I was taught at a very young age not to trust my own thinking, not to believe myself.
When I was born my mother was in a massive depression. My eldest sister, at 8 years old, became my care-giver. A tough task for a young girl but given that taking care of my mother and her two younger siblings had always been her task, she welcomed me into our family and began to care for me too.
For my mother, sad, lonely, far from her family, having her daughter play the role of ‘mother’ was nothing new. When she told me her life story years ago, she shared how she believed it was a daughters responsibility to take care of their parents. For my mother, her depression stemmed from believing she had failed her parents the day she sailed away from India with my father and left them far behind on the shores of the land she loved.
My mother was homesick for family. My father didn’t have one.
Raised by priests in a Catholic boarding school, his parents had divorced when he was young. I never met his mother, even though we lived in England not far from her home for years. My grandfather was a mysterious character whom I only recall setting eyes on twice. He was not the kind of man to send special gifts on birthdays, or cards to commemorate notable dates. He was not the kind of person who stayed in touch.
When I was less than a year old, we moved to England and then a few years later, to France. My mother was happy, or as happy as a woman with severe depression can be. Her brothers and sisters had all fled India when independence came because the passports they held were French. Their choice was to either give up their French connection, or leave. They chose to move to Saigon, a place they’d never been, but a place that still fell under French protection. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a choice that gave them any greater security than India. When the Americans rolled in, they packed up once again and moved to France, the land whose passport they held but a land that held no deep roots for any of them.
In Paris, there were many family gatherings. Smoke filled rooms with loud conversations and wine flowing and music playing and people gesticulating wildly, passionately talking, defending, arguing, while my cousins and I ran between their legs or sat silently in separate groups, looking at each other, wondering how to communicate when we came from such different sides of the world.
We were the outsiders. The Canadians. They were the ones that belonged.
This was their country. They held the label that gave them ownership of the land. We were the interlopers. The ones who had it easy in the richness of Canada while they were continually displaced, travelling the world looking for a home.
At least, that’s what I saw through my child’s eyes, or it could be that my belief came through the words of my father who despised Frenchmen and in particular, had little time for my mother’s family. My father was very vocal in his disdain and never missed a chance to let other’s know what he thought.
My mother wanted peace at all costs and sometimes that cost was high. I learned to not try to shake my father’s opinions. I learned to seek the conciliatory path.
When I was five, my father was transferred back to Canada. There was a family gathering in Paris. A wedding perhaps, or maybe just a farewell send-off for our family. My mother was distraught over leaving her family in France so when I whined about being tired, about needing to use the facilities, she did not want to leave the gathering and gave me to the care of her favourite brother to take me home.
It was under my uncle’s hands I learned to not believe in myself, to not listen to my truth, to believe that what I experienced wasn’t true if others said it wasn’t. Many years later when I asked my mother why she didn’t believe me when I told her what had happened, she sighed and told me what was true for her, she was powerless to do anything else. “What could I do?” she said. “He was my brother.”
Looking back at those events now, I see where my desire to be heard and seen and believed has fought continuously with my belief I do not deserve to be heard and seen and believed. I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t ‘see’ me.
Today I do. I cannot change the past. I cannot undo what was done. I can love and accept and forgive and stand in my power today. Speak with my voice today. See with my eyes today and create with all my heart today the kind of world I want to live in. A world everyone believes in the sanctity of the human spirit and the power of love. A place where everyone has the right to be heard and all are seen as the magnificent, beautiful and shining lights they truly are.
In learning to trust in myself, to honour my voice, to cherish my thoughts, to create space for my presence, I have learned to honour the voices and presence of others, no matter their condition.
In this space, I do not have to give up my belief in the beauty of humankind and the power of love. I have to give up holding onto the disbelief we are anything other than miracles of life, each of us unique and precious, each of us on our own journey to the truth of who we are.