The Value of Sharing a Difficult Story—in Private
A friend who was just coming back into my life wanted to know if I would mind her asking how my estrangement from my daughter came about. No, I did not mind. Indeed, as I weighed the clarity and warm-heartedness that I sensed in this friend, I welcomed the opportunity.
When we connected by phone, I told her I was reluctant to tell her the whole story. I would not attempt to recount every step of the alienation, partly because it was so painful and tedious and partly because I could not remember it all.
Much of our conversation centered on a particular incident, of which I gave a detailed account. I was surprised to find myself feeling unburdened and free, even though my listener had not been around to watch as these events unfolded. The first draft of this epistle described the incident in all its exacerbating detail. I took weeks to write to write that post, and when done I felt satisfied.
In the days after I had shared the story with my friend, I began to observe a change in my pattern of thinking about my daughter. It took a while to notice because it crept in so subtly. But yes, it had taken up residence. The quality of obsession had softened, even disappeared
But. Isn’t it easy to stumble over a but when you are trying to tell an important personal story? Yet this but arrived only after I shipped the draft off to my friend Adrienne. She did not say she didn’t like it. She hardly ever says that. She homed in on a nuance, reminding me of how wounded I felt when my daughter emailed me a pronouncement that I had no boundaries. Adrienne invited me to think about how telling this story in my blog might have the effect of aggravating that feeling—especially for my daughter, should it ever come to her attention. Adrienne offered to talk further, but I saw immediately how this piece might be revised. In the moment I imagined I would consolidate my estrangement protocols in a giant epistle with a handful of chapters, instead of allowing them to dribble out over the months. But eventually I decided that they could continue to dribble, informed by the concerns raised by Adrienne.
I immediately saw what I could do, but it has taken much longer to sort out than I expected. This epistle is the revised draft.
In the days after I had shared the story with my friend, I began to observe a change in my pattern of thinking about my daughter. It took a while to notice because it crept in so subtly. But yes, it had taken up residence. The quality of obsession had softened, even disappeared. Perhaps this was a sign that I could attain the goal I had set for myself quite some ago. A goal of reconciliation—not with my daughter herself—but reconciliation to the idea that I might never see her again. Not that I have completely reached that goal, but the obsession has eased, taking with it the compulsive habit of framing letters to her in my mind. This goal may lie within reach.
But shadows of estrangement do linger. Sometimes while reading the obituary page—is it just me or does everyone in my age group read about departed contemporaries and think, This could be me?), I double-clutch at the declaration that the deceased “was a loving father of …” Will the writers of my obituary feel compelled to delineate my exact qualities? I was a loving father. And perhaps, in relinquishing all hopes of reunion, some will conclude that I am once again.
I reported these changes to my friend—I guess she qualifies as a new confidante—and she was pleased. Exactly how would I characterize my third protocol on estrangement? May I continue living in the present, sharing my experience with people whom I deem trustworthy.
Still, I would be ill-advised to imagine I am finished with my written inquiry into estrangement. I have at least two more epistles on the way. I have alluded to one, on estrangement and the practice of bodhisattvas. It is still out there and promises to be daunting. And another has come to mind as I write this epistle. I have a personal trait, left unnamed here, that seems to have made me particularly vulnerable. It is on the verge of shouting out its name. Listeners to that story could probably name it, if asked. But since I am not going to tell the story here, I will have to tell a story about this little trait—or call it a quirk, choose your faintly derisive noun carefully—at a later date.
And still two more subjects lie just over the horizon. While they are not impersonal, they are grandly philosophical. If, indeed, anything I undertake can be called grand. One has to do with karma; the other will address the effect of estrangement on the soul. I am not exactly sure what they will say, but I am eager to find out.