When My Dad died in July of 2001, I was manically compelled to start writing down all my memories of him from when we were kids….my way of grieving, I suppose.
As I was writing it all down, I couldn’t believe how I was seeing my dad now….through such different eyes than I had when I was a kid. I always thought of him as warmhearted enough but frustratingly silent and pretty absent from our family, always at work. In the grief of losing him, the memories that swamped me completely overshadowed my earlier perception.
Each story I wrote gave me an entirely new perspective. I saw my childhood events and more importantly, my father from a whole new vantage point.
Then September 11th happened. I was so relieved that my Dad had passed before seeing that tragedy. He would have instantly wondered if he had built any of those planes. I also longed for his particular kind of council, something I’d never realized I had been receiving throughout my life. He had such a quiet, almost covert method of getting me to look at things in ways I would not have thought of on my own.
For Christmas the year he died, I gave hand made books to my sisters, niece, nephew and cousins. I covered each of the book boards with various pieces of old material that I found in my Dad’s attic. Being the oldest, I remembered all of this cloth discovered in Dad’s attic, so I picked the fabric based on the significance to that person (my baby sister’s muumuu, my cousin’s flannel shirt from when he was five years old, some pedal pushers for my middle sister, etc.) Then, I filled these homemade books with all the Daddy Stories I had recorded.
But I couldn’t stop there. Before I knew it was happening, I was writing not only childhood memories but the stories from the rest of my life too, and a theme started to surface.
Absolutely nothing is absolute.
Apparently, one of the most powerful things I learned from my Dad was that each person and each event in life can be viewed from as many angles as there are people looking. And that the passage of time that provides retrospect is not necessary for us to change our point of view. We can learn to do this in the moment….like, exactly right now.
Of course, the very first real test of this emerging theory was how do I look at 9/11? It was like jumping straight from kindergarten to a Master’s Degree. How could anyone possibly see things from the perspective of those terrorists? This began a line of thinking that has now become my ongoing mission in life; to study and somehow master the difference between absolutism and pluralism.
I never realized that this cleverly disguised lesson from Dad was exactly what I had based my Psychotherapy practice on for 30 years. I teach about Dual Realities, that more than one thing can be true at the same time. I attempt to model for and teach my clients that if we don’t understand someone, we need only to choose different perspectives from which to observe or contemplate. If we cannot tolerate another person’s actions, we can protect ourselves but maybe, just maybe, still understand their behavior. By putting ourselves in as many other shoes as we can, we might be able to see, to comprehend, to learn, to love, and eventually even forgive.
It’s an amazing way to let nasty behavior or thoughtless comments slide right off you, like water off Fluffy, the Duck’s* back, instead of taking it all so personally.
It’s really the only way to give back to its source any abuse you may have experienced and then internalized.
What also became apparent, as I was feverishly writing down every example of this I could remember, is that my life (and I’m pretty sure everyone else’s too) is simply a big old thick manuscript of stories demonstrating this exact profound phenomenon. For every sad, traumatic tale, depending on how we look at things, there is a wonderful story that could easily balance it all out….if we simply allow it to.
Turns out life is fair after all. We just have to “choose our perspective”.
*Fluffy, the Duck was the first story I ever wrote.