Sunday, December 19, 2010


The Portrait

My mother never forgave my father

for killing himself,

especially at such an awkward time

and in a public park,

that spring

when I was waiting to be born.

She locked his name

in her deepest cabinet

and would not let him out,

though I could hear him thumping.

When I came down from the attic

with the pastel portrait in my hand

of a long-lipped stranger

with a brave moustache

and deep brown level eyes,

she ripped it into shreds

without a single word

and slapped me hard.

In my sixty-fourth year

I can feel my cheek

still burning.

~ Stanley Kunitz

Do you have childhood wounds (physical/emotional/spiritual) that still burn? 
 There are many ways to attend to and heal them. 
 Perhaps healing old wounds would be a good resolution for 2011 ...

(P.S.  The image used in this post is copyright-free, taken from the web, and manipulated digitally in PS)


  1. That's a powerful poem, isn't it.

    I do have a memory, more than one I'm sure, but this one comes to mind:

    We were relatively poor, a big minister's family of ten. When I was in fifth grade we moved to a very poor town where my dad took a Baptist church. Our parsonage was small, gray stucco and ugly. My dad took me to a store and bought me a winter coat that was two sizes too big. My mother's wealthy step-mother came for a visit after Mom's dad died. We were getting ready to go to church. My step-grandma (rather a snob of a person) was in the car waiting. I was on the porch in my too-big ill-fitting plaid winter coat, waiting for my parents and brother who were still in the house. I saw my step-grandma peering at me, head bent down to get a view, and I was certain she was sizing up my ill-sized coat. I have never felt more ashamed.

  2. nice...and an apropo post for this time of year when we often knock the dust off of them for the holidays...

  3. what a piece of writing bonnie! treat wounds as gifts that reflect a hidden intention:
    from rumi - gazal 947
    "the night is generous
    it can give you
    a gift of the full moon
    it can bless your soul
    with endless treasure"

  4. The wounds of my childhood are mostly healed now. But hers? My only wish is that I could heal hers with a touch of my hand.

  5. Ruth: Experiences of being humiliated or shamed really cut to the bone. Repeated, gentle, loving reminders to self that it was the other person's action that was shameful and that you, yourself, your little self was never shameful can really help. Assign the shame where it belongs.

    If, (not your example Ruth) we actually did something we feel was shameful, then we need to right the wrong if it is possible, apologize if it is still possible, and then get to the work of forgiving ourself. Shame is about our very being - and to my mind very, very few beings deserve to carry a mantle of shame.

  6. Brian: It is true that memories of wounds that arose in our family of origin often surface at this time of year.

  7. steven: Thank you for throwing Rumi into the mix here. Lovely. While wounds often turn out to have a gift in them, I have difficulty conceiving of them as being sent as a gift to unveil a hidden intention. That may be the result, but there is a bit of New Agey magical thinking there ... however, it does sound beautiful and compelling, I must admit ...

  8. Jeff: Perhaps that should not be the goal. Some wounds last forever and rightly so - such as losing both parents. To heal that completely would be to deny reality and a child's sensitivities. To my mind, the goal should be to honour the loss and the pain that accompanies it. Then eventually reconfigure it into the evidence of a precious connection one will always cherish and miss. With time the wound will not be so raw and painful - but it will always be there and on occasion certain events will awaken the deep ache of the trauma of such loss. The goal is to make the pain less severe and less frequent.

    You don't want to and cannot remove this wound, you just want to make it less and less reactive and painful with the healing balm of your love, constancy, protection, loyalty and understanding. AND - the good news is: YOU ARE DOING JUST THAT!

  9. Such powerful words, those. And wise advice for 2011. Interesting how a change of year offers incentive.

  10. Hilary: Yes, the new year seems to come with the gift of an opportunity for a fresh start or a change of lifestyle or an adjusted perspective.

  11. You know I know that, Bonnie. It's just that sometimes I wish I could fix everything and make her childhood what it was supposed to be. I know I can't, but...I just wish.

    Thanks for your kind words.

  12. Yes, I do.

    And yes, I am attending to them. First counseling appointment was last week.

    that Kunitz poem is a stunner.

  13. Jeff: For sure I know you know that ... Your blog is such a beautiful example of mature parenting, responsible citizenship, and healthy anger (which translates into productive action) at the injustice in the world.

    Others read these comments and I used yours without your express permission to point out that deep wounds can never be totally obliterated. I apologize if it left an erroneous impression.

    If any of you have not read Jeff's blog:
    "My Life...lived my way", check it out for a wonderful expressions of love, loyalty, ethics, indignation, inspiration and joy.

  14. neighbor: What a fortunate counselor to have such a reflective, ready to dig in and work client!

    This new year I will be working on deeper levels of repressed feelings around old wounds. I have done much work on the experiences (and meaning of) themselves - but our work cycles around at different levels - in different periods of our life, and I realize that I was a master at minimizing (supressing and repressing) the effect of some of my psychological and spiritual wounding. Unearthing, acknowledging and honoring deeper levels of repressed feelings is one of my new year's resolutions.

  15. That Kunitz poem was powerful, Bonnie. Your thoughts on acknowledging and honouring the losses, the wounds and the pain each one of us suffer throughout our lives are very helpful and positive from my own perspective this Christmas time. And I thank you for them.

