Family Reunification Vigilance

The VigilanceVoice

Sunday-- May 19, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 250

"I Love You, Unk!"
Being Appointed an Uncle Of Vigilance
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, May 19--In Eastern Philosophy there is a belief that if the body is dismembered and its parts thrown to the four points of the compass, it cannot be united and therefore, cannot go to Heaven.
         Family Terrorism hacks away at the "family body," and if resentments between its members are not resolved, parts of the family body can be scattered to the far corners of the earth, never to be reunited unless one is Vigilant and has the Courage, Conviction and takes the Right Action to seek out those cleaved parts and reconstruct the elements so unification can replace fragmentation.
        I got a phone call last night from an estranged family member who thanked me for the reunification of his family.    I had never had such a call before and sat after it in a moment of reflection, wondering how many such calls should and could be made if one becomes a Brother or Sister, Uncle or Aunt, Cousin, Mother or Father, or Grandparent of Vigilance.
       I assumed I wasn't alone in my need for reunification of family.   I suspect thousands, perhaps millions, might need the same healing process I experienced last night to bring wholeness to them.
       My sister and I were separated by the Terrorism of our family situation over 40 years ago.   She and I went to live with our grandmother to relieve the strain on my mother who had remarried a man after divorcing our father who Terrorized my sister.  At the time, I opted to go live with my grandmother to be with my sister, but soon found the conditions with my grandmother unbearable for me.  I returned to live with my mother and step-father, and my two half-brothers and half-sister.   It was a difficult choice for me, one that caused my sister and I to become estranged for the next four decades.

        During this time I built a wall of denial between myself and my sister.   I charged her bitterness toward my mother and family to an infection created by my grandmother's dislike for both my mother and step-father.   I found myself looking at my sister as the Prodigal Sister and had terse, tense conversations whenever we spoke on the phone--which was rare--or when we had short visits when I passed through Las Vegas where she lived with her husband and two sons.
       I always took a deep breath before I would stop by, and made my visits out of duty rather than friendship or brotherly love, and only exhaled when I left, glad to be away from the tension that hung thickly between us like an invisible shield of shame and guilt and blame that neither of us addressed, but only danced around.
        A few years ago her husband contracted cancer and suffered great pain to stay alive.  My sister called numerous times seeking solace and support.   I offered little or none, for I had "buried" my sister in a grave of "sibling rivalry" fostered and perpetuated by mother, and my step-brothers and sisters who viewed my sister as a bitter, resentful woman who only brought dark clouds and sad memories of a family in denial.
        Upon her husband's death, I began to crack the thick ice that had grown around us as brother and sister.  At the forceful urging of my wife, not because of any personal motivation, I went to her husband's funeral to show my support.  I was in law school at the time, and the funeral was in the midst of my finals.  I took a plane over and a few hours later hopped on a return flight so I could get back home.   
       When I walked into the funeral home it was late.  The services had already begun.  I sat in the back and studied my sister's head.   I saw her body shaking with tears, and her two son's comforting her.    I was overcome with a sense of grief that only a brother can feel for his sister when he knows he has abandoned her to the wolves of life, when he realizes how cruel it must be to live a life without a mother or father or brother or sister or uncles and aunts or cousins to offer support and love and caring during the difficulties we all face as the routines of living.
       I had the limo waiting for me outside while I attended the service, to insure I could get back to the airport to catch my return flight.   After the service I went to my sister and saw the surprise in her eyes, and the joy of having her brother at a moment of critical need.  We embraced.   I felt her tears baptize my shoulder with a sense of love that had been lost over time.  
      Her sons glared at me.   They were grown men now, but their eyes were filled with animosity.  They knew the story of their mother's disenfranchisement and exile, and of all the people who had turned his back on her, I was the most worthy of their resentment.  I took their anger into my heart.  It was justified.   I felt quite small at that moment, shaking their hands as they coughed out their thanks that I had attended, and yet reserved themselves from any gush of appreciation.   There was no healing by my presence.   They saw me as a spear in their mother's heart, the one person above all who should have and could have shown her love when the chips were down and didn't.  I understood their anger, their rage toward me.   They were their mother's Sentinels of Vigilance, wary of me for hurting their mother over years of neglect and division and derision.   If I were they, I might not even have shaken my hand.
        That was nearly ten years ago.   Over the ensuing years, inch by inch, I began to review my own life and my own unhappiness.   I had deep holes in my soul from pains I had never faced, from angers and resentments against my family I had buried deep and refused to exhume.   Pride and ego made it hard for me to shovel through the deep crust of the soul's graveyard.    But for my own troubled sake, I began to dig, unveiling many bones of anger, resentment, hate, disappointment, abandonment and disenchantment with belief systems I had formed over the years regarding my own family--my half brothers and sisters, my full sister, my mother, my father, my step-father, my grandmother, grandfather--even my great great grandfathers and mothers appeared on my fractured soul radar screen.
       Most prominent in my hunt for the Terrorism hidden in my soul, was the Terror of not having a sister.  I had excommunicated her from my mind, or made a vain attempt to do so.   I didn't want the responsibility of sharing her pain, or to be burden by the yoke of her problems when I had so many of my own.   I forgot, as relatives do, to see the greatness in her, or to give her credit as a human being for carrying out her life without any family support, any emotional reliance on her mother, brother, or her half-sisters and brothers, or uncles and aunts or cousins, nephews and nieces, who, in an ordinary situation would create a family lifeline one could cling to during the storms of life such as the painful death of a spouse, and the loneliness of becoming a widow.

