g a t h e r i n g s

You Asked For It: Serving A Life Sentence

Why is it that on the verge of something good happening in a person’s life, suddenly there’s a loud thud and everything is stopped or even goes into reverse? Perhaps the thud is clearly of the person’s making: one way or another he rejects the extended hand, she finds fault with the opportunity presented, he shuns the chance he’s always been waiting for. Sometimes the thud is less clear: seemingly, suddenly, an obstacle has arisen, the extended hand has changed its mind! Stopping short makes no sense to those of us who stand outside the situation or even to the person who is experiencing it.

But it makes sense somewhere. So, we ask ourselves, what are we frightened of? And sometimes we have an insight. For example: perhaps we realize we are more comfortable with failure than success, on better terms with complaint than completion. Still, the insight isn’t helpful if it is a passive insight, one that simply pads the cell: I simply am this way. I hate that I am this way. You hate that I am this way. I hate you for trying to get me to be another way. Oh – that feels good, I can punish you rather than change me. And you love me, in part, because I punish you, and that punishes me. We have a secret alliance. Oh, the cycles we get into!

Okay – so now we may wonder where the sentence comes from. A long time ago, Hellinger spoke of the systemic sentence. Something like: I am more comfortable with failure than success. Of course, we know that on the one hand, we are deeply uncomfortable with the sentence, but somehow our strongest draw is toward it, despite our best efforts.

Maybe this is because the sentence isn’t finished. This other part at work in us – often directed to one or both parents, to an older sibling, to a suffering community, to antecedents who brought shame – is the action we are already and still taking on behalf of the system. The subliminal words: I will not abandon you. I’ll stay sick so you won’t go. I’ll be the mother (or father) you lost. I’ll atone for your sins. I will make up for what’s missing.

When we are involved in these actions, powerful and demanding, how can we turn to our own dreams? At the very least, it’s an interesting exercise to finish the sentence, whatever it may be, and then to say it loud enough that those to whom we have always been speaking can hear.

What happens if we say the words out loud, and then allow for a fresh response? Perhaps they too have words we have not heard before, words that come back to us now, in the present… Thank you for all that you have done. I see it now. I also see that I am in the past. You cannot change what has happened, although I see how hard you have tried. Truthfully, your full life is a light for me, for us. In this sense, you have already changed everything. Finish what we started. That is my and our greatest hope. It is never too late to feel us behind you.

Active insight: change agent. Here is a moment in which we get to decide what sentence we take from the past, what we hear in the now – we have that choice. And we can begin to imagine what sentence we offer to those in the future, and what sentence they will receive.