When I was a child my Grandmother had 2 pianos in the living room. I never saw her sit down and play them in 20 years. I was always banging on them as a little guy—secretly hoping that she would teach me.
Then she died.
I heard whispers from relatives later that she loved to sing, dance, and play the piano in her youth. I found an old newspaper article that celebrated her talents as a professional dancer—’Kathy was a ballerina savant’ it said.
She never once talked with me about that part of herself. At some point in her life, before I knew her, she lost the energy to create. Losing creativity must feel like dying while still alive. Moments of my life have felt like that.
My grandmother suffered from a deep trauma that she could never shake free from and that trauma squashed the creativity inside of her. The trauma poisoned the best part of herself. She really did die a small death in those moments. Unfortunately, her life took a turn for the worse the same year I came into this world.
Her husband, my mother’s father, left her the year I was born. My mother, modeling her father’s behavior, left me two years into my infancy—she handed me off to her broken mother. Trauma begets trauma begets trauma. The seeds of life are sown long before we hold the plow of destiny.
I only met my grandfather once. He was a hotshot surgeon in Orange County and I was invited to some big award dinner for his lifetime accomplishment of wielding a scalpel. The audience had no idea that he had cut out the heart of his entire family and that those individual family members would spend the rest of their lives repairing his inflected wounds. Most would never heal, limping toward death with a broken heart.
At first, I blamed my mother for everything and held that anger for years. Then I turned that anger to my grandmother. It finally landed on my grandfather. The roulette wheel of anger followed me in my sleep and showed up in moments of darkness. But who knows what suffering my grandfather went through? It’s a sobering realization when you see the path so clearly. I wonder how far back the dominos of trauma extend?
Does everyone get a pass because the cards they were dealt didn’t give them the proper skills to maneuver life’s happy landscape? Can I really hold any resentment against my mother for dumping me into the lap of her tormented and broken elder? I did. Now I don’t.
I never understood why my grandmother kept those pianos—perhaps they were skeletons of a different part of herself, a reminder of who she once was before the trauma. She likely held a secret candle burning somewhere in her soul, looking for some light to make her way back to creativity. To love. To an open heart.
Those pianos were symbols of hope. Dreams lost but kept close enough to act as reminders. Yet the daily reminders weren’t strong enough to help her break free of the chains wrapped around her broken life. Symbols. Hopes. Dreams.
Some people create from suffering and others create to celebrate emotions inside themselves. Maybe there is no difference, a celebrated suffering is as valid as a celebrated joy. The real travesty is suppressed emotion that can’t make its way out. This is why I love creativity, it frees the good and bad in us. It heals the sorrows and heightens the joy. Creativity unlocks the darkness and allows it to move amongst the living. It is our life force.
I am grateful to be alive, to have hands that draw, fingers that type, eyes that see—canvases of possibility that call everything that is me.