Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Letter to my father, whom I've never met

Today I was given an address.  It could very well be my biological father's.  After 35 years of wavering, I decided to  look for him, with that hope that maybe, he was wondering about me.  Thanks to my mother and aunt who worked to find his address. 
For all the women who wonder about the father they have never known, I put a copy here for you to read.  I hope you too find peace within, whether or not you decide to make contact with a parent you've never met.  

Feel free to find me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/april.charleson with concerns, comments, or just someone to listen.
March 18, 2013
Dear Michael,                                                                                   

I have written the first sentence of this letter about twenty times and erased it.  I find that I don’t know how to start.  While this may not seem unusual to you, as an English teacher and Literature major at University, there has never been a time when I have been at a loss for words like I am now.

I am with hope that you are indeed the correct Michael.  If so, you are my biological father.  I have thought about you, what you look like, how you act, the sound of your voice and so much more, more times than I could count.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to the man who my mom says I resemble, the man whose DNA partly I carry. 
So, I suppose I will tell you about myself.

I am now 35 years old and have begun a new stage in my life.  I have a Bachelor’s in English with a literature concentration from Plattsburgh State University and a Master’s in Teaching from the State University of Potsdam.  Having taught English for the past 12 years and still teaching in the same district, I am now enrolled in classes at Canisius to become an administrator.  I will graduate in about a year with another master’s degree and hopefully the opportunity to continue my career working in education.  Eventually I plan on transitioning to politics, specifically I would like to work with foreign countries, especially in developing literacies.

I would like to think of myself as an activist, a humanitarian, with a philanthropy that is aligned closely with men such as Mandela, Ghandi, and Kofi Annan.  I am also an autodidact and I will never settle for what I know now when I can be better.  I believe in compassion and understanding, listening before speaking, and the good of the whole over the self.

I have two darling daughters, Madeline and Elizabeth.  Your granddaughters.  They read well above level and they are interested in global issues as much as the Disney channel and jumping on the furniture.  They are in gymnastics and dance classes, summer soccer lessons, and go to Science and Swim camp.  They are well rounded and absolutely engaging kids.  I can’t imagine not having them in my life. 

I have been divorced for five years.  My ex-husband is a very good father and loves the girls as much as I do.  We have a good relationship and understand the importance of presenting a united front for our daughters.  We share custody, which I agreed to because I never had a proper father figure in my life and I wanted that so badly for them.  It makes me happy that he is a good father to them.

I wish I could tell you all the things that are inside my heart, not just the types of things that I might put on a resume, but I do not know you.  Unfortunately. 

I hope that over the years that you have thought about me, too.  That you have imagined what kind of woman I became.  That you wondered about me and maybe even worried.  I hope that you understand that I don’t blame you.  I am not that kind of person.  I believe that everything happens for a reason.  I don’t want anything from you other than perhaps a reply.  And maybe, someday, you and I could come face to face.  Maybe we could shake hands.  Maybe I could look into your eyes and see something of myself.  That is as far as I can see for us at the moment.
I could never forgive myself if I did not try to make contact with you.  We are both growing older and eventually we will die.  I could not face myself if I let time slip away and never made an effort to know you.  If you decide not to respond, then at the very least I know I tried my best.


Separate Ways: Realizing My Husband and I are Incompatible

The year is 2007.  The year of my best worst moment.  I am on the brink of 30 and, by all appearances, I have everything a woman could desire.  My husband and I have two darling daughters daughters, both under the age of three, fantastic jobs (both as English teachers in a junior high school, in neighboring districts), we have two lap dogs and a newly opened antique business run out of the attached carriage house. We live in a lovely original 1878 Victorian home which he and I, with the help of family, restored.  My husband even built a picket fence around the back yard the previous summer so yes, I even had a picket fence.  It is the type of life that I grew up hearing about in story books, watching in sitcoms.  I should be happy.  My husband loves me.  My daughters love me.  My family loves me.  I have a new double sink in the bathroom.  My husband built me a half bath upstairs.  He wants me to be happy.  I want me to be happy. 

But instead of happiness, I feel a heavy weight filling me.  I feel a need to purge.  I do not understand why.  I just feel wrong.  My life feels wrong.  It is May and soon I will celebrate my birthday with my sisters in Montreal listening to my favorite author, Maya Angelou, speak. 

