A Circle of Repair: Child to Older and Child Again

“Transported back to childhood,” marneejill CC, 2016

I’m not sure what to do when the positions are switched like this. You are standing there, person whose body created me and my brothers, my long lost sister, too. Rage has beat against you your whole life, tightening muscles against bone. You are the one whose moods and migrations determined our days. This has shaped all of us, this culture of fear and caution that taught us to be conflict negotiators, to cajole laughter out of the angriest of strangers. Now, on this day, you are sputtering with anger. I am watching you. In the middle of your rage, someone smaller seeps out and enters the room. Someone confused, afraid.

Many years ago I read an essay by Tim Wise about his radical grandmother, an anti-racist organizer who began spewing a stream of hateful white supremacist crap after Alzheimer’s impacted her sense of self and memory. Wise reflected that after she had forgotten the faces and names of her grandchildren, what his grandmother still remembered was the violence that shaped her early life. It would have horrified her.

I remember this essay as I watch you shrink into apology and shame. It’s like a hall of mirrors; anything I say is just another entry point to “I’m sorry” and “I shouldn’t have” and “I’m sorry” again. I’m watching you and remembering that when I was the small one, alone in my bed, this is what I wished for, this quick contraction that might have taken you from a big scary monster to the one who was trembling below the sheets.

On this day, here you are, getting smaller with each word. It’s not what I hoped for. I don’t like how it feels – this switching of sides.

We are not alone in this room. There are ghosts around you. I can hear them scream. You are nothing, you are nothing, you will never be anything. They tell you that you will always be alone. That you should give up, disappear. That each time you try to get bigger in that wild way that revels in the feeling of its own life, each time you do this, you will be beaten, you will be shamed. How dare you leave us to come into your own?

When I was small and your rage would fill the air in our lungs and the feeling of our skin, I knew those ghosts were there. I would whisper to myself, this is not her, she is not like this, this is a Spirit inside that is making her do this and then do that. I don’t know why I knew that someone else was in there with you, but I did. It is what kept me loving you when I would have been justified in stopping.

It takes so much energy to build structures on top of the terrors and loneliness so that we move through our days as though we are strong. These structures have to be constantly tended, in the same way that public relations firms and advertising agencies reframe white supremacy as logical. Rational. How things always will be. Our wildest selves, the selves that came through at birth as part of Spirit and ancestor’s dreams, are good at sniffing out the bullshit. It takes so much energy to turn those wild selves into the ones who obey, who fight without teeth, who are too alone to topple what is keeping us apart.

As you are nearing the end of this life, that attention is gone. You are tired and the walls are tumbling. The lift-up energy that finds a way to fight without stopping every second of every day, it’s failing, falling, and what is left is what was always there: a small frightened child.

I am sorry, you say, implying with body and words that you should never have been born.

I sit in your living room, relearning what it is to love you. I don’t forget what your rage has done – this has nothing to do with words like forgiveness or accountability. It’s just that the memories keep moving into a conversation of generations, one after another. What does it say about a people who believe that the only way to keep their children safe is to make them afraid of the ones who say they love them? Because this is what our ancestors did. Not intentionally or strategically, but in the same way that evolution works. Slowly, one action or inaction at a time.

I believe that a community that lives in a good way centres the children. We centre a child’s wonder, learning, simplicity, and clarity about how all is connected. We centre the certainty of their touch when the connection goes wonky. And we need more. We also need to centre the generational comet’s tail that streaks behind each one of our young. It’s there, even when the children are small and tender and trust those of us who care for them implicitly. These tails take far longer than a few years of solid love to disappear entirely. It is not my child or your child, it is our children, backwards and forward.

The fact that these littles – these small mewling things – come through with an infinite capacity for wonder and love and rage and grief, just as all wild things who remember they are part of a pack do, is a constant gift. It’s a gift that says, always but always, we are more than what has torn at us. We are more than the weapons that some of us have wielded.

The wee ones, when they first come through, bring us possibility. The old ones, when they become small and unfinished again, show us what is still here. They show us the wisdom we want to lift up and claim or, more often, that which is preventing us from a song of something bigger. The hurt of it. The break of it. This is when we learn what is still in the way, what wants to be healed and transformed, so that we can refind the sound and shape of coming home.

Susan Raffo lives on Dakota land in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A writer, cultural worker, and bodyworker, she is the author of Liberated to the Bone .

Endangered Species Series

“Bleeding Toad,”
Mabel Wylie-Eggert, 4

Bleeding toads are solitary except in the breeding season when they gather in a huge numbers at the pond.

“Bleeding Toad,”  Mabel Wylie-Eggert, 4

Issue 69

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 69, Summer 2023, The Children Will Prophesy .

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