To Joe

This post is dedicated to Joe and to all the hidden parts of ourselves yearning to be welcomed Home.  It is also the dedication to my book, An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita.

I was over forty before I found out about Joe. I was rummaging through my grandmother’s cedar chest as I had done so often in the past during my summer visits. All the old pictures were there, mostly those taken “down home” where my grandmother had grown up. Among the yellowed and torn pictures were the familiar faces of those I had long known, mixed in with others I did not recognize. One such picture was of what looked to be a teenage boy. He was standing alone out in the yard.

Although I had run across this picture before, this time the face staring back at me held my attention and roused my curiosity.  I walked into the kitchen where my grandmother was busy cleaning, moving pots and pans from the stove to the sink. “Nanny,” I said, “who’s this?” She looked at the picture briefly and said rather matter-of-factly, “That’s Joe,” as she continued to move the pots and pans. When no further explanation came, I said, “Well, who’s Joe?” My grandmother never stopped her work nor looked at me as she offered her brief explanation. “Joe was my younger brother. But, he was never right.” It was clear she was not about to be drawn into any type of conversation about it.

I was stunned. It seemed incomprehensible to me that there had been a family member I had not known about. I was the one who had created photo albums of the family, wandered through graveyards with my grandmother to gather information about births and deaths and had started researching our family tree. At one point, I remembered an old family Bible in which my great-grandmother had placed a sheet of paper listing the names and birth dates of her children. The bottom of the sheet of paper had been torn off but there remained what looked like the top part of the capital letter ‘O’ at the bottom where the last name would have been added. I had never paid any attention to the mark before. Now I knew it was the top part of the letter ‘J’ written in cursive as the other names had been.

I remember my great-grandmother as a tiny, fast moving woman of few words. My great-grandfather was tall and had a rather hard expression about him. They were farmers who spent their days literally making their daily bread and doing what was necessary for simple survival, as rural folk did in the early part of the nineteen hundreds. Joe was the sixth and last child to be born. But there was no doubt he would change life for all of them forever.

I have come to have the deepest compassion for my family and the secret we have carried. I can only imagine how difficult and challenging it must have been for all of them, particularly the other children whose job it was to look after Joe, as there was little he could do for himself. I learned that as he approached adulthood the daily care became overwhelming and the difficult decision was made to put him into an institution. When the day came to take him, I was told, my otherwise stern great-grandfather “wailed” as he shaved. No one had ever seen him cry before. And, what was being buried deep in the heart of the one who tore Joe’s name off the list to go in the Bible?

Each of us has secrets and parts we feel should not be brought into the light.  We fear if others could really see us they would not accept or love us, when, in fact, it is we who do not accept and love ourselves. And all families have “something”— secrets, perceived flaws, lies, wrongdoings, injustices – things most family members believe are best kept hidden from the world. But, what is true will not let us go.

This is why the Bhagavad Gita opens with the protagonist Arjuna standing on a battlefield about to go to war with, principally, his own family, his cousins. In his family’s case, an overt injustice has occurred and it is Arjuna’s duty to restore righteousness. But, seeing his family before him, he falters and offers all his good reasons, rationalizations, for not being able to confront the injustice he knows is there.

And, at times, so it is with us.

Until one day our desire to live open and free becomes greater than the need to hide. Our secrets seek the light of day. Our perceived flaws seek transformation in the crucible of self-acceptance. And our lies, wrongdoings and injustices seek to be made right.

And Krishna, or God within, smiles.

Welcome home, Joe.

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