Truth Begins Within - With What We Have Lived

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Mary Ann, age 4, with Mom, Easter 1959 - Growing-Up in the 1960s

Events of the current era in which we live have provoked much within me.  Watching the events in Charlottesville, VA in 2017 harkened memories of similar scenes from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s as those marching in peace for the civil liberities of others were viciously attacked by those we now call the KKK and White Supremists and like-minded hate groups.  It is deeply saddening to see so much hatred still alive and well in our country.  

I have also considered that I was in early elementary school when these events unfolded.  It really was the cusp of maturity for even beginning to understand the events.  Perhaps, my generation is among the last to truly remember living in that era of the 1960s.  

And, it is worthy to note, that a child so young does not have the maturity to process such events, but, nonetheless can be profoundly touched by them.  That “touch” often generates confusion, fear, and even emotional pain which gets buried deep and hidden away;  it can become that “monster in the closet” that ends up shaping us and controlling us in ways that we do not even realize or understand.  It can be the root cause of deep emotional pain — an unrecognized fear that triggers outbursts impacting all aspects of our lives, and even manifests into pains and maladies within the body.  

I imagine that there are many experiencing reactions at this time that they do not even understand, that may go back to what they saw and heard in the 1960s & 1970s (Civil Rights Movement; Assassination of President Kennedy; Vietnam; Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr; Assassination of Robert Kennedy;  Watergate; Kent State; . . . The List goes on . . ).  

So I share my story, in hopes that it may assist you in discovering your own.  

I share my story with the intent that this may open a door for you, and that it will bring healing for you, for others, and more.  

I believe that Peace Begins Within — One by One.

MY STORY:

I grew-up in a small town in southwestern Virginia.  My father was a veteran of WWII and worked as a Civil Engineer.  My mother was home with me until I started school.  I had good parents who loved me.  I never doubted that.  During those early years, they gifted me with much of who I am today:  Through how he lived, my father showed me that you can be “the calm in the storm,”  but there are times when you need to be “the voice” and stand-up for another who is not being treated right;  he encouraged me to see all pathways as open to me, especially mathematics!  My father showed me laughter and gentleness, too.  My mother instilled in me the importance of vision and pursuing your dreams;  through how she lived, she taught me how to create, to “know you can do it” and to not be afraid to try.  Together they taught me to never give up!   

I am forever grateful for this beginning.


My elementary school years were the 1960s, and that period impacted me at levels I never understood until this era that we live in today.  Like many of you, I was not mature enough to process all that I was seeing on our black and white TV with the evening news (a mere drop in the bucket of what our mass-media displays before us today).  

Yet, even in its “small form” images of the KKK brutally attacking and killing marchers in the Civil Rights Movement are forever sketched in my memory;  images of students shot-down & killed at Kent State as they peacefully marched, President Kennedy assassinated, followed by Martin Luther King, Jr, and Robert Kennedy . . . and the grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy, and saluting toddler John-John — all images forever engraved in my memory.  I could not watch the happening in Charlottesville, VA without seeing these images alongside them. Hate Crimes by groups like the KKK and White Supremists were a horror then, and they are equally so now!  

I think about our children, and the impact that these events and other acts of violence are having on them.  .  . 

I remember 1963:   sitting in my 3rd Grade Class and my second grade teacher running into our classroom, filled with emotion, crying out “Our President has just been shot!”  She had brought her tv to school so her class could watch the Presidential Parade in Dallas that day.  I remember the shock and fear that I saw in my parents and in the world around me.  And all of this followed with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of Robert Kennedy.  No one talked to us.  It was scary and confusing, and got pushed into the closet — an emotional “monster” waiting.   

I remember threats of nuclear war and the day that they told us to climb under our desks and only drink from the back of the toilet if a bomb is dropped.  Yes, I feel those anxieties today.  That “monster” rattles the door, because that “little girl” is still afraid.  How is it with you?  Because I recognize it, I am able to work with that energy now.  You have to look at your fears “eye to eye”.  

And then there were the deep impacts within the home.  I wonder how yours was?  Paralleling the events of the 1960s were my parents experiencing their own “hidden monsters” which were being roused by these events.  And clearly they did not know these triggers — these hidden fears.  

My father, wounded, with shrapnel lodged near his spine, inoperable, and still sent out to serve for four years overseas, came back from WWII addicted to his escape, alcohol.  So as violence erupted in our country, is it any wonder that his dependence on alcohol increased?  The peace-filled home I had lived in throughout my preschool years suddenly changed.  

Emotions erupted as fear of losing my father to alcohol overcame my mother.  In many ways I became caught in the middle of this battle between two people who dearly loved each other — as our home fell victim to the destruction of substance abuse.    I was too young — lacking the maturity — to understand this.  So I absorbed the emotions and the fears, burying them deep within.  I did not even begin to understand what was happening.  I was too young!  How many of you had a similar experience?

Today, how many children are facing similar issues in their homes with the opiod crisis, with Vietnam Veterans unsupported, with jobs lost . . .?

At this same time, my mother went back to work, and I remember the woman, Leola, who was there for me, caring for me, after school.  Our community was segregated at that time.  We lived in the city-proper . . . Leola was from the “Southside” of town.  

