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 Category:  Biographical Non-Fiction
  Posted: June 17, 2020      Views: 149
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For more than 50 years I wrote and set aside my writing hoping someday, as I came into a life of repose, I would be able to review, organize and find my inner voice through my writing. This wonderful site provides such a safe haven, instruction, crit - more...

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Chapter 5 of the book Celtic Roots
Mentors come from the most unexpected sources
"Conversations" by JLR

An autobiography of an oldest son from an Irish immigrant family in the 1950's. Coming to America as a broken family, no father, and thrown into the welfare system.

It was April 1966, and I sat attentively in my social studies class. Mrs. Judd was lecturing on government agencies and social welfare programs. Muscles tighten as I slumped down further in my seat when the discussion starts swinging toward types of welfare programs available. Unexpectedly, Mrs. Judd says, "Three out of every four children who grow-up in the welfare system, stay in the system. Families like yours, Jimmie, become a financial burden to the working-class society."

Immediately, the room was awash with snickers and jeers until Mrs. Judd calls the children back to order. I had no recall what the rest of the lecture was even about. My mind was firing in every direction ~ anger, fear, sadness, and full-blown embarrassment.

The damage was done!

For ten grinding years, I had managed to navigate in the system achieving excellent grades always swimming against the current, two years younger than everyone else in my classes. In a matter of three minutes, this statement rocks my world as nothing had ever done up to this point. I remember feeling so ashamed, already burdened about the clothes I could afford to buy, the caution I needed to employ in trying to be social with the "in" kids, constantly hunker-down and staying in my lane, and now this out of the blue calling out, and by a teacher no less.

Mrs. Judd says, "Jimmie, stay with me after class." As the last student leaves the room, she walks up to my desk, peers down at me, and asks, "Did what I said embarrass you?" I wanted to say, "Hell, Yes! What do you think I would feel? Why? Why did you point me out to the whole class?" I instead sat there, then folded my arms, and remained silent. She then said, "I wanted you to feel embarrassed, hoping that you will stay embarrassed and do better than the statistics. It is up to you and you alone to break the cycle of poverty. You are very smart with above-average grades, Jimmie. Figure it out and stay out of the system. Now, go on to your next class."

Nothing I had ever heard before or after this comes close to be being such a personally motivating experience. This was so pivotal it became a personal challenge to "SHOW HER," as I moved on.

Unfortunately, years-long battles ensue. I was afraid that my self-crafted Shangri La would somehow implode and that I would be thrown head over heels into poverty. For years, this experience propelled me to put my childhood and teenage years into a sealed container. 
Whenever any conversations would start about my childhood, where I grew up, went to school, anything about my parents, I remained silent and did not engage in the conversation.

If I did participate in a discussion, I developed a terrible habit of manifesting a blended tale of what a perfect union would have been like as a kid. A life with loving parents complete with Thanksgiving dinners ~ all the trimmings and Christmas trees and mistletoe all a fiction story being told.

Over the years and with lots of therapy, painful conversations have been shared between my inner wounded child and me.

Words like "Jimmie, I love you! I see your silky reddish hair and freckly ruddy complexion, that broad smile that was like a personal invitation just to say hi. I love how you approached life as a little guy. Running, finding ways to be outside with nature, like when you would walk in the new growth of alfalfa and pick some leaves, strip the blade down to the stem, then chew on it - like you saw your grandpa do so many times.

I love the awe that built up more and more excitement within as you heard a choir sing in harmony. How alive you felt, how "at one" with all that surrounded you. Everyone in your world expected so much from you. Instinctively or simply because you thought there were no options, you set ambitious goals. You were determined; not just to get good grades but to ace, everything, make the team. It did not help that you started school early and were two
years younger than most. You deserved, but seldom, if ever, had Mum or Da tell you that they loved you.

Jimmie, I wince when I reflect on the many times you heard, "Quit your crying, or I'll give you something to cry about." I see in your face, the void that these insensitive tirades caused, the confusion, the lingering hurt. I hear your soft whimpers at night when you had a stomach-ache but didn't dare to say anything for fear of being ridiculed. I listened to you in the brace of frustration, voiceless, with so little care or recourse. Feelings got stuck, festering inside, affecting so much.

Jimmie, you never acknowledged that you felt abandoned when mum left dad. I know you did. You carried that into your adult relationships. You had to experience anew how her leaving affected you. You had to give a voice to all the pain you stuffed down.

Jimmie, you didn't deserve to be pushed so hard, not then and not now as an adult either. Allow yourself downtime. For too long, you were stressed about not doing enough. You couldn't enjoy time with your kids. You were preoccupied with work."

Life goes on, relationships with my loved ones improved. Having weaned myself from being an overachiever, I no longer consider slowing down a weakness.

In retrospect, the most profound conversations I have had with myself, and where possible with others, were those where I would say, "I forgive you." Far too many years came and went where I could not offer forgiveness. Holding onto shame and regret was so destructive.

The frank conversation that I experienced beside the gravesite of my mother, whose funeral I avoided, about the pitfalls and damage, the hurt, ending with "I forgive you," was healing.

Years later, reflecting on Mrs. Judd singling me out in front of my classmates to motivate me to be one of those that made it off the welfare rolls, I said, "I forgive you. Thank you for taking that risk with me, Mrs. Judd."

I am so grateful today that my inner child never gave up. We got through tough moments with strength and perseverance. I have said to my inner child, "thank you for your efforts to protect me." It was work to juggle so many painful memories. "I respect you, my inner child. You don't get any judgment from me."

As a young person, I was simply wired to outperform, to overachieve, to meet someone else's standard, to be "perfect." I was demanding and cruel to myself. No matter how well I did, it wasn't quite good enough. But I did the best I could at the time, and my inner child did, too.

We are still doing the best we can. I give us credit for this. When I let go of perfection, the fear of failure recedes. Today, I allow myself to play. I appreciate the beauty of fully experiencing how things unfold.

Today, I invite myself to just be good enough, and that is awesome!


Author Notes
Getting to high school was tough, being in high school was often more so.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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