How do we become the people we are? What experiences shape and mold us and create the codes of conduct by which we live our lives?
I was 15, a sophomore in high school, the year President Johnson sent the first ground troops to Vietnam. The year I graduated and went to Denver University was the year of the Tet Offensive and the polarity between the hawks and the doves was at its height. In 1970 my soon-to-be husband walked across the stage to accept his diploma wearing a black arm-band, like the majority of his fellow classmates, in protest of the war and to honor the soldiers who had given their lives.
Two years later, I spent six months in San Francisco to complete my education degree. I was on my own and my days were lost to the streets doing an “independent study” of the drug culture. The Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, and a commune in Sausalito were my classrooms. I had some hard lessons. They changed me. When I graduated in 1972 the naïve Jr. Miss from Sturgis, South Dakota was gone. In her place was a young woman in some form of shock who moved to Chicago. I drove a cab to pay my rent and didn’t hesitate to go into the ghetto neighborhoods where snipers frequented the rooftops. Fearless? No, numb.
By the mid 70’s I was a young bride living on a small farm in southern Illinois. It was a small holding of 13 acres with a pond, a big barn and a two-story farmhouse built in 1850. We borrowed $35,000, rolled up the sleeves of our blue work shirts and dug in. We were school teachers following the hippie dream espoused by Country Joe and the Fish at Woodstock. We had “gone up the county…had to get away.”
I have a painting that hangs in my bedroom. In it a young woman wearing a long skirt and a brown suede-leather jacket is standing in deep snow. She is holding a galvanized bucket and a sheep is eating from it. In the background is the side of an old barn and more sheep, a brown and white paint horse and a sheepdog. White geese and ducks are almost invisible in the snow. The sky has the white cast of early morning and snow is falling in big flakes.
When my eyes opened this morning they fell on this painting. This scene is of me and almost forty years have passed since I stood in the snow and fed my sheep from a bucket. The artist did an amazing job of capturing the isolation I felt on the farm before my children were born. When I look at it now I recall the loneliness of those years and the way I single-handedly dealt with the confusion and resignation around my situation.
How do we get from where we were to where we are? My expectations were way off the mark of my experiences and perhaps that is the reason I have learned to let them go. They are always a set-up for disappointment.
More and more I am coming to believe that all that we have seen and done…all those people we have been…are either integrated or fractured within us. I think that healing happens when we are able to integrate those fractured parts of ourselves. No expectations…no judgments. When I live with this code, life becomes an exploration and my level of peace and acceptance goes way up. Has the lonely girl I was in the snow feeding her sheep fully integrated into the woman I am today? That is a question I am seeking an answer to. The tears on my cheeks feel like wet snow…they tell me probably not.
- The Street Kids of San Francisco (priceonomics.com)