Loving, Hating, and Living Well

Loving, Hating and Living Well

I hate you, I thought, and did so with the same five-year-old’s passion that I’d said “I love you” to her that very morning.

The hateful thought, possibly my first conscious one but certainly not the last in a life of loving and hating, occurred at dinner when my mother insisted I eat the lima beans that I’d separated from the rest of the succotash by dispersing them to the side of my plate. Desserts, which my mother created with loving attention, were the reward for suffering through her favorite veggie concoctions. The ostracized, inedible lima beans, however tasteless, cold and clammy, sandy and gritty, were chewed and swallowed. If it weren’t for the lovingly made chocolate silk pie that a cleaned plate promised, I’d have vomited on the spot.

Several years later, my father was on the road when, late one night, my mother received the call that my beloved grandmother had died. “I hate God for taking grandma away,” I declared at my mother’s bedside when she told me the news.  But I didn’t stop there. “Daddy hates him too for taking away his mother,” I said through my tears. Her cheeks were dry, her lips pursed, and her facial expression a withering scowl as she grabbed my arm and said: “Shame on you, don’t you ever talk about God that way, or think that your loving father would ever hate anyone let alone God!”

As a child, I was encouraged and taught to love, and punished for hateful thoughts or feelings. Love was (in theory) given unconditionally, but in fact it was parceled out, or so it seemed, and hateful thoughts were of the devil and therefore evil. My parents did instill in me the importance of loving and being loved, but however well intended their efforts, love’s expression and acceptance came with conditions—lessons they’d been taught and had passed on.

The early lesson—love the other based on merit and distance yourself from or deny troublesome but normal hateful thoughts and feelings—was the antithesis (I later learned) of what needs to occur for a healthy life. Giving love without attachment to conditions while learning to accept the other is sound practice. Acknowledging hateful feelings then finding ways to exercise restraint over their expression is also good practice. Neither had a place in my family.  The guilt I felt for hating, a feeling apparently foreign to my parents, and one which made me different from and unacceptable to them, left me puzzled and hurt with no one to bail me out. I was alone.

“I love you” was an expression voiced in greetings and departures, at bedtime and following mealtime prayers. The phrase, a staple in our family, has always been one with which I’m comfortable, but not necessarily successful at doing. At the same time feelings and thoughts driven by anger and hate were “closeted” in my soul and mind because having them could only mean there was something wrong with me.

Lord Byron wrote that “hatred is the madness of the heart.” Mahatma Gandhi stated that: “Hate the sin and not the sinner is a [general rule] which, though easy to understand, is rarely practiced.” As a child and adult, confronting “madness of the heart” meant acknowledging the unpardonable hate, a task for which I was ill prepared, and therefore made Gandhi’s counsel beyond my reach.

Frederick Buechner writes: “To lose yourself in another’s arms, or in another’s company, or in suffering for all men who suffer, including the ones who inflict suffering upon you to lose yourself in such ways is to find yourself. Is what it’s all about. Is what love is.”

His words meant that for me to love fully I’d not only have to lose myself in the suffering of others and those who inflict suffering on me, but address my own hidden suffering, the hateful thoughts and feelings, and lose myself in them to then find myself, and love.

In his provocative and insightful collection of lectures, On Loving, Hating, and Living Well, Ralph Greenson (I’ve borrowed his title) writes: “Sometimes it is necessary to accept misery and injustice and tyranny, but not to like it, and not to accept it blindly. A healthy person is a person who can also rebel, complain, squawk, and fight, and not one who is in line with everyone, and is the same as everyone. The healthy human being is flexible and part of being mature is feeling able to disagree.” The psychoanalyst further states: “…how in childhood there is a good mommy and a bad mommy, but mom she is, and how it could be that to feel simultaneous love and hate for the same object is an achievement in development.”

Not to oversimplify our complex humanity (because nothing human is ever uncomplicated), but we can be double-minded creatures. A person, according to the Greeks, who is of two minds or souls or as my hate-love interior world indicated, a youngster in conflict with himself.

To choke off the unacceptable and extol the acceptable at the former’s expense left an imbalance in my inner world, a suffocating state of being. Years of work on my analyst’s couch brought life and acceptance to that which had been unpardonable, a legitimizing of the existence of hateful thought and feelings that brought balance to my soul and helped me from acting on them in destructive ways, a lifetime work in progress.

My parents’ love for me (and mine for them) was never in question, but the brokenness with which they were raised and passed on to me kept us from loving, hating, and living well, or as fully as we were meant to live, a fate I strive to change.

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10 Comments

  1. JoAnne Kurman

    Amen to that, brother. It causes siblings, friends, relations to stop talking to one another, distances us from each other because we were/are not able to say why we’re mad, hurt, etc, to start the dialogue.

    Thank you for starting the dialogue and inspiring these thoughts. It is dangerous to be censored at any level: personally, politically. The Thought Police started at home and is alive and well. Say it anyway, think it anyway. Like the New Yorker would say, “let’s tawlk!”

