Featured Blog Post, Process of Illumination

Breaking Free… After Seventeen Years

This weekend, two of my closest and dearest friends, Jen & Simon, are releasing their new CD “Fate Line” with their amazing band, Jen Schaffer & The Shiners. This event is something that I wanted to write about this week because, not only do I want to promote their band, their new CD and their CD release party (tonight, Saturday November 15th, 8:00pm at The Jam Factory, 2 Matilda St, Toronto ) but I also felt it was an opportunity to share what their songs (and now their CD) have meant to me.

For several years now, I have been attending their shows and listening to their music and, during that time, the songs have imbedded themselves into my unconscious mind to the point that they are now part of my internal soundtrack. Different ones pop into my head at various times, serving to underline whatever mood or situation I may find myself in. I’ve gotten used quite to this and find it a welcome comfort to have Jen’s voice in my head from time to time.

In fact, I often find myself singing Jen’s songs out loud. The truth is, I don’t actually know some of the lyrics because I’ve only ever heard the songs performed live. Until now, (with the release of the Fate Line CD) I’ve never had access to a written version of the lyrics and so some of the words have managed to escape me.

I’m telling you this because I think it makes the story I’m about to share even more interesting. 

A few months ago, after one of Jen’s concerts, I had a pretty profound “processing” dream about a troubling situation that I was dealing with in my personal life. The dream was pretty textbook in a lot of ways and fairly easy to interpret, which helped to give me some much needed insight on the situation. The only elements of the dream that didn’t seem to make sense were the appearance of Jen, emerging from the background with a crowd of people, as well as a single word: “cacophony”.  The latter went off like a gong in my head and echoed loudly in my mind as I was waking up. It remained there, for some time… just hanging in the air.

Needless to say, it really got my attention.

Even though her appearance seemed out of context to the rest of the dream, seeing Jen was not nearly as baffling to me as hearing the word “cacophony” all by itself. As you can imagine, it’s not a word that I use regularly in my vocabulary or ever even think about, for that matter. So, where did it come from and why was it in my dream? I knew there must be a reason that I remembered the word so vividly, but I could not figure out what it was supposed to symbolize, apart from it’s definition, which is “a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds”.

Hmmmm.

The next day, I told Jen about the dream, mainly because she was in it, but also to share the insight I had received from it. What amazed me was that, when I told her about the word “cacophony” she smiled and said that she uses that word in the lyrics to one of her songs, “Seventeen Years”. Like I said earlier, I don’t know all of the lyrics to her songs, so even though “Seventeen Years” is one of my favourites, I had no idea that she used that word in the song.

Not consciously, that is. 

I asked her what the line was, and when she recited it to me, I got chills. 

I had always loved the song, but in that moment, I knew it had special meaning for me. I still wasn’t fully sure what it symbolized, but I was certain that the song held an important message which was being delivered to me from my unconscious mind/universe. Of all the words used in “Seventeen Years”, “cacophony” is the only one obvious enough to cause Jen to make the association with her song… other than cicada, I suppose, but then I don’t know that it would have got my attention in the same way because I was already conscious of that word being in the song. My sense was that I was definitely meant to pay attention to that word (cacophony) and that word led me to pay attention to the song. All I had to do now was decode the message the song held.

To help you understand the message, you’ll need to know the lyrics, so here they are:

“Waiting to emerge

A cicada from the ground

Lost but then you’re found

Amongst the decomposed debris

First you die then you are

Reborn amongst the trees

And after seventeen long years

You have finally broken free

After seventeen long years

You have finally broken free

Mothered way too young

To support a family

The Agency agreed

And took away her baby son

She burrowed deep and dark

And dreamt about a reunion

And for seventeen long years

She refused to come undone

And for seventeen long years

She refused to come undone

She played house then suffered it

Just a fragile doll herself

She baked a cake once a year

And moved the homestead north of Guelph

Made a world where no one could reach her

Or ever teach her

To feel the shame that was dealt

She’ll use her strong new voice

To call her one true love back home

He may hear it rise above

The cacophony so grand

But it ain’t no siren’s song

The jagged rocks reduced to sand

After seventeen long years

He returns to take her hand

After seventeen long years

He’s prepared to hold her hand

After seventeen long years”

— Seventeen Years by Jen Schaffer

After I left Jen’s that day, I desperately wanted to know what the meaning of the song was for me but still didn’t know all the words. It seems silly now, but it felt weird to ask her to write them down for me just so I could figure out a hidden message. Still, I knew the general theme of the song and, now, the last verse, so I started to think… and then it occurred to me… 

What was happening in my life seventeen years ago?

