The 1970’s. It was a complicated time to be a teenager. The free-spirited 1960’s hung around like dust in the air while the heavy metal era rolled in thick like smoke on the water. Psychedelics were joyously in bloom and the bitter, often lethal, effects of “freebasing” had yet to fully breach our pristine shores.
In the Bahamas—like everywhere, I presume—the couture was no shoes, micro-minis or low-rise bell-bottoms (frayed from dragging the pavement), midriffs and braided leather jewelry. I grew a coif that was long and loose and tied a purple scarf around my forehead that draped long down the back. It was a free and easy style—no fancy hairdos, no ironed threads, no blue eyeshadow.
School was boring. I got B’s and C’s without cracking open a book and spent hours staring out the open windows or dozing through rain that drummed in a deafening contra-alto on the corrugated tin roof over my classroom. I dreamed a lot. The beach was always calling: brightly colored towels overlapped on the white sand like carpeting under bodies, guitars, and radios tuned to the new FM format (provided there were clear skies all the way to Miami).
At home, things were not so carefree. Besides having parents to circumnavigate, I had a sister not even two years my senior who I constantly emulated to her total frustration, two younger brothers to mind (or ditch) after school, and an older brother who spent a great part of the year abroad at boarding school. My dad was a prominent clergyman who spent Monday to Saturday doing social work day and night; Sunday was church-day . . . and night. Dad was never physically well that I can remember, injuries from the Bahamian Labour Party riots against British exploitation during the 1940’s and a heart condition plagued him since his 40’s, which left my mother to play wife, nurse, mother, housekeeper and peacekeeper when she wasn’t at her full-time, highly demanding job at an overseas company, owned by the esteemed Sir. Robin McAlpine of London, England. I guess you could say that she had her hands full.
But mine were full, too. I was, after all, a teenager, so naturally there were tons of things I just had to do. My mother’s objections fell on deaf ears—I had all the answers, knew everything there was to know, and thought it was my right as a human being to skirt any and all responsibility beyond hanging out with friends and listening to Deep Purple under black-light posters.
I graduated (amazingly) from high-school two months before my 17th birthday; by then my parents were all too familiar with my extensive knowledge and self-absorption, which by rights excluded me from home rules and restrictions. Like I said, life was complicated—it took a lot of time and energy to figure out how to skip school, how to sneak out at night, and how to actually spend my Sunday-school money. I hadn’t the time or the patience to contend with parents who were out of touch with the new age.
Before getting a job and moving out at 17, I had become an expert at manipulating, misleading, and all manners of disrespecting my parents. Sometimes it hurt—I didn’t want to make my mother cry, but I had a life to live and I intended to live it on my own terms.
Fast forward 30 years. I was now working for a company (HCI) that published books on life-issues: kindness, respect, love, gratitude, family dynamics—hundreds of them. You can’t work in the mud without getting dirty, and I was in chin-deep. Little by little, I could feel words, sentences and whole paragraphs chiseling and chipping away at my heart—I could practically see the dust settling in my footprints as I moved forward. I was changing, growing, softening, reforming. One day I was working on a book about trauma and relationships (Tian Dayton’s Heartwounds) and a horrible feeling bore down on me—like I had swallowed a boulder. My stomach hurt. My throat tightened. My chest pounded. I felt nauseous. Dear God . . . my mother! My mum! What had I done all those years ago? Why hadn’t she confronted me? I had left the bad attitude and spiteful talk behind long ago, but the damage was still there, crouching in the darkness, alive and awful.
I left the office that night and drove to my parent’s home as I often did after work. We had become close over the years, we spent a lot of time together. But I had a heavy heart this time. Tears pushed at my eyes as I walked through the door. Quietly I asked my mother if we could talk alone in her room. I closed the door and we sat together on the bed, concern set deep in her eyes. With tears running full stream, I finally told her that I was sorry. Sorry for the way I treated her as a teenager. Sorry that I hurt her. Sorry that I had never apologized. I was just so sorry. I picked my head up to look at her, to see that old pain in her face again. She looked right at me . . . and smiled. Then she put her arms around my shoulders and pulled me to her. She rested her head on mine and said, “You don’t have to apologize. I forgave you a long, long time ago. I’m your mother.” Then . . . silence. Silence? That’s it? I’m your mother? I looked into those beautiful blue eyes and tried to process what she said. Did I hear her say, “I’m your friend, your love, your foundation, your nourishment, your grace, your forever and ever?” Yes, I heard her say, “I’m your mother.”
Today my dad is almost 90 years old and my mother is 85, they need help with day-to-day life. But I am here. Sometimes an issue will come up between my mother and me that we don’t see eye-to-eye on, but she’ll stand her ground. There’s no compromising. So, I try to take a step back and think about what it’s like for her to have to need someone else after all these years—to need me. And I’m grateful, because I am her friend, her love, her foundation, her nourishment, her grace, her forever and ever.
© 2018 G. Kelly Johnson: Becoming My Mother. All rights reserved
Every kind of trafficking in evil report or rumors—whether true or not—by carrying them from one person to another, or by relating unpleasant or harmful facts about another, is forbidden.
