More than a hundred years ago my grandmother found the gleaming cherry bureau that now stands in my dining room. It was covered in a thick layer of red paint but she recognized the treasure that lay beneath.
My grandmother was a woman with a gift for seeing the possible. She was also a woman who raged at those around her. She died long before I was born but my mother told stories of her creativity and strength and wrath. It seems to me her fury was fueled by intellectual abilities that far exceeded her life’s limits.
The legacy of her anger is visible in my thin skin, easy sarcasm, and quickness to blame others for my pain. I saw it in my mother; I see it in my siblings. The anger inhabiting our homes is nearly as tangible as the corner cupboard, the camelback sofa, or the dining room table passed down to us over the years. But like these pieces of furniture we’ve lived with our entire lives, our anger is so deeply familiar to us that we cannot imagine our lives without it. I don’t know how to fill that corner of the dining room without the cherry bureau. I don’t know how to be in the world without my anger.
Tara Brach describes anger as an intelligent emotion. She doesn’t try to talk us out of it but instead urges us to acknowledge its presence with non-judging awareness. And then—take a pause and focus on the inner self, find the unmet need that evokes the anger. Even if the other person is as wrong as can be the anger is mine and paying attention to what’s going on inside, Brach argues, is the beginning of being able to respond with intelligence, empathy, and understanding. While Brach accepts that sometimes relationships have to end, her call to us holds real promise for deepening rather than dissolving them.
My grandmother owned a mahogany teacart and when it went out of fashion she had the wheels removed and a clean-lined table emerged. It’s in my kitchen and I sit at it to eat breakfast or read the mail. I did not know my grandmother but I am of her and I cherish the traces of her I find in the objects she transformed. I’m a catalyst for a different kind of change when I transform the inevitable experience of anger into a deeper understanding of myself and those around me.
2 thoughts on “Family treasures”
The idea of inheriting not just the family “stuff,” but also the non-physical family “stuff” — I totally get that!
This is a helpful piece for me to read. I myself have longstanding grievances that I would be wise to release. In fact, I have a similar story. Early in my career, a woman in a position of power over me had the opportunity to be a mentor to me, and to show me kindness. Instead, she was somewhat of a bully to me who showed me contempt. I too have told her tale, usually in the Boss from Hell context, or in the context of discussing people who are hypocritical when it comes to the values they espouse (in this case, feminism). But maybe there is more to the story. Or who knows? Maybe there isn’t.