I saw the movieAugust Osage County this week. Based on the Tracy Letts’ play by the same name, it’s a darkly comedic movie — if a dire, hopeless depiction of how difficult, even destructive family can be. And of how the damage, once done, is never quite escaped. And may well be passed on.
For me, even more difficult than watching the pain wrought when it was inflicted was the focus on how long-lasting the negative effects can be. Letts’ story suggests the injury sticks with, even travels with us. The film’s most basic theme is that whatever harm has been visited on the parents will be revisited on their children in one form or another, no matter how fiercely they fight this unholy inheritance. The sins of the parents… to the seventh generation.
Some have had families that were everything they could have hoped for. Others did not. I suspect, few families are perfect. There is always a challenge in balancing a family’s resources and its members’ needs. And delivering what a family has to offer to each of its different children at the right time and in the right ways – it may well be hit or miss.
We all could use families that are supportive, pro-active, positive launching pads, equipping us with confidence and capacity. Or, at the least, bequeathing us enduring memories of being precious and loved. Life itself, it seems to me, is hard enough that everyone deserves a good start.
What was your experience of your family? How are you bearing or sharing any burdens your family has left to your adulthood?
A friend of mine says, “Any real freedom… or a fresh start seems too impossible, too much to hope for.” Can anyone ever leave behind or outrun such personal, familial history?
I admit that I feel trapped by the film’s prospect from two equally threatening vantage points: as both my parents’ adult child and my adult children’s parent. August Osage County offered me a fatalistic, disempowering picture, suggesting, ‘it was too late — even before I got started — to do anything but live out the consequences of my inheritance.’
Is each generation saddled with endless recurring, though diverse reincarnations of original sin? Or must we carry the successive injuries and compounded burdens of all who have gone before us?
The latter possibility creates in me such overwhelming despair that I am left needing to believe there must be some way for things to get better. I’m a Christian after all!
In other words, there must be some chance of redemption. Even in the movie, it could be said that the parents meant to spare their children: despite the load of hurt they did pass on, they meant and in fact did leave their children with less harm than was done to them.
My response to — perhaps self-defense against – the threat of generationally increasing or personally unending familial harm was to retrieve from the forgotten corners of my memory something a therapist said to me almost twenty years ago: “good parenting is to decide not to pass on to your children what has been done to you.”
We do have choices. Because there’s forgiveness and the freedom that comes of it. We do have choices. And perhaps the first step is recognizing the harm done to us. And trying to let go of the anger, resentment and accusing…
Even if you’re not sure where to look for help breaking free of the chain of injury and hurt, don’t we believe, as church folk, that there’s a power from beyond us to help?
At least, that’s my prayer and hope.
See you in church,