“The audience of someone living fifty years from now, especially if it is a child, is an anchor in the future to which people can tie the listless boats of their attention in the present.” – Bina Venkataraman, The Optimist’s Telescope
The future has never come easily for me.
I remember being a teenager and not expecting to live to see 30. By the time I was in my mid-teens, I had tried to kill myself once and would try again just before my 20th birthday, a week or two before my marriage to a man I felt I had to marry in order to survive.
People with trauma find themselves stuck in the past. I remember my father catching me with my bedroom light on when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. I tried to pretend I was sleeping but he knew better. I remember his hands around my throat, then later, him trying to calm my hysterical sobbing before I woke my mother up. In retrospect, I know he was probably drunk at the time, a fact that doesn’t dull the pain of the memory.
Later, when I was 16, again I believed he would kill me as he strangled me again when I told him I knew he abused me when I was young.
These memories are at odds with my memories of a person I loved, a person deeply flawed, who died almost two years ago. Someone with their own trauma who loved his grandchild deeply. My father now is firmly in the past. But I find myself still here, despite my best gut feelings. Returning time and again to the periods of pain and not daring to look much past the present because short-term survival was enough.
I didn’t begin to expect much of a future until I met my partner, and it’s because I found a place of safety that I decided I wanted to be a parent. Foolhardy though it may seem, I thought I could rewrite some of my past, offering up a different vision going forward that was marked by generational trauma and pain that never completely goes away, only subsides for a while before it wells up again.
As a climate activist, I think very often about my son’s
future and what he’ll think of my efforts once he’s living in the future we’re
trying to build for him. He’s my audience, he’s my anchor, and I do everything
with him in mind. Now, rather than half-living in the past, I spend much of my
time with a foot in his future, locking arms with the person he will be and our
planet as it undergoes accelerating change.
When that time comes, I hope my son can remember me and know that I did my best.