martha dawson

errant inspiration

the extraordinary lives in the ordinary

the gentle nudger

family photo

Perched in the nearest branches of the maternal side of my family tree are three women who were mercurial and razor tongued. They are great teachers in my life, but that’s another story for another time. My Nana, mother, and aunt were capable of leaving a trail of bruised and upset people in their wake, but surprisingly in the midst of this sharp beaked flock lived a man who always emanated a sense of quiet calmness, safety, and love. It was my Grandad. That’s him in the photo enjoying some of his grandchildren. I’m the one in the red dress. He was not a verbose man. He showed his love by being inclusive and engaged, and he delighted us grandchildren with his playful sense of humour.

He was the person who in the middle of the night sat quietly at the top of the stairs with his highly sensitive, anxious, afraid-of-the-dark, homesick granddaughter until she was ready to fall asleep and never made her feel like she was an unwelcome annoyance. He was an oasis of compassion. I still cry when I think about it.

I have often wondered how this gentle man managed to keep his equilibrium while living in an atmosphere of such negativity. I never once heard him raise his voice or speak unkindly about anyone. What was his secret?

Grandad crossed over almost 40 years ago, and unlike some of my other relatives in spirit who I enjoy chatting with on a fairly regular basis, I have rarely heard from him. 

This year I was struck with the urge to celebrate his birthday month by adding a teaspoon of whiskey to my afternoon cup of coffee each day and spend some time thinking about him. I often use food associated with my loved ones on the other side to strengthen our connection. My Grandad was born in Scotland and liked a wee dram in the evening so this seemed like an appropriate and enjoyable way to share some time together. 

Everyday I sipped my whiskey laced coffee and reminisced. I remembered that he liked to smoke cigars, he was missing the top of a middle finger due to some mysterious work related accident, and he always carried a box of Chicklet gum, the white ones that looked like oversized teeth in the little plastic window. In the tradition of Scottish practicality and thrift, he and his five brothers each learned a skill (often in addition to their day job) that when combined, allowed them to build each other a house. Occasionally a new skill had to be acquired, like mastering the art of blasting rock when they discovered my grandparents’ house lot sat on solid ledge. Nothing seemed to stop those brothers when they set their minds to a project! 

It was a very pleasant way to spend a half hour every afternoon, but I was feeling pretty discouraged when after three weeks I still hadn’t made contact with him. I needed some help. It was time to call my brother who often speaks of the deep connection he has felt with our maternal grandfather. In fact, my brother looks like Grandad, shares an identical crazy sense of humour, and is equipped with the same large, loving, compassionate heart. 

On our grandfather’s birthday my brother and I had a big ol’ Grandad Fest over the phone. He spoke of how he enjoyed being included in projects that needed doing such as collecting stones for a little jetty at their Maine lake cottage to keep the sand on the beach and how his lifelong love of using tools was ignited by building small wooden boats at Grandad’s workbench. He laughed heartily recounting how Grandad used to play tricks on our ducks with the hose in the backyard. The ducks thought it was great too and always came back for more. Most significantly, Grandad shared his thoughts with our mother (who repeated them to my brother) about the strengths he saw in my brother and knew he would make something of himself. This was an especially potent kind of love inside a judgemental and dysfunctional family. My brother grew up to dedicate his life to helping, protecting, and caring for people. He spent years in the Coast Guard doing search and rescue, was part of a team sent to help a newly independent Poland set up their Coast Guard, and was charged with the job of protecting a vacationing president. I would praise him for his courage and accomplishments. He always responded by saying he was just doing his job. Even in retirement my brother’s daily life is focused on loving and compassionate service to those around him. Grandad was so right about him!

The loving glow from that phone conversation lasted for hours. When we think or talk about our loved ones on the other side they hear us and often draw near. I could feel Grandad’s presence, but still there were no words. I thought about this for the next few days. In life he was more comfortable doing rather than talking. He was an industrious type of guy who could not only dream up useful inventions, but also build them. I, on the other hand, am a live-in-my-head and visit-other-dimensions kind of gal who often feels overwhelmed by or uninterested in the machinations of the physical plane. I asked him if he could help me bring more balance to this part of my life because it had become somewhat frustrating. 

Over the next couple of days I noticed a sort of subtle nudging would occur when I found it difficult to exit my internal world to act upon an idea or just putter through some minor household tasks. Again no words, just a sense of gentle support that would softly guide me into action, encourage me to really pay attention to what I was doing, and his smiling face would appear if I began to wander off before finishing a project to keep me on track. I actually started to enjoy myself! With great affection I have nicknamed him The Gentle Nudger. 

And then it dawned on me. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been around. We were just speaking different languages! He was interacting just like he did here, quietly encouraging and offering assistance when asked, and for some bizarre reason I had been looking for some chatty conversationalist! No wonder I couldn’t recognize the connection. 

We have spent the last month and a half working side by side as he teaches me how to find contentment and pleasure in physical tasks, but I was still carrying around that burning question. How did he remain the gentle, loving man he was while living in an atmosphere of such negativity?  So I asked again, hoping he might respond in words so I could understand. 