         I thought a lot about my sister's exile from her family over the months and years following the funeral.  I thought about my own self-imposed exile from all my family members.   I wanted nothing to do with any of my family.  Whatever I did was out of "duty" not brotherly love or motherly love.  I had none of that in me.  
       I was dedicated solely to only my children.  I had vowed to give them what I had not received--total commitment by a parent for his or her child.   I found all my energies devoted to them, to assuring I was their friend, caring for them, fighting for them, teaching them all I possibly could about life as I saw it, about the struggles of the soul, and about how to be their own person, and to take the best of the best and to discard the worst of the worst from others.
      My wife joined me in this great pursuit.  She had grown up disenfranchised emotionally from her family.  While not separated by physical location, she lived in an emotional vacuum, unable to share with her mother or father or brothers or any single living person he deepest thoughts, fears and emotional and physical abuses.    She shared them with me, and I shared mine with her, and we became soul-mates of our secrets, swapping our hidden selves to one another as best we could, but always combining our efforts to assure our children the best of our teachings, our management, our guidance.  We wanted our children to have what we lacked--internal happiness, which only comes from the parental pool, formed when one's child is in the womb and continuing throughout its lifetime.
        Unbeknown to us at the time, we were practicing to become Parents of Vigilance.  All we knew was we both wanted our children to be protected from the lack of love, the lack of openness, the lack of honesty which we had both suffered in our childhoods between ourselves and our parents.  And, we wanted desperately to have our children as our best friends since neither of us sought friendship from others. 
       We weren't the perfect family by any means, but we strove for that goal.  Perfection was, we believed, unconditional love in the face of the most severe and devastating problems or challenges.  It meant "being there" when the chips were up or down, and being willing to give everything you had in you for the other.   Time after time that part of our family core was tested, and teach time, as I struggled through my battles of daily life, including facing alcoholism, cancer, bankruptcy, foreclosure, infidelity, depression, spiritual crisis, we came out the other side of life's dark side stronger, richer, wiser as a family.    All the work we had done to build our family unity from womb to tomb paid off during each of the countless hurricanes that swept over us as a family.  Instead of rushing away from the volcanic eruptions threatening to blow us apart, we huddled as a team, fearlessly facing each dilemma as one, not many parts of the whole.   We became synergistic, where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.
       Terrorism ultimately didn't have a chance.   Vigilance won out on every battleground.   The battles were not without pain and suffering.  There was much of that, but the pain and suffering never overpowered the belief in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.   The gloomiest day was brightened by one family member or another reminding us all of Rule 62--"Don't take yourself or anyone else too damn seriously."    Or, someone would recall our family's favorite line from the movie "Meatballs,"--"It just doesn't matter!"
      Instead of becoming defensive and fighting within our ranks to see "who was right and who was wrong," to assess blame on one party as the Terrorist and another as the "victim," we sought to embrace the Big Picture of Unity, to rise above ourselves and seek the Bond Of Family rather than the derision and division of "self righteousness."   We were able to humble ourselves and give our Love more power than our Hate or Anger, or Pride, or Jealousy, or Rage, or Envy, or Gluttony, or Sloth.
      Yet there was something missing in our family.   It was the lack of other family members--brothers, sisters, cousins.
      My wife and I noted that two years ago when we elected to move from Southern California near the ocean to New York City.    We decided to be close to our grandchildren, and to carry on the role of Parents of Vigilance with a new layer, Grandparents of Vigilance, added.

