“What Embraces”

mary poppins

A couple weeks back now, I published #metoo. It brought up plenty of pain for me as I wrote it, even though I have done a ton of healing.  It brought up some pain for people who read it.  One person’s story sometimes does that!  My love to those that hurt!  I find it is amazing how much pain the heart can hold!

In that post, I told how God had used the movie Mary Poppins in my 5-year-old heart to protect and guard me in the middle of the suffering I was enduring. If you missed that post and want to connect with the background, click here.  Clearly, this movie meant a lot to me, but people didn’t own movies in that era.  So, I had not seen it nor thought much about it over the years.

After my Junior year at UC Santa Barbara, on May 23, 1980, Mary Poppins was rereleased. I was then 21.  I remember how excited I was to see it again, not even knowing why.

What I didn’t know then, but I clearly see now, it was the 5-year-old little boy inside of me who was over the moon about seeing that movie again.  Check out this post by a dear brother for more unpacking on the kid inside connecting to the adult outside.

I didn’t know anything then, except, in the dark ages of my childhood I had seen and loved this movie.  And also I knew, I wanted to take my then girlfriend Karen to see it.  I was so excited and thought it would be a great “end of finals” date.  So, invited Karen, made plans, and picked her up after her last final.

Karen had just written what she would tell you was the most brilliant essay of her college career on John Milton’s masterpiece Paradise Lost, comparing and contrasting it to another piece of literature. She felt great about her writing and achievement, as was appropriate. It had been an intellectually stimulating and a deeply meaningful, albeit exhausting, experience.

In contrast to her day, I had finished my finals days earlier and had spent the day focused and SO EXCITED to see this movie.  With the same carefree joy of Herbie the Love Bug, I drove my little, light blue, 1968 VW bug up to the campus to pick her up, oblivious to the thought that she might not share my enthusiasm.  She was spent intellectually and fulfilled, but really more ready for a picnic on the beach than any movie.  But here I was intent on sharing a favorite childhood moment with her.  So, we drove to downtown Santa Barbara on this bright, sunshine day to the State Street theater.

Unlike my first experience of seeing that movie when the line went around the block, this time, very few people were there.  We were the only young adults in the theater, and other than us, there were some parents with small kids attending the movie.  Perhaps adults who had loved Mary Poppins as children and were now sharing this classic!

As the movie began and got into the story, I remember feeling confused.  I could feel that Karen was clearly not enjoying it. I was loving it, but she was not.  Have you ever looked back and realized you had placed expectations on someone else to respond in a certain way to give you permission to like or enjoy something?  I think I had wanted Karen to like it to affirm 5-year-old Brian’s joy.  Had she known that, I know she would have!  But I didn’t even know that.

And clearly, she didn’t like it.  Face it, there’s no comparison between John Milton’s brilliance and Disney’s Mary Poppins! When she didn’t like it, something broke in me.  It was one of those moments when I told the little kid in my heart to just back down, shut up, and drop it.  Saying: “This movie wasn’t that important after all.”

For precious Karen, it was like she had been yanked from the sublime to the ridiculous, from this immense intellectual triumph to something that felt inane.  I know she tried to find a way to be present and like it, but it was all wrong.  She needed a space to tell of her victory, not a movie that asked her to enjoy chalk drawings.

The power of that experience was immense.  We had a very difficult conversation, perhaps even an argument(?), afterward.  And that was the last time I saw the movie.  When it was possible to own movies, we didn’t buy it.  Karen’s sister recorded it for us once on her TV but I never sat and watched it with the kids.  Like the memories of the abuse, this movie, that had been a saving moment for me, got locked up too.

I didn’t realize all this until this past May when I came back to it and realized just how significantly God had used that movie.  That may sound crazy to someone for whom the movie was just an inane jaunt.  But it is true, and choosing to like it is about one thing:  honoring 5-year-old old Brian who is still with me!

So, this year, while staying for a week with my grandson Theo, my kids had a copy of Mary Poppins, so one night, after everyone was asleep, I watched it on my computer.  I laughed, sang and cried my way through.  And after that, decided this year, I needed it on my Christmas list.  And guess what, Karen bought it for me.  Come full circle– next, we need to watch it.

Now, the #metoo post I wrote last week got incredible responses.  These all were another kind of gift into my life. Thank you for all those beautiful, encouraging words you wrote.  Your presence and love are immensely important in this life.  We cannot walk our “Caminos” without one another.  It takes a village.