He simply said, “I found something to love in each of them.”

I was gobsmacked.
I was humbled.
And I had some serious work to do. 

Although my mother (his daughter) and I have been estranged for over 25 years, I have never wished her ill, but due to the emotional abuse I suffered at her hands I also have not given much effort to looking for something to love in her. I no longer feel any anger about the past, and I can honestly say I have forgiven her, but that’s where I had let it rest. Feeling benign neutrality was such a vast improvement over what had come before. 

Now I was ready to take the next step, to find something to love in my mother. This proved to be tricky. Everything I came up with ended up tainted by my mind recoiling and recounting the hidden narcissistic demands. It was just trying to keep me safe, but It was getting in the way. Again I sought assistance. I shared my dilemma with a good friend who has a gift for seeing the spark of light in every human. He listened and immediately responded, “I love your mother because she brought you into the world and made it possible for us to be friends.”

Thank you! That cracked the door open.

To keep the momentum rolling I talked to my sister. Siblings share a unique history together. You have the same parents, grow up in the same home, witness the same events, but also have different perspectives due to things such as where you stand in the birth order and differing personalities and sensitivities. She, too, has been estranged from our mother for more than two decades, but being the youngest she was home alone with our mother for a couple of years before leaving for college which gave her a special perspective.

My sister did not disappoint. She was able to remind me of several things we could love about our mother. I am so grateful for the fact that among her many gifts she has the ability to hold a more complete picture of the woman who gave birth to us. Our sister relationship is a most cherished blessing in my life. 

She reminded me how our mother would counsel us to befriend the new kid at school to help ease their transition. Both of us followed her suggestion and carried those lessons of compassion into adulthood. Mom also introduced us to being passionate about global issues. We walked in peace marches and wore POW/MIA bracelets during the Vietnam War and because of that I am a committed pacifist to this day. We were also taught as children the importance of being stewards of the planet by learning to recycle and conserve resources. I still employ those habits and am always working on other ways to leave a smaller footprint. Most importantly, she prized individuality. She wasn’t afraid to let us follow our desires outside the prescribed societal box. One example of this took place when I was 13, and she supported my interest in attending an alternative school that was based solely on student directed learning and had no grading system. This was considered heresy back in the early 1970’s especially when you were an honour student! I topped off my unconventional secondary education with art school. These experiences made me a voracious autodidact and taught me to trust where my curiosity leads me. When I became a parent it made it easier for me to choose homeschooling when it became clear that it was the best option for my daughter.

The truth is I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for my mother.

Now does all this mean that I’m going to show up on my mother’s doorstep and surprise her with a big bear hug? 

Probably not.

I am eternally grateful to my mother for all that she has taught me both through joy and suffering, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is in our best interest to reunite here in the physical plane. Sometimes we are not meant to share a whole lifetime together. This can be because we have learned all we can from each other in our present form or that one or both are not ready for a reunion and continued contact could be harmful. Sometimes it may only be possible to do the soulwork required when one member is in spirit and thankfully that is an option since our relationships continue beyond physical death. I have personally experienced this in my own life and have had the honour of assisting others in their process. 

Letting go of my expectations of what I think a mother daughter relationship should be, I have found some ways to explore my love for my mother:

  • I dedicate time to remembering the good times we had together to bring a more complete and truer picture of our relationship into focus.

  • When I do need to visit the painful times I allow myself to feel the emotions and then stay open to discovering the lessons and gifts they have provided me.

  • I look for the ways we are alike, both the ones I am grateful for and the ones that make me wince. All of us are more alike than unalike right down to our DNA. Finding commonality is a simple way to experience interconnectedness and grow compassion. 

  • I practice metta meditation twice a day where I offer loving kindness to those I love, myself, people I feel neutral about, people with whom I have difficulties (like Mom), and to all beings. The meditation is simple and powerful: May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease

Practicing loving kindness has helped me to open my heart more and has deepened my sense of inner peace as it brings me into further alignment with unity consciousness. It has begun to dissolve my need to experience the world from an adversarial stance based on the illusion of separateness, scarcity, and the fear of being hurt, and I have learned that I can offer love to a person without condoning their actions or being physically present.

Love with a capital “L” isn’t for sissies. It only deals with the truth. It is powerful and will transform everything it touches. It takes courage to live as our authentic selves unencumbered by the fear that we are not enough and therefore unlovable. That fear is the source of the suffering in the world causing us to behave in ways that injure ourselves and others. 

My Grandad practiced Love with a capital “L” and it affected the people around him. When someone lit an emotional fire his calming presence was capable of putting it out or would lower the heat so people could talk. My mother usually spoke harshly about people, but she spoke kindly of her Dad and looked to him for guidance. I can’t help but think it was because she felt his genuine love for her.

I am a work in progress, and thanks to the wisdom of family and friends in a number of dimensions, I am learning to love and be loved with a capital “L.”  In those moments that I do, I feel peaceful, empowered, and at one with creation. 

That is all we came here to learn:
To love and be loved.

The first Universal Law states, like energy attracts like energy.
Love begets more love.
Find as many different ways as you can to love.

From my heart to yours,

Martha

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