2014 – 17 = 1997. 

It was the year that my step-father, Jules, passed away. 

If you scroll up and read the lyrics again, I think you’ll start to get an idea of where I’m going with this.

So now, in order for me to tie this all together, my story is going to take a bit of a turn. 

In earlier posts, I’ve written about my maternal (adoptive) grandmother, Ethel. She was born in Scotland in the early 1900’s and was a bastard child. As such, her birth brought shame to her family and she was horribly mistreated at the hands of her aunt, whose care she was in after her mother, Annie, was shunned and who subsequently emigrated to Canada to find work. When Ethel was eight years old, Annie sent for her and Ethel, or “Scottie” as she was called, went on to have a troubled life, join the circus and eventually become a burlesque dancer.

In her late 20’s or early 30’s, Ethel adopted my mother, Patricia, the illegitimate child of a fellow dancer, Edna. Edna was only 16 at the time and my mother was the product of an affair she had with a wealthy college boy and patron, Jean-Louis. She, too, would have been shamed and shunned, had she come home pregnant, so Ethel agreed to take the child and raise her as her own.

When I was born, my mother was determined to break the cycle of illegitimacy and the shame it brought with it. She refused to have a child out of wedlock and before I came along she had already had several abortions with various men who were, I suppose, not marriage material. When she met my father, Walter, they got married fairly quickly and, nine months later, I became the only child to be born in wedlock in three generations.

The cycle of illegitimacy, however, was not done with us yet.  

My parents split up before I was a year old and my mother moved on very quickly. From what I understand, she met and moved in with my “step-father” Jules, within months of Walter’s departure. In fact, it’s likely that Jules was part of the reason my parents separated. Perhaps, they became attracted to one another while she was still with Walter.

From the time I was one year old, Jules was known by me as “daddy” and became the only father I ever knew, growing up. He and my mother were never married because she was still married to Walter and it took years to get a divorce in those days. This complicated matters considerably because it meant that Jules and my mom were living in sin, which made it impossible for him to introduce my mother, or me, to his family because they would not have understood or approved.

And there it was… The cycle of illegitimacy continued.  

Even though I was my biological father’s legitimate child, I would never be the legitimate daughter of the only father I had ever known… and the only one I truly wanted… simply because I didn’t share his DNA.

Like my mother and my grandmother before me, I grew up in the shadow of shame and carried the legacy of never believing that I was enough or that I was worthy of belonging.

This limiting belief of “I don’t belong” continued to play out in my life, starting with my need, even as a small child, to be “different” and “unique”. What I didn’t realize at the time was that being unique and independent – and therefore “separate” – was a remarkably effective way of hiding my shame and my fear of being rejected. People would only see the “me” that I wanted them to see and I could stay safe from being “found out” or judged for the real me. The “me” I was ashamed of.

In my marriage, the theme of illegitimacy popped up again. I desperately wanted to belong to a large family and to raise my children with a rich cultural background and I found all of these things with my former husband’s Hungarian-Israeli Jewish family. What I didn’t realize, until now, is that I had set myself up for a fall. By inserting myself into an unfamiliar environment where I could never truly belong, I would always feel like an outsider and that would prove to be, ultimately, unsustainable.

Why would I do such a thing? 

Because it felt familiar to not belong. And familiar often feels safer, even when It’s not in our best interests. We have have already practiced familiar so we know how to navigate it. Familiar takes less effort and less RISK.

After all, what came naturally to me, up to that point, was adapting to someone else’s norms in an attempt to feel worthy of belonging. Deep down, I didn’t really believe I belonged anywhere so, to my wounded self, pretending to be something I wasn’t made a lot of sense. 

After Jules died in 1997, I began to take stock of my life and, for the next 10 years, I looked at all the choices throughout my life. By 2007 it was obvious to me that I had been on a journey that had taken me farther and farther away from who I really was. I now refer to 1997 as the year I “woke up” and began my “conscious journey.”

