Time...is a Gift
Time Long Past
by
Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792 - 1822)

Like the ghost of a dear friend dead
Is Time long past.
A tone which is now forever fled,
A hope which is now forever past,
A love so sweet it could not last,
Was Time long past.

There were sweet dreams in the night
Of Time long past:
And, was it sadness or delight,
Each day a shadow onward cast
Which made us wish it yet might last,
That Time long past.

There is regret, almost remorse,
For Time long past.
'Tis like a child's belovèd corse
A father watches, till at last
Beauty is like remembrance, cast
From Time long past.
 
"Until the moon turns blue will I stop trying to make you happy."
Those were the words of a man to his future wife. Those were my father's words to my mother. She remembered them as she related to me the things he had said or done, especially the more memorable moments and happy times and amusing incidents which involved her young children. She delighted in talking about my father.

We can't cram fifteen years into three weeks. But neither should we let that realisation -- that fact -- ruin the three weeks that we have, if that is all we can have for now. A three week visit was better than two weeks, I told myself. An entire month would be even better. But three weeks was agreed upon and my mother stayed with us during those three weeks, allowing the two of us to spend precious time together (although I did begin to take some of that time for granted, after a while) after not having seen one another for five years.

The stories started early on. Good food, pleasant company. Sitting and talking about the present and the past, keeping up-to-date with current events and reminiscing about a time long ago when she still had a husband and surrounded by their five children.

I sat across from my mother and listened. My husband listened as well. I enjoyed her stories. But sadness was welling up inside me and I felt the tears coming on. I held them back, thinking that this was not the time nor place to give in to such emotions. I was enjoying my mother's stories and I didn't want to ruin our time together by releasing those emotions. There was love, to be sure, but we weren't a very demonstrative family, my mother and I, and I wasn't sure how she would react. So I listened, happy that she was there to tell me her stories but experiencing some sort of sadness within. And I knew that I had to forgive.

Later that day, before my mother joined us, I shared with my husband what I had gone through earlier. And because we were by ourselves, I opened my mouth to say softly, "I miss my father" as I started to cry a little. And he understood. He even thought that it would have been perfectly fine if I had given in to my emotions earlier. I disagreed, however, as it just didn't seem the thing to do. I kept my feelings to myself again when my mother joined us.

There were those who said that I was a sweet person. But my mother was sweeter. I was also known as quiet. But my mother was quieter. She seemed more serene and composed, taking time to cook the food from my childhood that I had missed for so long. She took her time peeling. She took her time stirring the sauce, checking to see if the meat was cooked through. She was patient and her patience obviously paid off as the food was always delicious. Whether she was cooking for one other person or a larger group, she was organised. And if there should be a minor culinary emergency, she would improvise and the end result was just as tasty.

Whenever I would mention that I was not as serene as my mother and added that I was also half my father (as he was my other parent), hence my impatience and loud manner sometimes (to those who knew me best), my mother would smile. My point at the time was to say that my father had his negative qualities and I had obviously inherited them for everyone in my family knew that he had a hot temper. I wasn't pointing it out to be unkind. After a few attempts at trying to explain my personality (which I jokingly labelled as "freakish" during one meal and later as "Jekyll and Hyde" at another meal), I came to the realisation that my mother would not say anything negative about my father. We knew he was not a saint; we knew he had his faults. I wondered if it was because she was older now or because my father was deceased. Then it occurred to me that perhaps my mother just didn't want to speak ill of the dead. Or at least where her late husband was concerned.

It was time to forgive and move on. Over the years, I thought that I had forgiven my father. And I certainly thought that I had moved on. Little by little ... slowly ... I have. And yes, it is normal and perfectly all right to even miss the man. My mother lost her life partner when she was in her mid forties. She never remarried and even refused to go on dates or outings with other men. She just never saw the need for that sort of male companionship. Her own life was different from the very beginning but she made the most of it, whatever life threw her away. She is detached now, she says, and I asked if her life since childhood had possibly prepared her for it. She said yes. She has her faith and she loves her family. I notice her imperfections but then again, who among us is perfect? It is so easy, and one is ever so ready, to point out someone else's faults. I later wrote to an older brother that our mother was a wonderful person and that he probably knew that already. Yes, she is flawed. So am I. And even after having been through all that she's been through, I still see a child-like innocence in her. And I take delight in that discovery.

As I sat and listened to my mother's stories about my father, I knew that I had to forgive the Past for there is a life to live in the Present. My father is in my Past. My mother is in my Present. I can still remember my father, all that was good and bad about him. It is not about pretending. It is about forgiving. Every one has their story. My mother had her own story and I have mine. My father had his own story too and it wasn't always sunshine and roses for him either. Even though it's many years later, I still try to understand him. Have I completely forgiven him? I don't know. But I think I'm on my way to finding out.

During the fifteen years that I've been away from my country of birth, I did visit my family every once in a while. Not often enough but a visit every few years was better than not to have visited at all. But of course it was never enough. Two weeks, or even three, was always too short. I still had a life to come back to. But even if I could visit every year, it would not be the same as living close by, seeing and talking to each other on a regular basis. I knew that. And I regretted that. I couldn't cram fifteen years into three weeks. I could only cram three weeks into three weeks. And it was enough. Or it had to be.

And now that I am older -- and possibly somewhat wiser -- I see the person that my mother has evolved into after my father's death. Would she have turned out differently if he were still alive? Would I have turned out differently if my father were still alive? The answer to both questions is Yes. We are moulded by our life's experiences and situations, by our relationships with the people around us. I think that's how it is for that's how I've observed it to be. Basically, she and I are the same people. But we both had to grow in different ways after my father's death.

There were times, over the years, when I looked at my mother differently. During this recent visit, I looked at her differently all over again. And during this particular visit, a part of me still wanted confirmation from my mother about some of my father's scandalous deeds that she once confided in me. But she was at a different place in her life then, a time when she obviously needed to tell me such things. But no more. Now she merely smiles at the mention of his hot temper. And being the daughter that she knows so well, she also knows that I will still make excuses for my impatience and angry words by stressing that I inherited those qualities from him. I inherited other qualities too. Good qualities. I learnt from both parents. She believed in him. And she loved him. Who am I to paint a different picture of him for her (and possibly others) to see?

It is clear now that she never knew. Or if she even suspected, she has now forgotten. I will never know. And there is no need for me to know. Do I still think that she might not believe me if I told her what had happened? Is that what I'm really afraid of? She is old in age but youthful in spirit. Unlike me, she isn't shy and fearful. She is petite, and dainty, but otherwise strong and perseveres. Do I want to shatter her world just because I feel that I need to reveal my secret? No, I don't. It is not because what my father did wasn't harmful. It most certainly was harmful.

Every incest survivor has their own story. This is my story. My father is dead. My mother grows older with each passing year. So am I. I can look back at my past but I need to stop dwelling on my past. I have told my story. I am still telling my story. I know the scars will remain. But more than that, I know that He is there. As undeserving as I am, He is there. Or He is here, whichever way one wants to look at it.

And God, in His infinite mercy and goodness, gave my mother and I those three weeks together. Please, dear Father, give me more.

 

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