It has become quite commonplace for many of us to blame the past for all our problems. Perhaps we know too much now. We know that trauma, if it isn’t dealt with properly, at the time, can leave a lasting trail of damage that affects the rest of our lives. There is some proof that trauma has been passed through the DNA of Holocaust survivors.
What we rarely do is cite the positive experiences from our past, that helped shape us into the adults we have become.
My grandmother was a spiritual woman who disappeared for weekends on religious retreats and who wore an imposing wooden cross around her neck, yet I don’t remember her ever mentioning religion to me. She outlived three of her four children – something no parent should have to go through – and I’ve often wondered how she managed to balance that terrible loss with her faith.
Perhaps she chose to believe the lie that the ‘good die young’.
Religion has a lot to answer for, made more poignant today as we witness the atrocities of ISIS, the concealed child abuse by a number of Catholic priests and the general misuse of religious funds. In spite of my own religious upbringing, I veer towards atheism in adulthood, yet I still understand the important place that religion holds in the hearts of many cultures and occasionally, when I walk past our local church and hear that contemporary happy clappy music boom joyously through its walls, even I feel drawn in to be part of it.
My grandmother’s cross, the stark white walls, a few symbols of religious paraphernalia and the minimalist style of her small council flat were the only imposing things about a woman who was adored by her grandchild. Being the eldest of a single mother of three, (along with the prohibitive cost of childcare even back then), I was put on a bus every day of the school holidays to stay with Granny, a period of my life I remember with an intense warmth and fondness to this day.
Fortunately, we are shaped by the good as well as the bad.
I remember that the skin on her face was softer than a baby’s, so fine, it was almost translucent, and that the soft grey curls on her head sprang to the touch. Her dog was her companion, a grumpy old man of a canine that we walked each day I was there, come rain or shine, over fields that sat behind her block. In the summer we picked blackberries, the richness of their juice staining our fingers, and in winter we rugged up and said little as we watched our breath form smoke clouds in the fresh morning air.
Before lunch we always headed down to the local shop to pick up food supplies. I always wanted macaroni cheese and she always let me have it, in spite of the fact that she was supposed to adhere to a low dairy diet. Then we would prepare it together in her cold, sparse little kitchen and once sated, felt like queens afterwards. We whiled away the afternoons in front of the comfort of her gas fire, playing Scrabble or cards, or watching some terrible seventies game show on her little black and white tv.
I was lucky to be shaped by a good family.