The Dark side of our Psyche
By the look on the airport security guard’s face, she was tired of her mundane job and without a word she waved me through.
I had enjoyed a hectic but wonderful three week visit with my close childhood friend, Mary and her granddaughter in the north of England.
Mary and I had spent our young hippie days together in a richly diverse neighborhood. In the summertime, the street vendor’s stands were filled with the pungent aroma of eastern spices and wonderful exotic dishes. People milled around the stalls looking at the bracelets and trinkets for sale and they often attended small informal workshops in rooms permeated with incense. You sat on large cushions on the floor; the guru had no need for a podium and sat with you. He spoke about the wisdom of living consciously – being your own witness.
At the airport, I sat down with my back to a family of three, enjoying my book and slowly sipping my latte. For some reason I was distracted when I heard the mother tell her husband that their son’s cough seemed worse.
I returned my concentration to my book, but I was sidetracked again when the mother announced that she would take their son and get cough drops for his sore throat. The husband hadn’t said much at all and I started thinking about how distant he seemed. Shortly after, the mother returned to drop off their son so she could walk to the other end of the waiting area. He grunted an acknowledgement.
I heard the father say “I love you,” to his son, yet despite his apparent warmth, I felt uneasy about him.
I glanced sideways at the reflection bouncing off the glass half-wall in front of the coffee shop. I saw them playing a game of teasing one another by poking their fingers in each other’s tummies. The little boy was giggling with delight. In the throes of laughter, the father decided to end the game and told him “Okay, stop now”.
Perhaps the little boy couldn’t help himself and prodded one more time, apparently too hard. His father immediately switched modes and began chastising him.
The laughter stopped cold and the little boy fell silent.
A few moments later, the father bent over and spoke in a slow, deliberate voice,
“Don’t ever speak to me again,” he said.
I saw him move upright in the chair and fold his arms over his chest.
The little boy was silent for a couple of minutes. It was clear that he had been down this road before. Finally, he said, “I’m sorry, Daddy.” There was no answer. He repeated the words again, but still no answer. I felt sure that he was filled with feelings of abandonment and fear. He needed to figure out how to solve this problem and win back his father’s love.
No longer reading my book, I was absorbed in this agonizing drama. I sat there feeling anger towards the man. He leaned back to his son and deliberately repeated himself, “Don’t ever talk to me again; you hurt me”.
I sat as a silent witness to the father’s becoming a child, and the child desperately trying to be an adult and mend his father’s anger. The father continued to reject any advance made by his son.
I wanted to plead with the father to understand what he was doing, not only to his son but to others. His son would learn to treat people in this dismissive way and possibly recycle it to his own children in the future.
I reflected on how this everyday cruelty seemed prevalent in our society. The pattern of controlling a weaker person in order to avoid feeling the pain in one’s own life.
A few moments later the mother returned and immediately asked what was wrong.
Two children responded – the large, tall one first. He complained that his son got too rough in their playing and hurt him. The son told his mother that he had apologized.
My anger began to rise again as she pampered her husband by telling the little boy he should have stopped when first warned.
Then she turned to her husband, and said,
“Why don’t you go for a walk and stop at the bar for a drink.”
As he passed by my seat, I glanced out of the corner of my eye to see a smile on his face. Like the cat that caught the mouse.
Becoming lost in my thoughts of why she put up with her husband, I almost missed hearing the mother comfort her son.
She didn’t speak again about what happened. She nurtured him by offering a cookie and a drink, taking his mind off the situation. She had pacified her husband and now she took care of her son. She knew what she wanted to accomplish.
I speculated that this was the story the parents played together. They each had a pre-written script from their childhood dramas and sought out the other actor to further the plot. The mother tried to control her environment passively, the father through anger. The little boy played along. How could he know not to?
While I was becoming lost in my opinion about how she was handling things, I began to feel a sensation of energy grow in my body. My mind fell silent and I felt the presence of love surround me. I heard the mother’s voice and had the visceral sensation of her love for her family.
At that moment it became clear what my lesson was.
Why was the father so easily hurt? Why did the mother send him away? I can’t know their intimate feelings, but I do know that there are always going to be people in the world who express themselves in a negative and selfish manner. Then there will always be people who express love and selflessness the best way they know how.
There is no magic formula to make the world live in peace and harmony, but there are choices. At the airport that day, I had the choice to focus on the lack of understanding shown by the father, or on the deep love in its various expressions, like the mother.
Nothing in this family actually changed that afternoon in the airport. They would likely continue their dance, but which music I listen to is my choice.
To be in the experience of life itself as a witness and observer meant I could see everything. I could see the good in the mothers love. It wasn’t necessary for me to judge how she loved, only to be in the experience of love itself.
My life was enhanced by her as easily as it could have been diminished by the fathers’ manipulation. I was troubled by the questions of how to respond to the exploitation I saw around me. But, my life and the lives I observed that day are complicated.
Perhaps I’m trying to find meaning in that scenario so I can avoid the pain of being a witness. Whatever the reason, that mother helped me choose to honor love more than the darker impulses of my psyche.