Laundry Lists and The Dharma VII
A Chapel of Ease and Grace
Laundry List Trait #12 - We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings, which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
When I had just turned sixteen years old my mind and spirit were fairly turned inward. I excelled in ice hockey and I had a good singing voice; these were my external connections with my world. The rest of me was on the inside, making the business of being a student and an interactive teenager an exercise in dis-ease. On the cusp of this milestone birthday we moved 1,000 miles from our hometown of Milwaukee to a mill town on the Schuylkill River north of Philadelphia. Here I found a new home (for three years) at the Hill School, where my father was now newly installed as the school physician.
My experience of this Laundry List Trait, one that deals with the powerful forces of abandonment and relational deficit, is not exclusively connected to my Hill School experience. But as I look at these pictures of the school chapel, to which I repaired daily with the rest of the school family for Evening Prayer, I see a picture of a place of refuge amidst the confusion; a chapel of ease and grace.
Adult children of alcoholic or dysfunctional families struggle to find a safe place for their emerging spirits. They are often left wondering what is real, what is true, and what is normal. They find themselves in a cloud of uncertainty, and so find themselves clinging to what they can for safety. Relationships are laden with landmines. To be left hanging in doubt about so much is to feel abandoned, especially when there seems to be so much at stake. These grown up children come up with all sorts of strategies to make sure they don’t suffer further abandonment and confusion. The result is not pretty.
The Three Characteristics - #3 - Anatta
Do you remember the first two marks or characteristics? Anicca (impermanence) and Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness). If things arise and pass away, and as we discover by trying to hold on or cling to them that they are ultimately unsatisfactory, so we realize that this dynamic is not personal. There is not a SELF that this whole dynamic system of arisings and passings revolves around. The causes and conditions that give shape to it all are not about ME! If I hold on to something as if it all comes down to ME I will be even more deeply disappointed and distressed. The dis-ease of my circumstances will fester if I foster too much (or any) personal attachment to it all. It is arising. It is being known. It will pass away.
The Hill School was led in its first half century, 1851 - 1911, by the Meigs family. John was the second Headmaster. His wife must have been some sort of angel to the boys making their way up King Street from the train station to don their new boy beanies and enter a world of high academics and athletic challenge. Her epitaph on the outside chapel wall captures her spirit:
“In whose eyes was the light of God, and in her life His love.”
I have found some of her spirit wandering the campus over the past few years…