More thoughts on the reconciliation theme as it relates to real life transforming into fiction.
In my previous piece, I drew a comparison/contrast between the characters of Dr. Joseph Rose and Ken Lockheart, the two embodiments of The American Dream in Water Signs. Though generations apart, both Joseph and Ken overcome similar obstacles in their quest for a better life that expands far-beyond their respective, humble beginnings. It should also be clear from that post, but bears repeating here, that although they rise above challenging material circumstances, both men retain the traditional values with which they were raised.
These values — love of God, family, and country, and commitment to a strong work ethic — transcend the financial, and thus are not dependent upon how much money a family possesses, although consistent adherence to them serves each of these characters well.
Dr. Rose moves from the poor son of a tailor to respected Philadelphia neurosurgeon, while Ken transforms from son of a blue-collar union worker (who takes great offense at his youngest child’s ambitions) to successful corporate businessman. Yet neither loses their sense of gratitude for the United States of America and the opportunities it affords them, nor their ingrained belief in right and wrong.
Ken differs from Joseph in having the extra burden of paternal disapproval, a reality explored throughout the book with the ultimate result being the renewal of the father-son relationship. But that’s not the only parent-child connection intertwined in the reconciliation theme. And there’s also a thread of forgiveness surrounding other influential figures such as school teachers.
Like her suitor Ken, Madeline is the youngest child in her family, another sensitive Pisces creation who came into the world on the exact same day and year. She’s also been raised in the Catholic faith and school system, which has had its blessings and disadvantages. In one scene, she confides in her new beau that as a first-grader, her teacher-nun made her life miserable from the moment she discovered Madeline to be the daughter of a doctor, branding her “a spoiled rich girl” . Whenever the six year-old would show up at school in a perfectly beautiful hand-me-down jacket from her older sister, the nun would inevitably sneer, “Oh, I see Daddy bought you a new jacket!”, as if having a family that cared for their children’s material needs was a bad thing.
These insults were usually accompanied by lectures about the poor children in West Philly, which apparently the nun believed to be the fault of a first-grader who didn’t share the same hardships. And although this is not in the book, I remember that the First Grade Sister’s favorite Bible quote was Jesus’ admonition that is was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
In real life, I have vague memories of asking my father about that oft-quoted Bible passage, horrified by the prospect that a good man like him might not go to heaven because he had money (I should also point out that while my dad made a nice living, we were a middle-class family, nowhere close to millionaire status). He did his best to assure me that Jesus was not condemning anyone for using their God-given talents to bless the world and, in his case, help people heal.
Another memory that is mentioned in the book involves riding home from school in the car with my mother, after another day of lecturing about the poor, disadvantaged kids in Philly. As we passed the familiar waste management company on the right side of the road, I remarked, “Mommy, I wish Daddy was a trash collector instead of a doctor!”
My horrified mother looked at me briefly before reverting her eyes back to the road and asked, “Why on earth would you say something like that?”
My response: “Because maybe if he was, Sr. Timothy Ann would like me!”
She then instructed me that I should be very proud of my father, as he was not robbing banks, but helping people get well. He hadn’t been handed everything on a silver platter; he’d worked hard for everything he had and shared with us. Being the protective (thank God!) “Mama Bear” she was, this little exchange resulted in a one-on-one visit with both the principal and the nun in question. To the best of my recollection, things did improve after that, but the damage had already been done.
As in my own life, the mixed messages Maddy receives about earning money contribute to her difficulties in achieving her own financial success as an adult. When she dates Jake Winston, her first long-term boyfriend, he reinforces the themes of the frustratingly misquoted “money is the root of all evil” (instead of “love of money is the root of all evil”). Years later, Madeline, through her own spiritual development, is able to forgive both the nun and the boyfriend by recognizing their own unique internal struggles that led them to inflict their pain and warped monetary outlook onto her.
In Jake’s case, his resentment over his family’s financial crisis — a difficulty not shared by his then-girlfriend Madeline — compels him to do and say hurtful things that ultimately doom their relationship. Regarding Sr. Timothy Ann, while there’s no concrete information as to the circumstances of her upbringing, it is safe to assume that a misinterpretation of her voluntary vows most likely contributed to her nastiness toward an innocent little girl. In fairness, there were plenty of nice sisters who never resorted to these tactics, sticking instead to the fundamentals of teaching the Catholic faith along with English, Math, Science, Social Studies and all of the other critical school subjects.
Interestingly enough, I am currently towards the end of an eight-week course offered by Unity Church of Delray Beach called, Five Gifts for An Abundant Life. My last two classes have focused on forgiveness of others and forgiveness of self. Years prior to taking this course and writing Water Signs, I’d participated in a 12-week course which was also sponsored by Unity — Stretton Smiths 4T Prosperity Program. I credit the principles I’ve learned there — particularly in the area of forgiveness — with helping me to recognize and release the negative programming I’ve received, along with cultivating a compassionate understanding for the people who perpetuated it.
It’s been a long, but fulfilling journey, and I hope by presenting these themes within the confines of an entertaining love story, others may find the same benefit.
More on reconciliation in my next post.