My mother had eleven children. I was the eighth child. Amongst the eleven were four sets of twins, all fraternal. It was an interesting situation to say the least! There were many aspects of my childhood that were uniquely wonderful and some that were uniquely painful. I want to write today about one of the uniquely painful parts, because really it was the when and how of my discovery of Love and commitment to Love as a value above all others.
More than a few of my siblings suffered from mental illness. My older sister Suzy was one of them. When I was little, about seven years old, I remember all the adults sitting around the dining room table discussing what to do with Suzy, who at the age of seventeen then had already made several attempts to take her own life.
Suzy was so sweet a being. I loved her. To my still very young awareness she was above all else extraordinarily sensitive. I shared that capacity and didn’t see her as different from myself. The mood at the table that day was understandably solemn and it was decided to commit Suzy to a mental hospital. I knew that was a horrible thing and I felt deep pain. The county hospital at that time looked and felt like a medieval prison, and many of their practices were what I would have to call cruel and punishing.
What was clear to me at that time is that what Suzy really needed was Love. She was obviously and seriously hurting. She was in fact internally tortured. The lack of Love and acceptance for her was not anyone’s fault. No one knew what to do. Still it was apparent to me that Love is what she was actually lacking and for that matter what everyone in the room was lacking!
Seems strange since I was seven, but I realized with clarity and certainty at that moment that Love was what mattered in Life. Above all else. Nothing in the years that have followed that moment has changed my mind one iota. Certainly I don’t mean a sentimental love. I mean a solid unmoving unshakable Love, that could actually reach into the depth of suffering and resolve its tension and distress. How did I know that? I cannot say, but I did!
That was the moment really I became a spiritual seeker. There HAD to be a better way. There HAD to be more to life than this desperation and struggle. I was quite determined to find that something more and live a life with more depth and meaning. So that was my painful beginning of the search for Reality.
Things didn’t go so well for Suzy. She was in and out of that horrible place for six years. She would come home on leave and sit in a chair in the living room and cry for hours, scars now lining both arms from repeated attempts to take her own life. It was heartbreaking to watch. It was heartbreaking to feel. The last time I saw her she came through the house in a rare and ebullient mood announcing that we would see her next driving a Cadillac and living her new free life in joy. That didn’t happen. What did happen was one day when I was about thirteen a policeman knocked at our door. I was watching TV and had a mental flash of why they were there. I ran to my room and cried only to emerge later to the news that Suzy had succeeded in killing herself. She stepped in front of a moving train this time, so there was not much possibility of failure.
By that time my mother and older siblings had moved out but everyone gathered back in my father’s house. It was actually stated opinion that none of this really affected us ‘little kids’. They were wrong of course as nothing has ever affected me more! I learned to Never underestimate what a child or any human for that matter does or does not understand! Ouch! How horrible it all was.
Still, Suzy did not die in vain. She was responsible for the commitment of another human being, me, to Love as a way of Life. You know when I think of all these years with children what has stood out about my ‘style’ most has been my capacity to allow negative feelings. Of course you can’t allow negative actions, but All Feelings are here to be allowed accepted and in a word, LOVED! It works. I have always had happy kids around me and the secret has been letting them be unhappy! Isn’t that funny? But really we spend so much time and energy in our culture covering over unhappiness and trying to ‘create’ happiness instead. It can’t be done. Happiness is a fact deep inside all of us. It is another word for Love. It is our nature and I have seen so many many times that if you allow unhappiness and give it room to be here, happiness will inevitably emerge very naturally.
I wasn’t able to give that acceptance to Suzy. Well actually who knows. Maybe I was a sweet spot of love in her life. I do know she inspired my path to awakening. I do know she was directly responsible for a very deep commitment that is Alive in me to this day. So thank you Suzy.
I LOVE YOU
Barbara Shepard runs a K-12 school in her home in Northern California. Barbara has brought many of her students over the years to meet Gangaji in Ashland. Read more about Barbara's school and the life long passion that fuses education, love, and the fulfillment of silence.
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