“Our holy grit… it’s the sandpaper in your psyche that rubs you raw until you make it conscious.”  – Jacqueline Small, on Shadow

Lake Winola

Lake Winola

Karen turned sixty this month.

I grew up on a glacial   lake at the end of the Endless Mountains in Pennsylvania during the summer months. Karen lived with her parents and three brothers in the cottage next-door. My best friend, Cathy, rented the cottage behind them, at least her parents did. The circumference of the lake was approximately three miles, so children knew each other for long stretches that were walkable from their cottage. The lake was a friendly community where families looked out for each other and their children.

Being born in July, this lake was my first home. Sometime during the 60s my home became a state lake and everything changed. But prior to this, the lake was serene, the people familiar and it was a safe, aesthetically beautiful place in nature to grow up.

Our neighbors became extensions of our family. Karen lived next door and since we grew up together, I didn’t notice the developmental delays. Karen was mentally disabled, but we all thought she was odd. From a child’s perspective, there was just something different about her, damaged, maybe. Children were unkind to her, but not her brothers. Karen always liked me. One day, however, I joined the heartless descent as she walked in front of the trajectory of the swing I was on. I didn’t stop abruptly as I could have. I knocked her down. Fifty years later I remember that moment and I cry with so much shame. Perhaps I can understand the other children’s cruelty by understanding my own. Karen was an external manifestation of the damage I felt inside of me, the damage the other children must have felt, as well. Christians might call it Original Sin, Jungians call it Shadow, the unlikable parts of ourselves we hide until we have the inner resources to heal these parts and integrate them into a more forgiving personality.

Cathy’s family was very religious. Her mother, Lucy, told me children like Karen were sent here by God and reported back to him about how others treated her. Now, from my perspective, I can believe some of Lucy’s story/parable. Karen and her sacred curriculum was a mirror for people to look at themselves through. Not everybody liked what they saw.

Soon after that, Karen no longer lived next door. She came home on visits and loved to go for a boat ride with me. Karen never held a grudge. Her older brother became a minister and I worked with disabled children for a couple decades, as a teenager and an adult.

I wonder if Karen knows how much she affected the others around her or how much she taught people something about themselves, that they probably didn’t want to see.

Karen turned sixty this month. Happy birthday Karen. From my end-of-life perspective, I now understand the careful selection of the costume you chose for this lifetime and I know you are what some call an angel and I know, without equivocation, that you were my and many other children’s sacred teacher.

**One of my very favorite books on the subject is: Expecting Adam – A true story of birth, rebirth and every day magic by Martha Beck.

 

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