the red cardinal
sings his bright clear spring song
perched on bare branches
When I published my first post, Dear Dad, on 27 Dec 2013, my voice was anything but bright and clear. Singing was definitely out of the question. As a survivor of childhood PTSD, I used an elaborate strategy of calculated silence and half-truth.
How much did I owe the world? How much did I owe my family? How much did I owe the church? My father was a clergyman. Revered, respected, loved and sought after by people with sorrows such as mine.
But I wasn’t one of his followers. I was his first-born of four daughters. I watched my tongue constantly. Smiled when expected. Stifled tears. Did as I was told. Set an example. And took the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.
Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started in my 40s, with trips to Al-Anon meetings for five years. There I learned to relax and share things I’d never told anyone. Then I worked with an intern therapist who helped me complete a genogram (family tree, with notes). Finally, in the early 1990s, I began working with a psychotherapist.
I put in hours and years of work. Did tons of homework. Cried buckets of tears. Filled unnumbered journals with dreams and personal entries.
Yet my recovery isn’t measured in months, years or numbers of pages written in journals. It’s measured in my voice. At first feeble, halting, self-conscious and terrified. Beginning with my husband and immediate family, then with my sisters and parents, slowly but surely with several trusted friends, and finally, a few years before I began blogging, with my large extended family on my father’s side.
My voice is the measure of my recovery.
Regardless of the weather, the political climate or my health, the question is the same: How free am I to tell the truth? That’s the thermometer that matters.
I’ve always cared about issues that have to do with women. I used to think getting a decent academic position would somehow ‘prove’ my worth. Or set me free. Especially if I was granted tenure.
Well, that wasn’t my riddle to solve. My riddle was my voice.
I began blogging because I knew it would challenge me to tell the truth freely, with words chosen by me, not by someone else.
So the little red cardinal outside my window caught my attention. The ground was covered with snow, and the laurel bush had been beaten down by more than one Nor’easter. Yet the little red cardinal sang his heart out. Freely. Telling his truth about life and announcing his territory and the hope of spring.
Though I’m a follower of Jesus, this doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it’s more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018, lightly edited and reposted 7 September 2020
Cardinal duet found on YouTube