The Wounded Crow: Reflections on My Father

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My father had found him flapping wildly in our front yard. Sleek and black, the crow jabbed at my father’s gloved hand as he was taken into the garage. Here my father would nurse him until his wing healed and he was ready to take to the sky again. I named him “Blackie” and would watch him with my five year old eyes of wonder as he perched on the clothes drying rack my father has set up for him as a perch. My father had a love of nature and, as I look back, a particular affinity for wounded creatures. I think that might have been because he himself was a very wounded creature. The son of a mother who had had her wings clipped by a domineering father, and a father who was the least successful of seven brother and had never gotten his life off  the ground, he had grown up in house of angry people who all felt that they couldn’t soar as high as they might have because someone or something was always holding them down. Even apparent success couldn’t sustain flight–everything always came crashing back to earth. My father described a unspoken, unconscious message in his family as “You can excel but you can’t succeed”.

The wounds my father sustained in his family manifested in depression, insecurity, and self-sabotage. He could be sweet and enjoyable at one moment and then swirl quickly into a storm of rage, accusation, and self-pity. Children have a keen sense of their parents’ woundedness and try to protect them and themselves from the chaos and danger that such woundedness can create. I sensed that my father could not help himself when he was in one of his storms of rage and so I became the little adult, the sane and reasonable one. I was the light to my father’s shadow, the sanity to his craziness. But as I reached my 30’s I was horrified to see aspects of his psyche emerging in me–the moodiness, the anger, the sense that I would never live up to my potential. I seemed to have been flying high and free but now it felt like a wing was wounded and would perhaps even break. Myths and fairytales tell us the sobering truth: the more we try to run from family curses the more we fall into their clutches. We may flee to the ends of the earth but what we fear most will always be waiting for us.

Carl Jung speaks of a family “fate” which is passed down generations. The unlived life, the unmourned losses, the unforgiven injuries–all these build up a weight that is passed down, often unconsciously, from the ancestors. They cast a long shadow which we are often unaware of until that shadow emerges in our psyches, our relationships, and the course of our life. Jung says that the only way this fate can change is through conscious suffering. Instead of running, we have to face the demons carried by our ancestors that now live within us. This was vividly evident to me in a session of movement therapy in which I imagined myself fleeing from a monster that was slowly stalking me. The only way I could finally survive was to dance with it, to embrace the very thing I feared the most. The monster, I discovered, was really a frightened and needy creature that had grown  a thick protective skin and formidable appearance in order to protect itself. It became apparent that it represented the shadow of my father and his wounded family. Beneath the most formidable of our family monsters often hide poor wounded creatures in need of love and compassion.

Dancing with family monsters, embracing what we try to run from, is the only way to turn curse into blessing, wounding into healing. Jacob wrestles with the dark angel by the raging River Jabbok all through the night. He demands that the shadowy creature give him a blessing. Jacob does receive a blessing but it includes a wound–an injury in his hip. So too, we must wrestle blessings out of our wounds. Thoughout cultures across the centuries initiation has often inolved a wounding. One is marked, named, brought into greater awareness. At times this increased awareness brings suffering but it may also bring us liberation. Each of our family journeys is different, but there are some universals: the struggle with forgiveness, owning our part in relationships, being open to new ways of seeing family members and ourselves.

Our family members are always more complex than we perceive them to be. So are we. If we can loosen our   tight grip on our family narratives we can see others and ourselves with more nuance and compassion. And we might also have more of a sense of humor, a lightness and acceptance of (to use Zorba’s words) the “whole catastrophe” of our wonderful, wild, painful, and surprising  human journey.

When my father was in his last years we were at peace with each other. I did not have to flee anything in him or in myself. I could appreciate the full range of my experience of him. I could be grateful for the gifts he gave me: his love of nature, language, music and his sense of the ironic and ridiculous. His legacy has been a rich one. Even the wounds he passed down have been a blessing. Wrestling with them has drawn me into my work as a wounded healer.

A year after my father died I wrote this song for him (audio below). I tried to catch the full range of his complexity–and mine.

