By example, my parents taught their children that moving on from tragedy and struggles was the best path to a fulfilling life. This influenced me to include a chapter in my genealogical novel, SHARDS OF MEMORY - Oral History in a Heartbeat, that deals with “blame”
In Miquel Reina’s Lights on the Sea (see Monday’s posted book review) Mr. and Mrs. Grapes held on to their blame and anguish for thirty-five long years. The grandparents in Shards of Memory (Art, Charlie, Jewel, and Ida), however, each chose a unique way to deal with blame.
Chapter Sixteen (excerpt)
“How did you reconcile your feelings after the accident, Charlie?” Art asked, reviving the stalled conversation.
Everyone else had already opened up about dealing with the guilt, or the blame. Art had admitted he blamed the accident on fate. He dealt with most things that way, especially the bad stuff. Some folks attributed his laid-back attitude to his Irish heritage, as though he and all of Ireland’s population were lazy. He disagreed. Years ago, he had figured out that brushing off irritants and moving on gave him more time to feel good about himself and those around him. Hanging the bad stuff on fate helped move things along that much faster.
Ida shifted in the chair, allowing for a better view of her husband. Charlie hadn’t yet answered Art’s question. She knew he would mull over the answer endlessly before sharing his thoughts. Her answer had followed Art’s, with no hesitation on her part.
After the accident, Ida had lost her faith in God. Not in His existence, but in the concept of an all-forgiving being that watched over everyone. She continued to attend Sunday mass, and recite her rosary. But something inside her had broken, and Ida blamed God for that feeling.
Charlie cleared his throat as though to make an attempt at answering Art’s question. Then he turned toward the window facing the back yard. His gaze froze on the cherry tree that held center stage in the garden area. He remained quiet.
Jewel looked from her husband over to Ida, and then to Charlie. There were times she wished Art wouldn’t talk so much. But Charlie’s silences bothered her more. Once Art and Ida had shared their thoughts about dealing with the built-up guilt over the accident, Jewel thought Charlie should have gone next. But when he only shook his head, she had taken her turn.
To deal with the guilt, Jewel blamed everyone else for anything and everything. Expressing anger over personal slights gave her the release she needed from the constant tension. Feeling anger rising now over Charlie’s inability to answer Art’s question, she decided to relieve some of the tension they all must be feeling.
“Charlie,” she said, none too patiently, “let’s hear your answer. It’s time to put all this to bed.”
Appearing to snap out of some sort of reverie, Charlie looked around the table, stopping to search each face. No one offered a word of encouragement. This was his one-man show.
“You blamed fate, isn’t that right, Art?” When Charlie received a silent nod to his question, he continued. “And Jewel, you blamed everyone else for everything, while Ida chose to blame God.”
Again, his words were met with silence. No one attempted to contradict his statements or justify their own thinking. Charlie took this as confirmation that everyone was here in good faith, not to judge but to support one another.
“Those are all valid and understandable reasons; everyone grieves or deals with loss in different ways.” Charlie turned to Ida who offered a quick smile of encouragement for him to continue. “That also states my problem. I don’t believe strongly enough in fate to place blame there. It is not in my nature to blame others, so Jewel’s solution wouldn’t work for me, either. And I have no doubt that fear keeps me from ever blaming God. So you see my dilemma?”
Art didn’t think much of psychology. Getting into people’s heads the way Freud and Jong liked to do held no interest for him. What he saw is what he accepted in others. “So, what are you saying Charlie?” he asked. “You couldn’t find someone to blame, so you decided to forget about it?”
Ida gasped and attempted to comment, but Jewel patted her hand. “Let them work this one out,” she whispered. Both women sat back, arms crossed in repose, and waited.
“There was nothing and no one for me to blame,” Charlie said. “And with nowhere to place that blame, I had to own it. I blamed myself for everything.”
“All these years you did that?” Art asked.
Charlie worked to hold back a smile over Art’s penchant for wearing his emotions on his sleeve. At times, Charlie longed for the ability to express himself openly. But, as Ida was fond of saying, he always had to think and rethink everything to death.
“For quite a while, every time I saw Gahlen, the guilt clawed its way out of my gut and waved its flag in my face. Once I got better control of myself, things quieted down. But it took something extraordinary for me to stop blaming myself.” He glanced around the table to see if anyone was even listening; everyone was. “Remember how we all decided to help Gahlen through the rough times by telling family stories?”
“Sure, that was a great idea,” Art said. Ida and Jewel both nodded their assent.
“Well, as it turns out, Gahlen is the one who helped me through the rough times. The child accepts whatever life has to offer, never playing the blame game regardless how tough things get. I’ve never heard one complaint about missing out on sports, or growing tired of doctor’s appointments.”
“What about not having a driver’s license?” Art asked, thinking of Gahlen’s many complaints over not being able to drive. Everyone laughed, slicing through the tension in the room.
“You see,” Charlie said, “Gahlen taught me that placing blame is not a lasting solution.”
“So what is?” Jewel asked, amazed that Charlie was talking so much.
“Acceptance,” Charlie said. “Acceptance of all the things we choose to blame. Fate. God. Other people. Ourselves. Of all our solutions, I think Art made the best choice. At least by blaming fate, he really wasn’t blaming anyone else.”