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Jo Anne,
      Distancing ourselves from others and our selves is so tempting when we’ve been hurt, wronged and disappointed–but so inadequate to heal our wounds. “Tawlk” is simple but so difficult to get to. Let’s keep inspiring each other!
      Thanks,
      Roger

      Reply
  2. Anne

    Beautifully written, Roger. I love your relentless and restless pursuit of God and love. Many of us can relate to these family dynamics.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Anne,
      Thank you for these kind and supportive words. I agree with you (understatement!) that family dynamics often impact the lives of many of us. Being relentless in our restless pursuits of God, truth, and healing the brokenness of early wounds is difficult, daunting in fact, but necessary. I’m privileged to be in company with you and others on this journey.
      Thank you for reading and commenting,
      Roger

      Reply
  3. Ned Towle

    Thank you Roger for your helpful words – helpful in the sense of bringing light to early family dynamics that do not lead to living abundantly. I grew up with two lovely parents who, by the time I was twelve, were no longer talking to each other. Personality issues, alcoholism, and a history of Victorian stiff upper lip, eclipsed honest exchange of feeligs. Not sure I did a much better job with my own children, but I’d like to think so!

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Ned,
      Thank you for reading this piece, but more importantly for adding to “the discussion” by sharing your own experience. When you make the statement: “Not sure I did a much better job with my own children, but I’d like to think so!”– the likelihood is that you did do so. You and I share being raised in a small suburban town, a wonderful community with an exceptional school system. Like many of us, youngsters and teens, I knew what I didn’t want to know–behind the closed doors and drawn shades, the nice homes and tree-lined streets, family dynamics, human beings doing their best and some not so, shaped and informed us. Those lessons were more profound than anything experienced on playing fields or in classrooms. I walked by your house hundreds of times going to and from HHS, and as was the case on South Drive I, like other passersby, wouldn’t have noticed anything out of the ordinary.
      Thanks Ned,
      Roger

      Reply
  4. Colette

    Thank you, Roger, for sharing your memory of that familiar childhood conflict of feelings, both loving and hating our parents, and being raised by flawed humans, doing the best they knew. Often your writings remind me of the yin and yang of all life.
    How fortunate that we are able to learn and grow along the way, and hopefully do a little better than our parents were able.
    In any case, our children must and will have their own angst about how we were not able to give them some of what they needed and wanted from us. On a lighter note, your opening brought back a long forgotten memory of scraping the peas and carrots I hated off my plate behind the radiator under our kitchen table, while being told I must eat everything on my plate because of “the poor starving children in China.” Happily, I do not remember being punished for that particular creative rebellion! May we continue to accept what was and was not for us then, as we accept what is and is not now. Write on, mon ami.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Colette,
      Oh yes, angst has always been, is, and will be among and upon us–may we be open to it’s beckoning while not be undone by it’s presence. Your story about peas and carrots reminded me of an exchange with a student of mine, an orphaned 8th grader living in a gruesome foster care home. I was a recent college grad trying to find my way into “what will I do with my life” when the teaching position at a junior high opened up. Rachel (not her real name) was in my electives class. She was quiet, withdrawn, had no friends, often attired in dirty and tattered skirts and dresses, and frequently was the object of peer insults. The reading specialist and I took on the responsibility to assist her with the hope of making life better for her. One day, while sitting with her at lunch, I realized that she would scrape crumbs into the folds of her dress, leave for the restroom then return and repeat the activity. She wouldn’t speak, but it became apparent that she was hoarding morsels of food, taking them home, hiding them, and then eating the crumbs when she was denied meals with her foster family. We were able to change her living arrangements, and though she wasn’t assigned to my classroom over the next two years that I taught, she began to engage and respond to her teachers and peers in healthy ways. I revisited this memory as I wrote about the undesirable lima beans and now your mention of “the poor starving children in China.” You and I survived and prospered in spite of our aversions to selected vegetables. I hope the same for Rachel who was denied what we disdained.
      Thanks,
      Roger

      Reply
  5. Catherine O'

    Oh, those darn lima beans and green beans too. How has eating them made me a better adult trying to know God more completely? The justice of the childhood dinner table may be that as a adult I like lima beans even when pie is not the reward. Having my own children has been a second chance at the dinner table. You don’t have to clear your plate and we can talk about China later. Roger, I always feel better for having read you thoughts. Your writing and talent is real and I relate to both the spiritual and psychological though provoking posts. Keep writing.

    Reply
    1. yourrel4 (Post author)

      Catherine O’,

      Thank you for reading, commenting, and your kind thoughts. Had French fries, milk shakes, and double chocolate ice cream replaced succotash and brussel sprouts on my mother’s favorite veggie list I might not wrestle with God as much as I do, but I’d be a lot less healthy–well, maybe. I’m glad that one of us likes the healthy bean, and especially pleased that it’s you and not me.
      Thanks Catherine, and here’s to those clammy beans,
      Roger

      Reply

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