Thursday, January 13, 2011

When i was a boy i decided to read the bible.

I don't remember why, especially, though it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

My plan was to read a chapter every night until I got to the end.

Which I never did, of course.

Apart from all the sections that were stupefyingly dull, one memory which keeps returning is of a verse that said:

"for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" (Exodus 20:5)

Which even at the time, boy that i was, struck me as a very unfair thing for the Lord to do.

To make the innocent children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, suffer for the sins of their parents.

Especially here, at the beginning of the 10 Commandments, when God is telling us to be good. But apparently reserving for himself the right to be arbitrary and unjust.

But then we always assume we know who God is. Maybe his name is just another one for the mysterious workings of life. And then it's clear that the verse reflects a profound truth.

For the distress of the parents is visited on the children; and one of the hugest efforts involved in being a parent is to try not to repeat the mistakes our parents made when they brought us up. To attempt not to inflict their hang-ups on our children.

We fail. Of course we fail. But it's always worth trying.

Sometimes this distress manifests or expresses itself as abuse. It is so difficult to escape its effects: we may turn from being victims into perpetrators.

Or we may internalise our treatment, and imagine ourselves at heart worthless and not deserving of happiness.

Sometimes the abuse comes from the individual parent, or parents: who can inflict the most terrible suffering.

Sometimes it is abuse of a more generalised or collective kind: the absolute taboo against my expressing my sense of gender.

For instance. And although my parents sincerely loved me, they, too, were children of their time and collaborated in my oppression.

I collaborated with it too: for years I imagined that if I was unhappy and apparently having such difficulty with relationships it was because there was something wrong with me. It was my fault, I thought. Being damaged, I imagined, I could not stop myself from damaging others.

It took me so many years to understand that it wasn't my fault. It wasn't something uniquely wrong with me. That i was not to blame.

"We hug our chains" says Baudelaire. We hang onto the suffering we know about because it fels familiar, and so we imagine we can handle it.

Dropping our chains and launching ourselves towards the light opens us up to previously unknown suffering that feels a hundred times more frightening.

And it is not so much that we need to learn to forgive others for what they have done to us: we need at first perhaps to learn to forgive ourselves.

Even if it is for crimes that stretch back for generations: and that have nothing to do with us at all.


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