It is evening and my husband and I settle into bed.  I begin to weep quietly.  It is silent except for the sound of my weeping.  I tell him that there is something wrong with me.  I don't know what it is.  I need him to help me.  But he doesn't know what's wrong (how could he? I don't even know).  What I needed he could not give me.  He was incapable. 

Less than one month later our marriage begins to crumble.

I am going to tell a story in a moment because I need you to understand that I loved my husband.  I know he loved me. I loved the home that we had built together.  But it was not meant to be.  I spent countless nights alternating between tears and blame: myself, him, my family, the men that abandoned me in my childhood. 

But the writing I do now, today, is not about blame.  It is about acceptance.  With acceptance comes forgiveness and healing. 

Here is a story that I created to explain how my husband and I eventually had to follow our separate paths:

Once upon a time there was a handsome young man.  He was newly heartbroken and, deciding to leave his village  for the first time (going against his mother in the process), he wandered into the woods.   After some time he came upon a young woman, bathing in a clear stream.  Although she was not nude, the sight of her was one in which he was immediately enthralled, having never seen a woman bath before.  He was captivated and waited for the woman to complete her ministrations.  It was not long and she emerged, dripping, and basked in the sun upon a rock, feeling the divine light replenishing her soul. 

Slowly, so not to startle her, he approached the bathing beauty.  After a brief conversation, he offered to show her his home and the land that had been in his family for generations.  Although the woman had never been to the village, she had heard many stories about it and was intrigued.  She reluctantly agreed to leave her water world and took the young man's hand.

It was not long before the young man asked the maiden to marry him.  Having been seduced by the village life, the merriment, the exotic places and people, she agreed, not realizing how she would in the process, sacrifice her home and her self-love.

After many years of making a home for herself and her husband, the woman felt there was something missing and asked the man if they could not go fishing, for dinner had been beef, pig and chicken, of which she had tired and desired something more of her previous diet.

The man, seeing an opportunity to spend an afternoon with his wife, whom he adored, in an activity that he relished, did not deny her such a small token.  They took the small boat out to the broad river.  There were many fish to be caught and the wife and husband lost sight of the shore in their delight of the pusuit.  Unfortunately, a storm had begun to roll in, and upon seeing this, the man cried out that they must immediately begin to row ashore, otherwise all would be lost.

For the woman, although all the fish she could possibly ever want lay at her feet in the small boat, and the man she most desired (and with all her heart loved) was alongside her, fearing only for her safety in his demand to return to the village.... she had finally returned to her water home. Despite the dark clouds and the misty spray on her face, she felt no fear. 

She responded, "Husband, must we go now?  The clouds are still far off.  It has been so pleasant a journey.  I wish not to return to the village so soon."

Her husband was aghast that she would consider remaining and began to row the boat in the direction of the shore as he spoke,  "My love, it grows dark and the storm threatens us.  Why would you not return with me to the shore and our home?"  

The woman, with her heart aching ,said, "My love, I can not return with you to our home.  Although you have caught for me all the trout, bass and perch  a woman could desire, I am not satisfied.  We have not yet found the whale."

The husband cried, "But there are no whales in these waters!"

The maiden responded, "Yes, husband, I know."

My intention today was to tell about how I found the book I was in the process of writing when my marriage began to crumble. I stopped writing at page 52 because I could not continue dredging up emotions of the past when I was burdened by the emotion of the then present.  I wanted to share in my joy that today, for the first time in 6 years, I had the ability to return to that book and pick it up.  I am healing.  I am becoming whole.

I reread parts of the book. 

The first page tells about my husband and how much he loved me, so much in fact that he wrote pages about me.  Sweet, endearing pages that were filled with his love.  He gave those to me over six years ago.  I wanted to write this today to explain that, while our parting was heartache, it was meant to be.  It had to be.  I have accepted this.

But why?

Because I was in search of a whale.  I still am.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Knowing and Truths

I believe that inside of me there is a knowing.   Now I understand, after beginning my exploration and study of Buddhism, Kabbalah, Christianity, Jainism and Sikhism, that this is my intuition, my inner guide; in meditation I believe this is the "higher me" that sees all and does not judge, but attempts to guide.  It is capable of transcendence, but also can assume my human form at times and become concrete when I am open to its influence, most often in dream state.

