Looking at life's disappointment leads to new personal insights

Apr 6 2012 - 4:42pm

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There is an idea in many religious teachings and spiritual beliefs that all things in life are for our growth and learning.

That's an overwhelming thought for me, because there are a lot of circumstances from which it is hard for my mind to derive any good. After all, death and sin are a constant dilemma in our society.

And yet, so the teaching goes.

I decided to test this theory by exploring the possibility that one of my life's greatest disappointments might actually be a source of strength to me.

I was born to a father with schizophrenia, a mental condition marked by delusions and an inability to connect fully with reality.

According to "Coping with Schizophrenia: A Guide for Families" (New Harbinger Publications, Inc., $13.95), it is unusual for people with schizophrenia to become violent, but it does sometimes happen.

The severity of symptoms, the book states, may be minimized through medication and efforts to keep the person with the disorder in an environment with minimal stress.

My father's condition took him away mentally. He was never there for those long talks and sometimes unappreciated advice I've seen my husband offer our own daughters and sons.

My feelings about my father's psychological absence have been a source of sadness, especially when I've watched others receive what I missed.

When people who know him now that he has dementia tell me how sweet he must have been in my youth, I feel angry, and I have to talk myself out of those thoughts. I work to let go of my wounds to quit being mad.

Looking back, I don't recall him ever really parenting or disciplining me. Besides one recent compliment, I don't remember him ever finding a way to draw close to me with flattering or pleasing words.

I had to rely on my subconscious mind to tell me that he cared. I had to know it intrinsically. I must confess that I never appreciated the power of that lesson until I put myself through this exercise.

Lately, I've come to appreciate the skill that keeps me employed - writing.

While people often tell me how afraid they would be to stare each day at a blank screen, I seldom face that concern.

In fact, my only real problem seems to be deciding what to leave out of a newspaper article, because there is always so much to say when I go to write things down.

And my best writing always seems to come after I have slept at least one night while concentrating on my project.

Sometimes I don't even know that I'm writing, and I wake up with the outline of what I need to say already in my mind. It's a race to get to a pen and paper or to a computer keyboard before all is lost.

Then there are other times when I do my writing while carrying on a conversation. I've even written articles while lecturing my children on one subject or another, such as telling them how rude I think they are when they interrupt my writing.

There are other peculiarities about my personality, too. Sometimes people tell me things that I already seem to just know. I frequently finish sentences for strangers I am interviewing for a story. And I seem to be able to predict what someone is really like before I meet them.

Someone once described all of this behavior to me as "intrinsic thinking."

It was in pondering this statement that I learned to be grateful for what I had seen as a flaw in my dad.

It was through his weakness, after all, that I had learned my greatest strength.

It was through the challenge he had created that I had gained my greatest reward.

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