Due to a bad case of wanderlust, Bill abandons his wife and family for nearly two decades. The painting on the clothesline represents the mother’s creativity and perseverance as she musters the strength to raise 5 children on her own. Note the protective presence of the Green Tara in the corner, a symbol of the father’s late-in-life conversion to Tibetan Buddhism. Twice husband and wife are reunited: once on the stairs as an engaged couple; later in a nursing home. When it was time to bury the father, Anne sensed the conflicted feelings of her siblings and commissioned this talking piece to initiate the process of forgiveness.
Here Anne writes to her surviving siblings:
“Dear Family, I commissioned this photo collage from my talented friend Nancy Gershman to honor the healing that occurred between my parents and touched us. I wanted an image that told the story of how they were together, and apart, and together again. You will recognize many of the photos, or the objects in them:
Father and Mother on the steps of Army housing, probably before they were married
Father and Mother almost 60 years later at Kimberley Hall
Mother holding her first child aloft with her strong arms
Father touring England – that’s Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain behind him
Mother and Father leaving my son’s graduation with my husband
Mother’s house on the Cape
Her oil painting of the Alps, hanging in the sun to dry with her laundry
The head of a Green Tara, as on the Tibetan wall hangings Father and D. [his second wife] collected
Once you know how someone’s life turns out, it is easy to think you know their destiny. But destiny is chosen step by step, and while you are journeying, you do not know where you will end up. I find it so touching to see Father and Mother sitting together before we ever knew them or they ever thought of us, while they were young and in love, before he went off to war. He seems to be whispering in her ear, she is in high spirits. Behind them, the shadow of the porch stretches out like a raven’s wing and the house dangles over the void. After the war, after Harvard, they were at cross purposes.
She had children to raise, he had a career to make. They went in different directions at great cost to themselves and all concerned. Her path took her to Cape Cod where the family gathered every summer. His path took him back to Europe and back through history, which he came to see as a race to the bottom of the Kali Yuga, the degenerate Iron Age. The vast barren plain in the middle of the picture speaks to me of the emotional wasteland that lay between them for 40 years. The important thing is that they chose to cross it.
When they did, Mother knew – we all did – that the disease that had claimed her beloved father was gaining on her. It was the beginning of the long good-bye. The picture in the lower right-hand corner was taken at my son’s graduation. As you probably recall, the weather turned cold and rainy, and my husband took them back to the house before the ceremony to get warm. I snapped this shot as they trundled through the parking lot hand in hand, like Pooh and Piglet going home for tea.
Then the turning point, at Father’s 80th birthday party. An hour after meeting D. for the first time, Mother breaks her hip. I will never forget the family conference after Mum’s surgery. As we children were debating what to do next, Father and D. asked to sit in on the conference. They offered to provide the first line of support for her at a nursing home in Windsor. They honored that pledge. D. still does. Until I started this project, I only had a vague sense of who those figures are in the Tibetan wall hangings. Now I know that the Green Tara is “the emanation of Skillful Means and Active Compassion.” I think of Father, meditating on Tara over many years. I think of D., acting in compassion, skillfully.
That is why the Tara is the sun in this picture, shining across the picture to warm Father and Mother on their visits in Kimberley Hall. (We have been blessed, my sibs, to have seen Tara’s face twice in our lives. The first time was when P. took our grandparents into her house and they gave us theirs.) Mother blossomed again when Father came back into her life. She shed her bitterness. He overcame his dread of the nursing home to keep her company. That took courage. To my eyes, he moved beyond charm to gallantry then. This is my favorite memory from the last year that they shared. I called one summer day, when Father and Mother were sitting together on the patio at Father’s house, drinking beer and eating pretzels. D. went out to ask whether they wanted to talk with me. The phone was in the house. My mother looked at my father and said, No, we’re talking.
Let us remember the power of compassion, my darlings, and not our pains.”
When her healing art piece finally hung on the wall, Anne explained why this photo therapy process worked so well for her:
“Even during our talk, I felt the burden of the past begin to shift as you re-envisioned it for me. “