  16. Robert (Solitary Walker): Thanks Robert. Our losses are important and do need to be honoured - for the suffering we endured as a result, for the learning and growth that emerge as a result, for the strength we have therefore acquired. The trick, as you well know, is to acknowledge the wound as a part of our unique path, but not to live from the wounded place.

  17. Have been trying for a while and I think I am a little way towards healing already, thanks to you, Bonnie, in no small part.

  18. Friko: Thank you. That makes me very happy!

  19. Hi, Bonnie––

    Thank you for sharing this very powerful poem.

    I agree that attending our wounded inner child is a worthy resolution, particularly if we’ve been deferring or avoiding this difficult work.

    To cultivate compassion for both our wounded child may help cool the burning/stinging of our wounds. Do we ever heal from our deepest wounds completely? I don’t know. Complete healing would, I think, require us to also cultivate compassion for the people who wounded us....

    This can be very difficult work. It might be a good idea to resolve to cultivate gratitude in parallel. Twin resolutions to attend to our wounds and feel gratitude for our good fortune might help us travel further down this path of healing.

  20. Such a sad poem. And yet that is how his mom was able cope with it, I guess. To shut it out and move on. I know some people who hang on way too long. It would have been nice if she could have allowed her son to save the photo for himself, though. She probably had no idea how much she hurt him.

  21. Dear Bonnie,

    this caught my attention: "but our work cycles around at different levels" and I have to admit, I had a moment of "aw, shucks, you mean I have to keep coming back to the same old story!" But perhaps that just means there's always fruit for creative inspiration. Trying to put a positive spin on it anyway :-)

    And Bonnie, thanks for your confidence in me.

  22. Hi Dan - Yes, so many components go into the healing process - compassion is essential, as is being grateful for what is, as is forgiveness. Self-acceptance is key too.

    In a previous response to Jeff's comment, I do mention exactly what you say - that some wounds don't completely heal - there is always a scar and the pain can be reactivated at times by a prompt or probe. The goal is to not relate or live FROM our wound, but simply to acknowledge its existence and move on - which could be called relating TO the wound.

    Thank you for making these important points!

  23. Hi neighbor: Your spin is accurate - AND often our work does demand revisiting at a deeper level. The psyche is very wise - and seems to allow us to do the amount of work our ego is capable of tolerating at any given time. When we have already done a lot of healing work and it recycles back, it is often because the psyche knows the person is now strong enough to handle the next piece that must be confronted. The good news is this deeper level of work usually proceeds much faster due to the work already done.

    Not to worry - it is not always the case that one has to continue the healing work at different levels - certainly not for small 't' traumas. However, one could compare it to the work one does of confronting their mortality - it is not done once and for all ... we must revisit it at different stages of our life and at deeper levels of ownership and acceptance.

    Thank you for bringing up this point - perhaps others had the same reaction and it gives me a chance to clarify.

  24. Margaret: You make an interesting point - there are people that hang on to their wounds too long - and actually become 'wound-identified'. They allow what happened to them to define who they are - and we are all so much more than what was done to us. Attending to our wounds is all about moving beyond the bondage of our woundedness.

  25. Yes, I know what you mean here, Bonnie. You do meet people (I know some) who are 'wound-identified', as you describe it; who are so bound up with their wound that they seem unable to move beyond it. They often go on and on about the perceived causes of their wound - whether childhood trauma, death of someone, divorce, some sensitivity of personality - whatever it may be. Unless you do something positive to help get beyond this syndrome - it may be therapy - you just go round and round, stuck, never progressing.

    During my twenties I seemed to go round and round myself as I tried to deal with childhood problems to do with the relationship with my father. It's funny but, though I thought I'd dealt successfully with these issues, in the end it wasn't till he died two years ago that I felt truly released.

  26. Wow - that poem is powerful.

  27. I don't know whether to call it a poem or a reflection, but what shouldn't be doubted is that it is a poetic reflection. Painful childhood memories linger longer because they occur at a time when we're at our most innocent and vulnerable. We believe in the adult world around us. I wouldn't be able to discuss my childhood wounds in public, they still hurt too much.

    Thanks for such a beautiful post. The writing was superb, though painful.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    Greetings from London.

  28. Robert (Solitary Walker): Yes some people seem to get stuck (even revel in) their wounds, like a needle on a scratchy old LP record. They need to work on and grieve their traumas - not wallow in them -- but they haven't figured that out yet.

    It is a common theme - that adult children, from controlling or abusive parents, feel a sense of release or freedom at the death of said parent. It's as if while the parent is still alive there are invisible 'energetic' strands that reach across time and place and continue to feel oppressive.

  29. Cuban: Thank you. It is good to know what we can tolerate and respect our limits and need for privacy. The pain waits until we find the right time and the right place to confront and finally release it. And I agree - this is not the forum for that kind of work.

  30. I've had to pause again and think a bit about this. I wonder if I haven't also released some of the "hurts" from the past, with the passing of my father. I find myself gravitating towards the memories of the ways I was nurtured and loved,especially by him, rather than cling to the hurts (which really were few, but painful nonetheless.) Now the far trickier one for me, is my mother, and yeah, I am just not up to tackling that one quite yet...

  31. Vicky: You make an important point - sometimes when we are several years away from the traumas ... the work we do for one in particular seems to attenuate the pain from others ... not always ... but I've seen it happen.

    Yes, one at a time makes sense to me too!


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