Union Theological Seminary

         Our older daughter had two children and was attending Union Theological Seminary.  We offered our support to help her care for the children while she attended school and her husband worked.   Additionally, our other daughter was here in the city, providing us with the joy of being with our children as young adults, able to share with them any and all wisdoms we had to offer, and, as we had found from raising them in an open emotional manner, to learn from them how to balance our own troubled lives.   Our children had, in many ways, become our teachers.   They were practicing the balance of life we sought but never knew quite how to do, for balance comes only from openness and honesty from womb to tomb, and we were just learning it on the tomb side as our ages rapidly soared toward the "old, older, oldest" side of the coin.  
      In New York City we saw the family in action.  Our daughter and her husband enjoyed the richness of an extended family here.   Joe, our son-in-law, is from a New York Irish family that is a solid mass of loving consideration for one another.  Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins abound by the plenty.  Our grandchildren enjoy the power of Joe's family circle.   They have the joy of being part of a "family unit" that comes together to serve each other's needs in times of joy and crisis.
      It was difficult at first to enjoy the "family outings" during holidays and birthdays when everyone gathered as one body to celebrate an occasion.  Neither I nor my wife was used to such events, and at first found them uncomfortable.   But as one event led to another, we began to assimilate into the power of the family, to allow ourselves to be "part of" rather than "apart from."    It felt good.  It was good for our children to know what a "family" was outside their own inner circle, and for the grandchildren to be part of a greater whole.
      I began to see the missing link in my own life as a result.  I began to see the distance between my sister and I as being something bridgeable rather than impassable chasm that couldn't be crossed.
     We began to communicate.   Slowly at first, our brother-sister bond of years ago in another time and another world, began to evolve.   A healing occurred.  The scar tissue of the past seemed to melt away.   We began to accept each other for who we were, not what we weren't.  Rainbows began to appear out of the storms of four decades of darkness.
      I invited my sister to come visit us and to share in our older daughter's graduation form Union Theological Seminary.   It was the first true visit of brother and sister in over forty years of separation.
      We shared our lives as they were today, reflecting little on the pains of the past or stirring the kettle to see what waste might flow to the top.   We had both learned how to communicate from the soul and heart.
      Last night, my sister was talking to one of her sons in Las Vegas.  She was laughing and sharing with him all the adventures she had been on in New York City and handed me the phone to say hi.
      As I took the phone expecting to just share a couple of funny things that happened while walking up the streets, her son began to tell me how much he appreciated the reunification of myself and his mother.   In a deep, mature, fatherly Voice he thanked me for returning love to his mother's heart, for giving her back her family ties, for taking her off the island of exile on which she had been marooned for most of her life.
     He talked briefly about love, and how important it was to him and his brother and his mother to feel the love of a family for the first time in their lives, and to know they were connected with others who expressed that love in loving ways.
     I sat dumbfounded for a moment, speechless.   Her son is forensic specialist, who investigates crime scenes in Las Vegas.  The television series CSI is based on the unit he works with scouring scenes of murder, rape, burglary and a host of other crimes for evidence that will lead to the arrest and conviction of suspects.
     The words he was using were flowing from his heart.   Then he thanked me again for bringing joy to his mother, and for providing a link to his need for a family to feel part of.   His parting words were, "I love you, Unk!"
     No one had ever called me, Unk, before.
     I sat in a daze as I handed the phone back to my sister, who had no knowledge of what her son had just said to me.
     I realized at that moment I had been appointed an "Uncle of Vigilance," as well as a "Parent of Vigilance," and a "Grandparent of Vigilance."
     The honesty in his Voice, and the eruption of his need to feel a "part of," made me realize the Terrorism that must have ran rampant inside him and his brother for their entire lives, being victims of the disenfranchisement of their mother from her family members.
     They were abandoned on the same island of family derision as their mother, defacto victims of Family Terrorism.   I felt as though I were the captain of a ship that had stumbled across a deserted island only to find a lost family seeking refuge from the storms of filial loneliness.
      "I love you, Unk!"
      I still shiver this morning thinking about those words.   They came out of nowhere, and struck me in my heart and soul.  The told me about the pain of a child who grows up feeling Terrorism's shadow stalking him or her throughout life when the family turns its back on one of its members.
      At the time all the events happened that resulted in my sister's cleavage from her family, it seemed to be justified that she would be separated from the fold.   But I realize now that wasn't true.  There never is any justification for the exclusion of a family member, especially one with children.
       My sister's children grew up without grandparents on their mother's side of the family.  They grew up without cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews to share and learn from, to bond with.  They witnessed their mother's deepest moment's of loneliness and despair, and her hand trembling to reach for a phone to call someone close to her in her family, but unable to dial the number for fear she would be rejected by the one she sought solace from.
       Family Terrorism, I realized, is a horrible disease.   Its virus infects not only the one who is ostracized by the family, but his or her children too.   They suffer the most, for they are the true victims of Loveless Terrorism.
      "I love you, Unk!"
      As I replay those words, I am reminded why someone reading this who is disenfranchised from his or her family, or, who has indicted a family member to exile through or because of Fear, Intimidation or Complacency, might want to consider the Pledge of Vigilance.   There is one for every family member.   By taking the Pledge, one opens the door of Willingness to repair old wounds, to whittle at the scar tissue that separates and divides filial love from flowing.

         Someone once told me you "don't have to like everyone, but you can't afford not to love them."   His point was that by turning off my love for others, I turn on my hate for them.   While hate may not manifest itself in its fullest form of ugliness, Complacency, the first step toward Hatred, darkens the clouds around those whom I have shuffled away from me, those family members I have written off.    And, the victim of my Complacency, my neglect, is not just the person to whom I target my Complacency, but also to their children, and their children's children's children.
      I learned that lesson last night when I heard the words, "I love you, Unk!"
      If you are standing on an island of isolation from your family, or, you have cast one of your family members on some desolate stretch of sand to be ignored and to flounder on their own without your support and love as a member of the "Family of Vigilance," perhaps it is time to seek Courage, Conviction and Right Action from the Pledge of Vigilance.
      For me, it was worth it to hear a young man's Voice honor me as an Uncle Of Vigilance.   For you, that same Voice awaits your action.
      "I love you, Unk!"

G0 TO:  May 18--Parking Terrorism

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