I’ve been thinking about my mother all morning as I worked out in the heat adding onto my adobe walkway. I am trying to define my feelings about her and about her life. I thought about ‘pity’, ‘compassion’ and ‘regret’. I can’t become clear about my feelings or define them until I understand more about what these three words actually mean in our language.
I have always shied away from using the word ‘pity’ even in my thinking because, to me, the word has a tinge of a self-righteousness, a stance and perspective that I consider to be connected to a personal shortcoming rather than to an asset. I looked this word up online and Webster’s defines the word this way:
Etymology: Middle English pite, from Anglo-French pité, from Latin pietat-, pietas piety, pity, from pius pious
Date: 13th century
1 a : sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy b : capacity to feel pity
2 : something to be regretted <it’s a pity you can’t go>
synonyms pity, compassion, commiseration, condolence, sympathy
With this clarification I can tell that my concern about taking a ‘self-righteous’ perspective IS tied to how I feel about ‘piety’ and ‘pious’ in general. I don’t like either of those words for some reason I can’t quite grasp. Yet words by themselves do not contain either negative or positive. What is it about this word that causes me to want to shudder and run?
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin pius
Date: 15th century
1 a : marked by or showing reverence for deity and devotion to divine worship b : marked by conspicuous religiosity <a hypocrite—a thing all pious words and uncharitable deeds — Charles Reade>
2 : sacred or devotional as distinct from the profane or secular : religious <a pious opinion>
3 : showing loyal reverence for a person or thing : dutiful
4 a : marked by sham or hypocrisy b : marked by self-conscious virtue : virtuous
5 : deserving commendation : worthy <a pious effort>
The word ‘pious’ is a young word in our English language, and no doubt directly entered our cultural awareness through the influence of ‘the church’. Knowing my mother’s focal obsession with ‘good versus evil’ was also tied in some vague yet powerful way with ideas contained in Christian religion does not make me eager to embrace this concept.
Yet while the definition of ‘pity’ does coincide with the thoughts I have been having about my mother and her life today, it is not a word that ‘rings true’ to me about how I feel in response to her and her life today. So I will look further into this synonym for ‘pity’:
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin compassion-, compassio, from compati to sympathize, from Latin com- + pati to bear, suffer — more at patient
Date: 14th century
: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it
synonyms see pity
This word, ‘patient’ did come into my thoughts as I sloshed wet mud into my adobe mold this morning. I don’t know which way this word is connected to compassion – as a suffering ‘patient’ or as one who needs to ‘be more patient’?
When this word appeared in my thoughts it was connected to my thinking that nobody who has not suffered infant and/or child abuse can EVER really have a clue what ‘it’ is. Most people in our culture have some sort of understanding about what ‘child abuse’ is, and yet if anyone had ever asked my mother or my father if there was ‘child abuse’ going on in their home they would have said “NO!” If anyone had asked my mother’s mother if ‘child abuse’ ever happened to my mother, she would have also said “NO!”
My thinking about how ‘everyone’ assumes that they know what child abuse is at the same time that those who are committing child abuse are mostly NOT EVER going to accept the reality of the abuse they commit led me to the word ‘patient’.
The ONLY way the truth about what child abuse IS will be really KNOWN is if the public LISTENS to what infant-child abuse survivors have to say. Yet there’s even a very big problem with THIS approach. Just as child abuse perpetrators are not likely to NAME or OWN the abuse they commit against children, MANY, MANY infant abuse and child abuse survivors are not going to NAME what happened to them, either.
My mother certainly NEVER used ‘child abuse’ in her description of what happened to her in her infancy and childhood. Do we think if we don’t NAME infant and ‘child abuse’ that IT NEVER REALLY HAPPENED?
This line of thinking led me again to the word ‘patient’ in terms of how ‘patient’ the public needs to be in supportive and affirming ways so that those who have OBVIOUSLY suffered greatly from ‘child abuse’ can be encouraged to KNOW the reality of what happened to them in their childhood, and to speak about it!
Now I wonder about someone who is sick, injured, wounded and is a ‘patient’. What does this word actually mean?
Etymology: Middle English pacient, from Anglo-French, from Latin patient-, patiens, from present participle of pati to suffer; perhaps akin to Greek pēma suffering
Date: 14th century
1 : bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint
2 : manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain
3 : not hasty or impetuous
4 : steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity
5 a : able or willing to bear —used with of b : susceptible, admitting <patient of one interpretation
Date: 14th century
1 a : an individual awaiting or under medical care and treatment b : the recipient of any of various personal services
2 : one that is acted upon
WOW! How many ‘child abuse’ survivors had any choice BUT to bear the pains and trials of their lives ‘calmly’ and ‘without complaint’? Did we have any choice other than to ‘manifest forbearance under provocation and strain’? We could not act hastily or impetuously in any way that would have altered the course of our abusive childhoods. We could not speed our childhood up like fast-forwarding a movie so that we could escape our abuse any sooner.
We had no choice but to be ‘steadfast despite opposition, difficulty and adversity’. We HAD TO BE ABLE AND WILLING TO BEAR our suffering from what was done to us. The alterative would have been death. And, yes, we were turned into ‘patients awaiting care’. We were wounded, hurt and suffering from the ways that those who had power over us ‘acted upon us’ – in the opposite of a healing way. And we sure were not ‘recipients of any personal services’ that would have helped us.
This topic is obviously ABOUT suffering:
Etymology: Middle English suffren, from Anglo-French suffrir, from Vulgar Latin *sufferire, from Latin sufferre, from sub- up + ferre to bear — more at sub-, bear
Date: 13th century
Which goes directly to what we had to ‘bear’:
Etymology: Middle English beren to carry, bring forth, from Old English beran; akin to Old High German beran to carry, Latin ferre, Greek pherein
Date: before 12th century
There’s the old word – ‘bear’ – literally in its roots connected to carrying. And that IS what we did. As I have mentioned over time the afflictions caused to us by infant and child abuse actually built themselves into our body as we grew and developed and changed us.
But what I am thinking about today is the difference between silently carrying what happened to us – often while we don’t even KNOW the truth ourselves about the infant and child abuse we suffered – versus KNOWING the truth, having words for the truth so that we can, as survivors think thoughts in words and communicate our truth about our abuse to others and to our perpetrators if appropriate.
If I think about my mother and her life in terms of ‘patient’, she was patient until her dying breath. She bore and carried what had happened to her as an infant-child and to my knowledge NEVER was able to KNOW the truth. This kind of continued patience, a pattern set up early, early in life, does not help a person to heal. It helps them to become an increasingly ‘sick’ and suffering patient who cannot ask for or receive the healing help they most need to ‘get better’.
As hard as it might sometimes be for me to understand that what my mother did to me was caused by what was done to her, I want to understand that all my mother truly knew in her lifetime was suffering. Her suffering increased with every breath she ever took, and led to her terrible suffering at death. As for me, I would rather ‘suffer while I bear the burden of compassion for my mother’ than not.
My personal mission is to KNOW what happened to both her and me – to give this knowledge words – and to encourage every single person who suffers from infant abuse and child abuse and the burden this abuse creates to speak their truth while the rest of us patiently listen.
This process, to me, is where ‘child abuse’ prevention begins.
Etymology: Middle English regretten, from Anglo-French regreter, from re- + -greter (perhaps of Germanic origin; akin to Old Norse grāta to weep) — more at greet
Date: 14th century
transitive verb 1 a : to mourn the loss or death of b : to miss very much
2 : to be very sorry for <regrets his mistakes>intransitive verb : to experience regret