Ode to an Unknown
During my stay at Plum Village I learned about the writing of “love letters”, listing all the good things about someone that you have fallen out with or stopped communicating on bad terms. This came in connection with a talk about our parents, but can be applied to anyone. Our awareness was particularly drawn onto picturing our parents as 5 year olds, in order to maybe gain some insight into their behaviour.
Having had done some thinking in recent years about my feelings in relation to my non-existing father, I wondered what difference it would make to write to him again, since he simply ignores all my letters. But the nun at Plum Village strongly encouraged us to do this, citing numerous occasions where people had found together again by this simple act of kindness.
At first I didn’t know where to start, I didn’t even know my father properly, how could I possibly know anything good about him? For a brief moment the feelings of resentment came up again, the anger at him for not seeing me and how he simply sticks to his decision to not wanting to be involved in my life.
Then suddenly I realised that this was indeed a sign of extraordinary willpower and strength, which in fact I found quite admirable and which I can see in myself. I wondered how much more I could find out about him by considering my own character traits.
A monk at Plum Village suggested that if we can’t understand our parents, we might be able to find out what is going on inside of them by watching our own thoughts and habits, because it is the same genes at work. So I began to write yet another letter to my father. This time a different one.
I admire your willpower, that you make a decision and stick with it. It shows strength and endurance, what evidently helps us to get along in life.
I see this this willpower in myself. It is very helpful when I try to get somewhere, but it can also lead to stubbornness. There are many things I didn’t get or experience because I was too stubborn to see that my thoughts or decisions weren’t right. I am often too proud to admit that I have made a mistake. But at the same time I am also very courageous and often embark on new adventures.
For a long time did I have a certain sense of sadness within me, a feeling of abandonment, which made it impossible for me to fully acknowledge myself. Then I realised that my thoughts and feelings are way too dependent on other people, instead of simply being happy with myself just the way I am.
If someone smiles at us we take it as a sign that we are being acknowledged and liked. If someone shouts at us, we think we did something wrong. If someone is being totally ignored, does that mean that one is invisible? How does one feel when one is invisible?
With this also came the realisation that my urge to run away, hide, to not commit to long-term commitments, must have been the same that you felt when you ran away from me. You still hide, just like me. I even moved to another country.
When I was in first grade, every Monday morning, we were allowed to talk a little about our weekend at the beginning of class. On just such a Monday morning I had seen some bunnies crossing my path to school, which excited me as a six year old very much. This excitement I was eager to share with my fellow class mates and particularly with my teacher.
But regardless of how often I raised my small arm, she didn’t seem to notice me and didn’t give me the chance to communicate. Out of this deep disappointment did I make the decision, that if I raise my hand and am not picked, then I simply won’t raise my hand again ever.
And over the following weeks I used my strong willpower and consequently suppressed the need to raise my hand in class, even if I actually would have wanted to. I conditioned myself to a behavioural pattern, which affected the rest of my future education and social group activities and negatively influenced my oral participation in class as well as my abilities to communicate in larger groups.
All I wanted was to be seen. I am working on correcting this decision of mine, which isn’t at all easy, just as it probably isn’t easy for you to see and acknowledge me.
Life consists of an array of decisions which ultimately form the cobbles on our path. Our decisions shouldn’t create problems, just like our path shouldn’t have any tripping hazards. Trip, however, we can anytime, even over our own two feet. Sometimes there is someone to help us up, other times we are left to our own devices.
Sometimes, our path leads us in circles, sometimes it takes a sharp turn. Sometimes it goes arduously uphill, sometimes way too quickly downhill. With every step, with every decision, we are changing, learning more about ourselves and those around us. Sometimes we share our path with others.
One day we will wake up and realise that our whole life hasn’t been lived to the full, for we were by far too much concerned with not stumbling along our path, instead of simply taking it just the way it is.
Despite the negative effects, I am grateful that I carry your willpower in me, for it gives me the drive to create a better world.
But above all am I grateful that I have the possibility to make all these fantastic experiences and live an interesting and complex life, which wouldn’t be possible without you.
To this day I have not had a reply, but I am not expecting one. I have learned that the mere act of writing, of focusing one’s thoughts, can act as a way of coming to terms with issues and make peace with it.
Just like I was strongly encouraged to write a “love letter”, so I would like to encourage you to do the same. If you don’t feel like sending it off, then don’t do it. But I dare you, that the question whether it could possibly change anything will not let you rest until you send it off 🙂
And the person you are writing to doesn’t even have to be among the living anymore. And you might as well write a love letter to yourself as well. We all deserve to be loved!