This week, I had the opportunity to pick up two of my grandchildren from school. Isaac, who is starting third grade, and Maia, who is starting ninth grade. Fortunately, both Isaac and Maia have the opportunity to attend great schools. Isaac lives within walking distance of his neighborhood school, and Maia loves learning so much that during last year’s academic calendar, she wrote a book on the origins of the English language for a school project. When Charlotte and I attended her delightful, engaging and scholarly presentation for her school project, we felt like such proud grandparents.
I could share with you many special moments that we have experienced with each of our 12 grandchildren — but this week, both Isaac and Maia stand in sharp contrast to my elementary and middle school experience.
While Isaac has the opportunity to walk safely to his neighborhood school, I can remember getting off the school bus in Bartlett, Tennessee and walking through the front door of my home to find my mother sitting on a couch with a man who was not my father, drinking wine. In that moment, I remember feeling sick and running outside to climb a tree to escape the nauseous feeling I had within.
When I was fourteen, I remember coming home from school to a young and insecure stepmother, who was jealous of her stepchildren and handled her insecurity with hostility and rage. Needless to say, home was not a safe place as both alcohol and anger permeated the atmosphere of my childhood. Alcohol and anger were what both my mother and stepmother used to medicate their pain and suffering. However, amidst this toxic atmosphere, I was able to find great hope in response to the traumas and heartbreak I felt.
As a second grader, I experienced great hope one day at school when I was able to watch Dumbo the Flying Elephant in a large auditorium with the first and third graders. I remember the lights dimming in the auditorium and feeling immediately connected to the character of Dumbo. The loneliness and rejection Dumbo experienced gave language to what was happening in my fragile soul. I also identified with Dumbo on another level as I felt dumb in school. Dumbo was like a bright, shining light to me, an image I could cling to that lifted me out of the trauma I experienced at home, the trauma that caused me to dissociate from the abandonment and shock I felt.
Simply, Dad was always at work and Mom was not present, which left my brothers and sisters and myself drowning in chaos and relational darkness. Dumbo was the only light I could remember.
As I grew up and became a teenager, I came to experience hope through my friends at school, friends who were always glad to see me (as opposed to the hostility and rejection I was met with at home).
I also experienced hope through sports and learning good eye-hand coordination on the playground with the neighbors who helped raise me. And movies! The movies of the fifties really inspired me. Every Saturday, I can remember watching a double feature movie with a cartoon at intermission.
And music too! Songs like, “I Believe,” by Frankie Lane inspired me. I was always singing and identifying with the heroes who were portrayed on the screen and in the songs. One particular hero I identified with was Audie Murphy. He played himself as a Medal of Honor Soldier, who fought and lived through World War II in the movie, To Hell and Back. I always identified with the hero the one who got the girl and rode away in the end with everyone saying what a great person he was.
It was vicarious heroes like these that gave me great hope that I would someday escape from the relational hell I was experiencing. It was also during these moments of hope when I determined that I would never do to my children what was being done to me.
Hope was born in a child. And, when I see my four daughters and twelve grandchildren today, I see that hope becoming a reality. I see how love found me in spite of my parents who were unable to give what they did not have. Love pursued me and Love is pursuing you. Look around and see what is here now. Set your heart, mind and soul on the great hope that is born in the darkness.
As I’ve journeyed my way out of the darkness, I have been able to find language for the pain I experienced. I found this language in a book called Psalms, and in a thought that says, “I will place the lonely in families.” This language and supernatural promise is what gave me vision and hope for my future.
Hope for the future, friends. Seek what is true and real. You will find that you are loved.
All the best,
Terry S. Smith
Coaching because Your Life Matters
Founder & President Coaching: Life Matters