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If we're alive and more or less functioning, if we're capable of taking joy in things
occasionally, if we can be kind and grateful to others, if we're not addicted or very
drawn to killing ourselves, then it's likely that someone somewhere, early on, loved us
very much. They may live quite far away from us now, they might share none of our interests
and could in many ways be a little boring to spend time with – and yet we will continue
to be deeply loyal to them and know in our hearts that we owe them everything. When we
say that someone 'loved' us, what we're really referring to is the acquisition of
a set of skills. These were not transferred in any formal way, we imbibed them in the
ordinary bustle of daily life. It might have been in the kitchen, on a walk out in the
woods or at night-time in the bedroom after a story. It would have been easy to miss what
was really going on, the vital nectar that was being imparted, all the life-sustaining
goodness we received when it looked like it was just another conversation about homework
or the plans for the weekend. But in the course of being loved, we got an encyclopedic emotional
education nevertheless, in which some of the following was learnt: – Endurance Sometimes,
it all looked very bad indeed. We were in a state, soaked in tears, or red with fury.
We felt the world was coming apart and that we would not survive. But they kept the tragedy
at bay until we could breathe calmly once again. They may not have had all the answers,
but they promised us – and they were right – that a few would eventually emerge. They
held us through the night and guaranteed that there would be a dawn. And ever since then,
it's become just a little easier to keep catastrophic dread at bay. – Self-Love They
lent us a sense that we were of value to them and therefore could one day be to ourselves
as well. If we made something or had an idea, we could share it with them – and though
it wasn't perhaps entirely accomplished already, they were guided by our underlying
intentions and promise. When we entered the kitchen, not every time, but enough times
to form a protective layer over our ego, they looked up and lit up. They might have had
a name for us: little champion, button chops or sweet sheep. At one point in adolescence,
we certainly didn't want that name used any more, and it would be mortifying if colleagues
knew it today, but it remains a secret symbol of an emotional bedrock upon which all our
later poise and confidence was able to emerge. – Forgiveness At points, we did something
very wrong: we forgot a book, we scratched a table, we were nasty to someone or exploded
in fury. The punishment could have been very strong, and yet it wasn't. They came up
with reasons that cast our misdeeds in a generous light: we were tired, everyone does that,
no one is perfect. They taught us about mercy, towards others and ourselves. They let us
know that we would not have to be perfect to deserve to exist. – Patience We didn't
master much immediately. It took us a while to get long division, it was ages till we
found our way with the piano or learnt to make biscuits. But they didn't shout or
mock or get irritated. They taught us the art of waiting till the good could emerge.
They didn't demand immediate results – and so spared us the need to panic or bluster
our way through life. – Repair There were some very bad scenes. They said nasty things
and we did too. We felt we hated them a lot. But they stuck around. They took the anger
– and thereby taught us about repair: how things can go very wrong and yet can be fixed,
how resilient people can be, how many second chances there are when love is involved. With
some of these lessons and more, we grew up into people who could be kind to ourselves,
tolerant of our faults, sympathetic to others and capable of keeping going. We weren't
just 'loved', we got an education, whose presence we can feel every time we can care
for someone else, address a kind word to ourselves or feel strong enough to face a difficult
tomorrow.
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What We Owe to Those Who Loved Us in Childhood

276 Folder Collection
Evangeline published on May 10, 2018    EmmaW translated    Evangeline reviewed
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