I Wish You Peace (for my father)
My love could not heal you for you could not love yourself.
I couldn’t save you from your darkness—I could barely save myself,
But you know I always loved you and I know you loved me too,
So as I stand here at your grave what more can I do?
In the end, in the end, I can wish you peace.

What you have done and left undone will all be washed away
By the tides of love that carry you into that vast and shining bay
Where the harbors lights they welcome you—you are finally home at last
In the land where love heals the present, the future, and the past.
In the end, in the end I wish you peace.

Peace for all your anger, peace for all your joy;
Peace for what your life built up and what your life destroyed.
Peace for all your loneliness, peace for all your love.
In the end, in the end I wish you peace.

Now we lay you in your grave in this red Ozark dirt,
With your face to the rising sun, free from despair and hurt.
May all your wounds at last be healed, your regrets and sorrows cease.
May the weight be lifted from you heart, may you find complete release.
In the end, in the end I wish you peace.

Peace for all your longings, peace for all your fears;
Peace for all your laughter, peace for all your tears.
Peace for the life you didn’t love and peace for the life you did.
In the end, in the end I wish you peace.

–Phillip Bennett, copyright 2013, PhillipBennettMusic.com

13 thoughts on “The Wounded Crow: Reflections on My Father

  1. How beautiful! I was married to a bi-polar man for 43 years, ended in his just walking out angry; this story/song said so much to me. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for inviting me to your blog. I’ll visit and read your reflections again soon. Your father shared the story about the crow with me and he also reminisced fondly then–and a number of times–about the crow he tried to raise when he was a child. Beginning your reflection with that memory triggered memories of him of my own, so that my mind went chasing down short passages as I read your thoughts and I want to read them a second time and then, perhaps, comment.

    I’m happy to find the lyrics here of I Wish You Peace. When I listened to your CD I was moved by the song but I couldn’t catch every word and was going to ask you to send me the lyrics!

  3. Phillip, the poem/song was beautiful. I could feel your love and acceptance. Wonderful. Also, I never heard that Jungian notion of “the family fate,” it’s one that rings so very true. Glad you learned to dance with it, and glad you’re writing this blog!

  4. Dearest Phillip,
    It’s a pleasure to hear your powerful voice again. I was struck in your essay (prose poem) by all the unfinished business of families — the “unforgiven injuries,” the “unmourned losses.” That is difficult work, blinding even, the poor puny self caught in endless cycles of trauma and false narratives. You write in this piece from a posture informed by all the confusion and hurt, but now in a clearing. We can tell we are in the clearing because there is room for your love of your father to flow out of you, toward him.
    Keep writing,
    Molly

  5. Beautiful! My story is different, but the same, too. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight. AND the wonderful song, too!

  6. Phillip…what a beautiful sharing….the realization that unmourned losses might be carried in our own lives on behalf of our loved ones is powerful. It is the underlying sadness that perhaps seems to have no words ….maybe it actually has a name….maybe now I can name it. The song was beautiful and moving.

  7. Phillip,

    This piece is wonderful…..personally revealing, wise and very helpful.

    Yes, this connects to my story and your song speaks of a place that I have just recently found my way into. Your words so beautifully speak to forgiveness and understanding. I have heard that song before, but reading it today has taken me to a new and different place. Interesting how that happens….

    And I do like how you have woven your story with psychological wisdom and spiritual/religious teachings. This works! And works well.

    Your gifts are very evident. No broken wings here.

    With deep appreciation, and thank you for the nudge into your blog.

    Joanne

  8. Love this, Phillip! What a very moving and thoughtful expression of something I’m sure we all do at some point in our lives if we’re to truly live free: dance with monsters.

  9. Dear Phillip, You have no idea how timely your writing is. I have just returned
    from CA where my dear 14 year old grandson received many 8th grade awards, only to have his father – my son in law bully and berate him the next day via one of his rageaholic outbursts. I have tried to dance with this monster for 20 years and at times have been more successful than others. Your words give me courage to keep trying. Thank you. Lucretia

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