One brother in Christ, Dr. Kelly Flanagan, kelly

(Whose blog post I referenced above) living near Chicago wrote me this:

“This is probably the bravest thing I’ve ever read…. People have told me the bravery alone in my writing has been healing for them. Brian, if my bravery can be healing to a person, the level of bravery you show here can work miracles.”  
He ended with this:
“Thank you for being you, and refusing to let you be taken away from you.”
That last line, “refusing to let you be taken away from you,” got to me.  I’d love to live there more from the true “me.”  You’d like that too, right?  Too often in my experience that is not the case.  May it be more and more true for me and for you!
Shameless plug:  If you are not familiar with Kelly – check out his blog at drkellyflanagan.com. He is that kind of real in all his writing. And his book, Loveable is super powerful as well.
To say the least by his and all your comments, I was staggered.  I don’t know what I expected, other than the fulfilled feeling of having done exactly what I was led to do.  But the support, the affirmation, the love, the honesty, that has been a boon in this life.

After I had published it and it automatically published on Facebook, I thought I ought to send the link to my siblings.  They didn’t know my story, although I had mentioned the fact of the abuse to my oldest brother, Roger, at one point.


Roger, Me, John

So, I first emailed it to my two older brothers. Roger (the oldest) phoned me the same day saying,

“Brian, I never knew. But this,” he took a breath, “this explains everything.  No wonder you behaved as you did as a child.”

He continued,  “You were just trying to let us know something was very, very wrong.  And Brian, I want to apologize for the way Johnny and I treated you as a kid.”  

That ball came in from left field.  I was shocked.  I told him,

“Oh Roger, that’s long forgiven!  But thank you.  That means so much to me to have you say it.” 

As a kid, from my perspective, my older brothers’ favorite game to play against me, joined by Kirk the neighbor kid, was “Ditch Brian.”  Seriously, the best thing they could figure to do with me was to get away from me.  Looking back, I don’t blame them!  I was fairly self-absorbed due to the abuse and my response to it.  And when I was especially riled up, and somehow got close to them, Roger would place the palm of his hand on my forehead and I’d be swinging my fists wildly at him, but my short arms against his longer, stronger, older arm were no match! He’d be laughing and then quickly duck away and run, and since I had been pressing the full weight of my body against his hand, well, I’d fall flat.

I received an email from my next older brother, John, that afternoon.  John wrote this:

“Dearest Brian,
I’m finished crying and think I can now type…
I knew nothing about this and would be hugging you with a relentless grip if you were that near me at this moment. I can only send you my love and care and tell you how proud I am to call you my brother. … I love you!”
What an immense word John had sent.  I read and reread his words.  The very way he phrased his language touched me.  And how he wrote he’d be hugging me “with a relentless grip” went right to my core.  He’s such a cool man.
I sent the same blog link to my sister, Nancy, in DC. She’s the oldest in the family, 10 years my senior for the next three months. Although, she would rather you think of her as only being 9 years older. My sister and I have not talked much in life.  She left the house when I was 8 to go to college.  Our longest conversation on record happened last month, lasted 90 minutes, and was delightful.  We were sharing stories about our upbringing. I have quizzed my siblings for I’ve wanted to check out my own memories of the ordinary parts of life.
Our cousin and my sister Nancy on the right (a few years back)
Nancy wrote back the next day with these words as part of her email:
“I am so, so very sorry that you had to experience something so awful and difficult—-so very hard for a child, and so horrible to have to endure such torture and torment for so many years. Too much to bear! … Thank God that you have Him and have worked through and been healed so much. So grateful that you have His light guiding you.
I am so sorry that you could not have had that support as a little one.”
I was grateful for her words.
My sister was closely connected to the guy who had abused me, Sherwood W.  In fact, she asked him to come and officiate her wedding in 1975. For that reason, I thought perhaps she would not believe me.  But she did. That meant so much.
At the time of her wedding, I was 16. It was the first time in 8 years that I had seen Sherwood.  I felt nothing.  I was internally totally disconnected. The abuse was buried, silenced within me.  In fact, most of my childhood was shrouded in fog at that point.  I knew nothing of what had happened.  I carried with me only two clear childhood memories: A backpacking trip that our family had taken the summer after I turned 8 and a vacation we had had at the family cabin.  But as I have been able to remember the hard stuff, the good memories have flowed back in as well.
For me, these weeks have been filled with such an outpouring of grace– like many embraces. That’s the way to leave 2017 and enter this new year, being embraced.  Thank you for doing so!  And, thanks for listening.  Happy New Year!

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