–The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion
Words with Friends
A few months ago, I was having a conversation with Ilene, one of my closest friends, about some issues that persistently tear my family down. One of the things I love about Ilene is that she comes from a family that is truly Jewish—she knows way more than most American Jews about their history, culture, religion, philosophies and many things both Yiddish and Hebrew. I come from a staunchly Christian family. I know a hundred hymns by heart and I can quote Scripture at the drop of a hat. Over the years I have learned many different perspectives from Ilene, and I can talk faith and family freely without recourse (or remorse). So, I told her about the spirit of negativity that hangs over us and influences our speech.
Invariably, when our family gets together, one or two of us finds ourselves at odds with another, and walks away hurt and damaged. What’s the deal? Why can’t we lift each other up and focus on the good things God has done for us? Why do we expect each other to agree all the time and get twisted when someone has a different viewpoint? We are all adults between the ages of 58 and 89; why do we dig our heels in and insist on being right? What happened to the compassion and tolerance we crow about and the love of God we say we have? It all seems to turn into a great big soapbox when we’re at odds with each other. We’ll pray together then say things that are hurtful and only vaguely accurate afterward.
As I spilled a heavy heart into the phone, Ilene just listened. After a while she broke in and said, “You know, we Jews have a term for that, we call it lashon hara, and maybe it’s something you and your family need to learn.” Continue reading
For those of you who are fortunate enough to share this kind of relationship, enjoy these beautiful words from David Whyte, author extraordinaire.
Mid-life woman you are not invisible to me,
I seem to see beneath your face
all the women you have ever been.
Mid-life woman I have grown with you secretly,
in another parallel, breathing with you …
A Little Fight Music
All my life people have told me that I’d outgrow my love of hard rock—that I would mature out of my youthful angst and leave Headbanger’s Ball in the dust. I never did—the more I grew, the more my metal-head grew, too. I earned my nickname “Haze” when I was barely into double digits in age, because of my love of Jimi Hendrix. And so began my addiction.
Earlier this week I drove to my office for a couple of days; it takes just over two hours when there’s no traffic. I take that time to think, pray or listen to music. On this trip I listened to my go-to favourite, RED — master of non-standard Christian themes, hard-driving rhythms, and pulverising vocals. Master of making me feel closer to God. I listened to every drumbeat, every guitar riff, every lyric as if I didn’t know them by heart. I paused when the guttural screams were coming. I took a deep breath when they were done. By the time I made it to Deerfield Beach I was in tears. Music does that to me. Continue reading
I doubt there is a person alive today over the age of twelve who isn’t familiar with the term “being authentic”. It’s become such a cliché I cringe when I hear it.
Just over a year ago I co-wrote a book with a beautiful soul, Dadi (Elder Sister) Janki, administrative head of the Brahma Kumaris (Daughters of Brahma) World Spiritual University (BKs) entitled, Feeling Great: Creating a Life of Optimism, Enthusiasm and Contentment (HCI 2015). I was commissioned by the publisher to write Feeling Great based on Dadi’s years of teaching. She turned 100 years of age in January of 2016. She is a truly beautiful, gentle soul who has made it her life’s work to rid the world of darkness by teaching love and humility. To this day, Dadi continues her commitment by sharing messages of peace and tolerance from her home in India. I doubt she will stop until the day she takes her last breath.
My favorite band. Ever.
My beloved father, Hesketh Johnson, who has been a Christian for 70 years and a pastor for about as long, asked me the other day what I think it means to be “saved”. I answered quickly, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”. Feeling it was too simplistic an answer, I follow ed up with “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9, ESV) My dad is asking everyone the same question these days, I think he wants to know what each of his loved ones believe so that he can have peace in these later years.
Sometimes believing isn’t so easy.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my answer and what it means – to me – to be a Christian. It’s such a complex term in “world-speak” and even more convoluted in “church-speak”. There are so many versions, so many descriptions, so many interpretations. As soon as I give what I think is a simple, clear answer, the guillotine comes smashing down. I’ve been going through a lot of beheadings—or at least some good sound thrashings—lately from a variety of sources and it’s disturbing. Even more distressing—heartbreaking, actually—is the vitriol with which some defend their theology. Before I go any further, let me be clear — I’m a novice, a layman’s layman at best, I ask my dad about almost everything that requires genuine Biblical knowledge and understanding. Continue reading
Dadi Janki turned 99 years old in January. This message from her was just posted on the Hindu Blog – words from a life of light!
Inner satisfaction brings creativity
We often find ourselves falling into a routine. We perform tasks the way we have always done them – often for no particular reason. Life becomes monotonous, and we find it difficult to become inspired.
Only when I am happy within myself can I bring creativity to my life. Even though I have to do a number of routine jobs each day, they do not have to become dull – when I am happy, I can think of innovative ways to doing them. Even small changes have a big impact, and I will soon be inspired to make even larger changes to challenge me further. Continue reading