I read this in Anne Lamott’s new book, Hallelujah Anyway (which is fantastic, btw, of course) this morning…
Rilke wrote: “I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie.”
We got folded by trying as hard as we could to make everyone happy, to please everyone, and to fill every moment with productivity. Our grown-ups said this would bring approval, and approval would bring satisfaction, and they would like us more. But we also learned to sabotage ourselves so they wouldn’t feel eclipsed.”
I don’t know about you, but I get this on such a deep level...
I remember being around eleven years old when my uncle Ken came over for dinner. Ken was married to my mom’s sister before they divorced. But while they were married, he and my dad became as close as brothers and stayed that way (with the typical brotherly spat here and there).
Ken worked for UPS for thirty something years before he retired. He worked the night shift, so he’d often come over and hang out with us during his lunch break at around 8 or 9pm.
Ken was a riot. He liked to drink — a lot — but he was fun loving enough if he liked you. Back in the day, his hobby was bar fighting. I remember him having me push on his nose to show me his battle scar of having no cartilage in there anymore. It’d been beaten out by bikers, shift workers, and truckers across the US. His knuckles were scarred and flattened into a plank.
But he eventually found Jesus and was ‘saved’. (I can be cynical about that, but it truly did get him out of the shit.)
Anyhow, he was a joker. He was loud in everything he did. He lit up a room. He was my favorite uncle (sorry, other uncles, I love you too). I wanted to be that funny and lively. And I did everything to impress him.
So, back to this one occasion when he came over for a late dinner (which was actually his lunch break): Having an inclination for wisecracks myself, I recall saying something, and all of a sudden, my dad got reeeally quiet. Like, bad quiet.
I knew I did it.
When my uncle left, my dad let me have it. He said — or growled — something to the effect of, “You’d better never say anything as stupid as that again when we have guests over. You keep your ridiculous jokes to yourself.”
That got to me. I accepted the idea that my humor was hurtful. And I became extra sensitive and even more shy than I’d already been when guests came over.
I was crushed. I remember thinking that what I said wasn’t THAT bad. But it triggered him. It made him look small.
In his mind, it eclipsed him.
That shadow hung around for a long time.
Until I rolled back the shades one day.