I have spent many years ignoring, resisting and at some points, in downright denial of that knowing.  I have been in disbelief that I, a mere human, could possess an ability in which I could have a deeper level of understanding of myself.  I have learned the most amazing and fantastic truths.  Not only do I have the knowing.  You do as well.  We all do.  It is the deepest part of us that is aligned with our purpose.  It connects us to all other living beings.  Some of us are able to experience it easier, are more open to it; others have placed materialism and entertainment at the forefront of our lives and that has numbed this ability.  Some of us experience such denial of our core truths that we have become miserable, not rejoicing in the sometimes tragic lessons that come to us as opportunties to discover joys.  The knowing wants only to reconnect us with the "light" or the creator and I think of this intuition as wanting to connect us with our purpose in order to achieve that connection.  By finding and living our purpose we can connect with all other matter.

The knowing has come to me in many ways, but the most often is in a feeling.  It is not a feeling I can easily put into words, but I am going to try, because maybe you have sensed the knowing. 

Have you ever had a feeling that you knew the decision you were about to make not because of an inner ethical guide or moral guide, or any weighing of the positives and negatives.  Instead, you felt that you had lived this decision before, known it, could feel in your heart that you, at some point, had anticipated its coming.   When the moment happens, it feels surreal.  For me when the knowing happens, I have a physical reaction, my heart rate quickens rapidly, then subsides just as rapidly, and my eyes twitch almost.  I lose the "real" world outside of me for a split second as I "sense-feel" the knowing.  Some may call this deja vu or an omniscience.  I do not believe it is that at all.  I believe that it is my extra sense that knows my path.  It is my inner voice speaking to me, soothing, confirming that I am on my path or warning me I am traveling away.

More often, the knowing has happened to me when I am dreaming.  I awaken with a feeling and I know that feeling is a knowing.  There have also been times when I have woken and felt this intuition speaking to me about the distance that I had forged between my purpose and that the "universe" was constantly presenting appopriate obstacles and people to guide me back to my true path.

This knowledge was part of me as I experienced my divorce.  Multiple times during my relationship with my then boyfriend, I experienced the feeling, deeply rooted, that my relationship was not aligned with my path.  Growing up, I was more connected with my knowing, perhaps because I was more innocent, less jaded by culture. I felt like I knew my path.  I wanted to help humanity, travel, join the Peace Corp and be deeply entrenched in the global community.  When I met my now ex-husband, I had no intention of developing a relationship, but it happened, and I made decisions that went against my inner voice.  I wanted to believe that I could live the life of being a happy housewife, with children, and a dog and I could stay home and bake pies and lasagna and that would bring me joy.  We together decided to change our majors so we could become teachers.  We'd have summers off, have a family, travel together with the kids.  We'd have great benefits and live comfortably.  there would be a day when we would sit on our front porch in our rocking chairs with our grandchildren in our laps, singing them lullabies.

I wanted to believe that was a possibility for me.   There is nothing I would like more in this world than to have been happiest as a housewife and mother.  I have despaired many nights, wishing that my path was that of motherhood.  There are so many women I know who receive such pure joy from that, it makes me so happy for them that they have found their true calling.

Unfortunately for me, I have always known that was not my calling.  I have always known that I was different.  That my hopes and dreams were always not aligned to so many of those around me.  But how I wished it were.

The entire relationship there was a knowing that eventually I would have to veer from that path or I would be drowned in sorrows, separated so dramatically from my true path. Sometimes it was prominent and I felt the knowing in my everyday routine.  Somedays I had sunk so deeply into despair and bitterness that I had been removed (removed myself through my choices) from the love and light my path gave me, that I had made a sacrifice for an ideal that was not mine, but belonged to the culture in which I was born.

After we were married, during the births of both of my daughters, I suffered.  With Madeline's delivery I could have died.  My placenta would not deliver.  Eventually, I could hear, outside of the sounds of my murderous screams, the midwife calling for them to prep for surgery.  My doctor saved the day by removing it with her hand.  I have never known such physical pain in all my life.  I lost many times the blood and was encouraged to get a transfusion.  I refused.  There were people that needed that blood more than me.  I would recover.  My inner voice told me so.  My inner voice also spoke to me afterward.  I knew that I had gone against my path in having a child.