At that point in time, I had never known any other way for people to live.  

I was a child growing-up in the South.    

And then one day Leola was no longer there.  I asked where she was.  Matter-of-factly I was told she had been murdered by her alcoholic husband.  I knew Leola had a son close to my age.  I thought about him and wondered what would happen to him.  No one talked about that or about Leola again. 

My emotions got stuffed;  this was an era of learning to stuff emotions, stuff fear, stuff pain.  It has only been in recent years that I have managed to “open those boxes” as that pain started to attack my body.  

Thankfully, I was mentored through a process to do that. How about you?  

How many kids need someone to acknowledge what is happening and just talk to them about it?  How many of you needed that? 

I remember enforced integration in fourth grade which shut-down the school in “Southside”.  I remember Rosemarie coming to our class, and wanting to help her feel welcome.  Feeling good about how my friends and I had tried to include her, I was shocked by the racism I encountered when I shared this at home, and suddenly I heard words I never expected to hear from my own father.  

I watched my visiting aunt jump to my defense and saw my aunt and father in verbal debate over race, neither giving an inch — finally agreeing to disagree.  Until then, I had assumed that the racism & violence I saw on TV was “somewhere else” — at that moment, I knew it was alive and well in my own “backyard”. ( Years later, I was to confront it again from the one who defended me — as she demanded I discontinue a friendship with a colleague because of race;  I refused. The next morning this aunt was able to confront her own reactions, and apologize to me.  

She was “awakened” to the racial feelings she thought she did not have.). 

 There is no room for KKK & White Supremacy & Hate Groups, anytime anywhere.   

How has this played-out in your life?

There was so much that happened in the 1960s and 1970s.  Things in the world, in our country, in school, and, at least for me, in the home.  I lived through my father’s near death hemorrhage and matter-of-factly being told to stay with another family, to hand-over keys to the house for funeral preparations, as doctors gave-up hope as days passed and Dad was in a coma. He lived.  I was 12, and no one talked to me about it — ever.  

Two years later, again doctors gave-up and sent Dad to Duke University Hospital seeking a “miracle”.  Dad called home in tears, crying out “They are killing me.”  What does a 14 year old do with those words;  what do you do with also watching your mother collapse in tears?   Dad came home, and died unexpectedly that night.  Upheaval — Life in a Swirl —All settling into a new unknown.   Brokenness all the way around.  

How many of you experienced such brokenness?  Did anyone talk to you?   No one talked to me.

My father who had died became the one not to speak of because of the deep grief of his death.

For years I longed for someone to talk to me about my father — 

to remember him!  

How many kids need someone to talk to them right now?


The years that followed were years of emotional upheaval as my mother did not know how to handle her own grief, was terrified of losing me, and directed all of her fear and “emotions out of control at me”, and I in-turn did the same on her.    There was much misdirected anger and hurt that was to plague us for decades to come.  And, at the heart of it all, confusion and lost love and simply not knowing and understanding what we each were truly feeling.   

Grief and fear unacknowledged and misunderstood created enormous upheaval in a previously warm and trusting relationship.  We needed neutrality;  we needed things beyond what we could even begin to fathom. We were doing the best we could. 

The pain was too deep, and we did not even begin to understand it.  

I wonder how many families are torn apart in similar ways today?  


I share this story because the events of this current time so closely mirror those times of the 1960s.  Alcoholism plagued many of the families of veterans of WWII — soldiers escaping the horrors that they lived through.  Alcoholism impacting families then and now.  Today it is far beyond that with the opioid & heroin epidemic.   And what of the children torn from there families — the children of immigrants . . . In all of the this, the unspoken victims are the children of those families.  

When families break, children break.  Convenience dictates:  “They will be alright” — “Someone else will take care of that” . . .   But the someone else is not there.  And the kids fall through the cracks.  

We need to find ways to reach out and assist each other — and to help the children, and to help the “broken” adults (yes, even those who are not in addiction).  They need a mature friend. The entire family needs help, too.    And if we find ourselves as part of this cycle, it is never too late too reach-out for healing within our own circle — to help to change patterns. Patterns do continue through families in terms of how we “were taught” by actions, lack of actions, words, and lack of words.

I do not have answers.  But, I do know that if you have a young child in your circle with a family in trouble, that child needs someone to care and to talk to.  And in the aftermath of a death in the family, the child needs someone to step-in as a calm in the storm.  And the adult survivors need that, too.  They do not need a friend just for those few days immediately after the crisis — it is needed even more greatly in the weeks and months that follow.   

I wish I had realized this long ago.   

We are what we are, and always go forward.  

So what was this all about?  It is about digging-deep, and opening those hidden “boxes” and “doors” so that you can release all that old stuff and see a brighter tomorrow.  It is a life-process.  

I hope that in sharing my story, this may assist you  in some way.  I especially hope that if you happen to be of my same vintage — one who remembers life in the late 50s and in the 60s and the 70s, that you will take a moment to consider how the events of our present time may be tapping on “old doors” in you, and that if that is happening, you may gain greater insight into what you are feeling, and be able to take the first steps to heal.


Blessings of Light, Peace, and Joy to All!


Rev. Mary Ann Tourjee


© Rev.Mary Ann Tourjee 2019