I loved the film, Like Water for Chocolate, but when I emerged from the theater I was sobbing.
My friend Benito assumed I was crying because of the death of the lovers. He was trying to explain the mystical quality of Latino symbolism as a way to ease my sorrow. But that is not why I was crying. I was crying because I had recognized myself as the doomed younger sister.
I had not stayed at home to care for my parents, but I had never strayed to far from them, living less than 10 miles away for my entire life. Several of my brothers were far flung, but I stayed close … just in case they needed me. And as a result I became tied down, anchored, tethered to the madness of my childhood.
Oh how I had longed to run away, to break free from the binds that tie. And not once had it occurred to me why it was so hard for me. Watching that film answered that life long question. I had not strayed because as the youngest daughter, it was my responsibility to care for my aging parents.
That film opened my eyes.
And so my tears were of grief, shock and deep, deep rage.
And so to Benito’s surprise, I was inconsolable.
These past weeks I have watched another daughter struggle with the same resentment, rage, anger and grief. It breaks my heart to see her in such pain. But this time, the stakes are higher. She has been diagnosed with cancer and is struggling to find some room within that clinging web of duty for the life saving acts of radical self-care.
But how do you make peace with the screaming voices inside your head when for your entire life, day after day, you were inundated with selflessness, invisibility and silence?
I know from personal experience just how warped your sense of self can become under such an onslaught. Every act of turning inward is treated as a betrayal of trust, as an act of rebellion or as a declaration of war. How do you find yourself within this swirling web of lies? How do you learn to see clearly enough to remove the heavy blinders from your own eyes?
A counselor gave me a clue many years ago. He said, ”Katrina you could not be selfish if you tried.” His admonition shocked me. I thought I had been so selfish and self-centered, how could that be? It made me step back and re-evaluate my entire perspective. If I “could not be selfish”, then why in the world did I believe I had been?
And that began my journey back to myself and back toward self-care. I am still on that journey.
And so this past week, I sat with my dear, dear friend. And I looked into her grieving and frightened eyes. And I said to her the words that had shocked me all those years ago.
“ You could not be selfish if you tried.” And I watch as she too begins the path toward her self. And this time, I will be there reaching out my hand as this sweet, sweet woman finds her way home. Because although I loved the film, I would rather she find her freedom on this side of the veil.
©2008 Katrina Messenger