 Now, at this point you may think that I regret having these experiences.  It is not that at all.  Although my intution told me that I had veered from my path,  it was not without hope that I could reconnect.  My inner self knew that I had taken a circuitous route and that I would reach my way back.  I did not know this yet, not at the time.  What I did know was a deep sense of despair.  Of sensing that I had made a terrible choice and that there was a moment that I felt like I could not "fix it".

I continued to resist my truths.  I chose to have another daughter.  During that pregnancy I was in a dangerous car accident, totalling the vehicle.  Then, I experienced a condition in which I had too much water carried in the amniotic sac and that was placing pressure on my kidneys, and fearing my kidneys would be crushed, I was placed on required bed rest.  Then, four days after delivering Elizabeth, I dropped to my knees with the most excruciating pain.  It was 10 am on a Thursday.  I thought I was having a heart attack. I had passed a gall stone that had lodged in the duct.  I spent the next four days in two hospitals having multiple procedures, each undergoing anesthesia and the doctor warning me of my chances of never waking from it.

It was not long after Elizabeth's birth, that like Chinua Achebe's book, things fell apart.  I knew it was going to happen, my divorce, and a part of me, the part that didn't want to give up, quit my marriage, lose the person I really did love as my best friend (and still to this day oftentimes miss him and our friendship). 

I had a dream, a knowing of it.  I woke up crying, tears streaming down my face.  I knew how we would split apart.  I didn't want to believe it could happen to me.  Months later, in the month leading up to my 30th birthday, I finally felt the knowing so deep and awesome inside.  It was a chasm that I felt I had jumped into, a deep black hole that was swallowing me up.  The knowing was telling me that I had gone so far from my truth that I was lost.  The knowing plunged me into darkness, almost a last desperate measure to wake me up.  It worked.  The knowing inside my husband must have seen it.  Instead of trying to  salvage our marriage like he had before, he chose to help me find my path by selecting a different path for himself.  That caused me the most terrifying emotional pain I have ever known.  To say I cried every night for a year, you may think is an exaggeration, but I know it is not.   I would wake up in the morning and wish for sleep, for that solitude.  When I woke, reality called to me again and it was close to unbearable. I was mourning the loss of a man I loved and a life that I wanted to have, but I could not.  I felt the pain of grief so terrible, such an ache, that ripped me apart.  I thought I would die in that year.

I did not die.  That was a little over five years ago.  In those five years I have slowly come to accept my way.  I have come to realize that many people come into our lives, and no matter how we long to cling to them, there are times we can not.  Many of my friends say, "You will fall in love again and you will be happy."  I understand that they are trying to comfort me.  My knowing has spoken to me and it says that I will indeed fall in love again, but my time is not near, and that I must embrace the day, the moment, my little loves (my daughters), that I must continue to fill my brain with knowledge, learn how to fill my heart with love and calm my mind.  I do not need the romantic love.  I need to follow my path first, and my love will come in its own time.

Each day is a new joy to unfold, to learn more about myself, an opportunity to practice patience, empathy, understanding and continue to "see" the opportunities that my knowing presents to me.

I have applied for a scholarship for a Global Education Grant which will allow me to travel to Africa.  My knowing feels joy at this.  I have asked permission for my school to fund me for a five day retreat for educators to learn about calming the mind.  Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Monk, is leading the retreat.  My knowing rejoices.

Without a spiritual guide, I have begun meditating and, although it is so hard for me to be mindful during meditation, I am proud that I can sit for 30 minutes and calm my mind (often I have to swat the squabbling voices like mosquitoes, but it's a work in progress).  Lastly, my daughters, not my original path, have reconnected me with a patience and a true love that I would not have ever experienced.  I could not be the woman I am today, the power I feel and the love I embrace, without them.  Thank you to the man that shared that with me, that continues to be an amazing father to them.

I have begun to work through my childhood issues this year.  I have begun the search for my father, a man I have never known.  I hope to one day see his face and shake his hand.

And last, I leave you today hoping that you listen to your knowing.  And if you are feeling yourself in constant despair, or feeling bitterness, or helplessness, please don't resist the idea that you are part of creation and creation is part of you.  Deep inside you, there is a knowing.... 

There are 'angels' singing in our fingertips, if only we would listen.

The time is now.