Unfortunately, the structure of my marriage could not withstand or support my growing need to become more authentic and follow my greater purpose. Eventually, with the help of some major catalytic events, it became clear that the only way I could find my way back to myself was to leave the marriage.

Simultaneously, I met the man I refer to in previous posts as my “soul-mate”. And, yes, there was “overlap”. Even though I’m no longer ashamed to admit it, at the time I could not bear it. It was the complete opposite of the person I wanted to be and yet, there it was. The perennial theme of illegitimacy and shame was playing out, once again.

Let me just say here that I think most people would agree that love has a way of coming and going, according to its own rules. We cannot control when or with whom we fall in love, nor can we decide when to stop loving someone (believe me, I’ve tried) and yet society commonly expects that we should somehow be able to resist love or “turn it off” if it happens to come when we’re married to someone else.

C’mon.

Seriously?

We all know that falling in love with another person couldn’t happen unless the marriage was already in trouble, don’t we? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we just stopped denying that it can (and does) happen to the best of us? Maybe then we’d actually have a chance at addressing the critical issues that caused the trouble in the first place.

For the record, I’m pretty tired of feeling guilty about the fact that it happened to me. In fact, in may ways, I’m grateful it happened. If it hadn’t, I’m quite sure I would not be where I am today.

But… I digress.

Because we met and fell in love while we were still married to others, and until we stopped blaming ourselves for the fact that it happened, there would always be a cloud of guilt and shame hanging over us. And, like my marriage, I set myself up for that one, too. Once again, I unconsciously manifested a situation that would perpetuate my belief that I wasn’t worthy of a legitimate relationship.

But here’s the good news.

I now realize that part of the reason I was so drawn to him was because, deep down, I knew he was “my people”. By that, I mean that he represented and reflected back to me some familiar parts of myself and of my childhood, many of which I had disowned or felt I had lost along the way.

He reminded me so much of my step-father… his stature, his intelligence, his humour… the way he made me feel protected, admired and absolutely adored. His love and his energy felt so familiar and I wanted to belong to him, just as I had wanted to belong to my step-father. I suppose I’ve spent most of my life looking for belonging everywhere except for where it truly lay… within me. And I think that’s why there was no question in my mind that I had to go to him because, on some level, I knew that he would lead me back to myself. 

In a sense, he brought me home. 

I’ll always be grateful that he entered my life when he did and how he did because our relationship… it’s honesty, it’s complications and even it’s ending… helped me to see that my search for belonging had taken me so far from myself that I needed someone like him to come along to help me find my way back home… back to where I really belong. It took a few years in that relationship and a couple more years after it to get back here, but…I made it!

And, as for this cycle of illegitimacy, I’m leaving it where it belongs…

BEHIND ME.

Which brings me back to what “Seventeen Years” means for me…

The song tells a story that is very close to my own. The journey I’ve travelled since my father died has not been easy. It’s taken a lot of courage and yes, it’s made me stronger… and yet I’ve still felt a void… a missing piece that’s never quite been filled.

I still look for him… wait for him… to return to me somehow…

Before he died, my step-father must have come to appreciate how important it was that I be recognized as his legitimate daughter. For a time, I even took his last name, but it was never made legal. He investigated the steps necessary in order to adopt me as an adult but discovered that it would have required my mother to relinquish her parental rights. In the end, we knew that it had never mattered whether we were related by blood or by a piece of paper. He had always been my father and remained so for the rest of his days. But, still… the belief that I was not worthy of belonging continued to linger within me and, as long as it did, the cycle of illegitimacy would not be broken.

Until now, that is.

This year (2014) has felt as if there is a completion happening, as if I am on a accelerated path to where I “belong”… to where I have always belonged, I guess. 

I’ve learned to love myself. 

And I’ve learned that I’m worthy… of love… respect… commitment… belonging…

After seventeen long years.

I have finally broken free.

“She’ll use her strong new voice

To call her one true love back home

He may hear it rise above

The cacophony so grand

But it ain’t no siren’s song

The jagged rocks reduced to sand

After seventeen long years

He returns to take her hand

After seventeen long years

He’s prepared to hold her hand

After seventeen long years…”

Check out and download Jen Schaffer and The Shiners’ new Fate Line CD here.

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