She walked alone, with regret

It wasn’t until a few years before she died when my Mom told me she walked down the aisle alone when she got married in Mt. Angel. The church where my parents were married was and still is a beautiful, ornate Catholic Church in a small farming valley in Oregon, a match for another somewhere in Bavaria. Mt. Angel became my family’s savior in the early 1940s when they drove to its abundance in a car packed with all their belongings from the dryness and desperation of Nebraska’s Dust Bowl.

I remembered seeing an old film of Mom and Dad’s wedding, with my grandfather there in his best suit, my grandmother with a corsage on her fanciest dress, and all of my Mom’s seven siblings dressed to the nines. Why didn’t her father walk his daughter down the aisle?

Mom laughed a little when she recalled how long that aisle walk seemed, her all alone in a beautiful wedding dress that had also been worn by her sister-in-law before her (and would later be worn by her younger sister, and a niece or two years later). It is a large church, she was shy then, and it was the biggest day, and the longest walk, of her life. She trailed her bridesmaids, the little flower girl and boy ring-bearer, past rows and rows of pews, and statues of stern saints and other holies staring down at her, under the heavenly clouds and angels painted on the ceiling.

Two sisters had married before her, after the years of depression and war when everyone made do with less. Families like theirs didn’t have big weddings in those years. Her sisters wore beautiful travel suits in lieu of white wedding dresses, marrying at city hall with no family around, far from home. Because her father hadn’t walked his other girls down the aisle, he didn’t think he should walk her down the aisle. In whatever version of familial fairness and equity he believed in, his logic overrode his daughter’s disappointment, and he and a church full of relatives and friends watched Mom in her youthful beauty and innocence walk alone.

Although she smiled when she told me the story, there was sadness there too, a regret she had hidden, kept tamped down for decades. She never showed her disappointment to her father. Mom carried the Nebraska stoicism and practicality of families who lived hard lives and did what was needed, even when it hurt. Grampa was just trying to be fair.

Mom’s story brought to mind the ways we disappoint one another, without even realizing it. Actions and ideas we think are justified based on our own philosophy or approach to life do have consequences. Big ones sometimes. And we may never know how big unless someone much less shy than my Mom lets the person who impacted them know how they feel. But would it have made a difference to my Grandpa if he knew how hurt my Mom was? Would he have changed his mind and walked her down the aisle? Or would he have stuck to his guns, supporting, he imagined, his other daughters who married amid war and in the exhaust of the depression?

As we approach the holidays, when families are forced to convene by choice, tradition or filial obligation, what better time to consider how our past choices, or choice words, seriously impact our friends, lovers and families in negative ways, even when we perceive our actions as just. Some of our choices may forever stay as sad, even haunting memories of disappointment or regret for another person, ever-present, and unable to be shaken off or left behind.

As the philosopher Leibniz posited, we are “windowless monads”, moving forward in our own limited worlds, often with very little awareness of how we impinge on others. My Grandpa wasn’t a bad person. He was a good man who tried his best to be a good father in the only way he knew how, based on his personal ethic.

How about this holiday season we give ourselves the gift of self-awareness, amping up our perceptions so we focus more on others, what they might need, and just listen. Really listen, tamping down our instincts to pay back a relative for a previous slight, or bossily insisting that everyone do it your way in the kitchen, and opening ourselves to the narrow, limited nature of our perceptions. An action you may think is the right thing to do, can be the exact opposite of the person affected by it. Are you really sure you’re right?

Each of us still remembers tropes or actions of our older relatives when we were young which had an impact on us at the time and linger today. What will your younger relatives, and your peers and elders, remember about your actions and words? What legacy of communication will you leave under the tree? Make it the most beautifully wrapped gift of memories this year, not regrets, for you or for others. Walk beside your family and friends. Because the aisle is as long as the sadness which can stay with us for ever more. Happy Holidays, and to all a good night!

From Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon coast.

For more from Lady Proverbs, go to Pulayana Press.

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