.
As she said it, a wind of desolation swept through me. The love between my parents was an invisible, integral foundation I’d stood on for my entire life. Hearing it questioned that way was like an earthquake; it shook something deep inside of me.
But before she could say anything more, my dad interrupted her. With anger and force in his voice, he said, “…but of course I love you! How could you even say that?!”
As a teenager, it seemed strange to hear someone say I love you with such frustration, but as an adult, I can understand it better. I can understand that there are times when you are feeling lonely and scared and ticked through the roof at the one you love, and the best you can do is to try to speak the truth with honest kindness in the midst of it.
At times like these, fighting right can be constructive. It can be a way of persisting in love and resisting complacent disconnection. And communicating one’s fears and loneliness is a sign of trust in a relationship, a sign of hope amidst difficulty… just as saying I love you when you’re angry is better than not saying it at all.
Soon after, I heard something stranger still: my mom’s laughter, and then my dad’s. Something my dad had said made my mom crack up. Once laughter arose, they were given the grace to see both the reality of one another’s hurt feelings and the end of their argument. I heard them reconcile, and felt my heartbeat return to normal.
And in that moment I remembered something my mother had told me. When I’d asked her, “How did you know that Dad was the one for you?”, she’d said, “Well, he could always make me laugh.”
At the time, it didn’t seem like a good enough reason. Nowadays, I see that laughter can restore sanity in an insane situation. And I agree with Reinhold Niebuhr when he wrote, “Laughter is the highest form of prayer.”
After all, that’s the story behind the name of this site … the story of how a simple, silly turn of phrase gave me the gift of my brother’s laughter, which was a ray of hope in a very dark time.
In fact, I chose to name this community A Wish Come Clear not only because my brother coined the phrase, but because of how he has used it to teach me about the redeeming power of a good joke.
Yes, our bonds are made vulnerable by the circumstances that we face. But if we can surrender control enough to let go and really laugh– if we can open the door of our hearts just a crack — grace comes rushing in.
Grace doesn’t mean our every wish comes true (or that our parents never argue or our brothers never struggle). Grace means that we aren’t alone in what we face, that healing laughter can rise up from the unlikeliest of places. It means that right in the middle of difficulty, a wish (just might) come clear.
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