After the Occupation

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March 6, 2014 by lucieromarin

It’s all very well for me to write, “Let him recede,” as a means of recovering from a broken friendship (or any other kind of broken relationship), but, of course, it’s easier said than done. The obvious problem is that when someone has occupied your mind for years – and I mean ‘occupied’ in its strongest sense – then everything reminds you of him. You look at something and remember that he liked it or disliked it, that you shared it or that you never shared it, that he lent one to you, or joked about it, or needed more of them, or said ‘thank you’ when you left some on his doorstep, or that he had one but then lost it when he moved home, and so on.

More difficult to overcome than this, however, is the authority over your thoughts, which can persist even when he hasn’t spoken to you for over a year. Trained to think like him, your first thought, at any given moment, is ‘What would he think of this?’ and you will find yourself habitually seeking his approval or permission, even when he is thoroughly over giving it. This can sustain you in his absence for a while, but after a time, it will grow tiring, because obedience to someone who doesn’t want to know you is like some kind of perverse unrequited love – exhausting, dissatisfying, confusing, and scruple-inducing. You can find yourself in a situation in which you’re not even sure if your former authority has faith anymore, yet you think you might be committing a fault by wearing a particular top or neglecting some discpline or other in which he trained you.

A further layer of difficulty is added when many of the memories he’s given you are good, and much of his authority was benign. If you can’t easily compartmentalise him or the experience as Bad or Wrong, you’re going to struggle for a while with feelings of guilt: is it disloyal to all the kindnesses he showed to to characterise him as disappointing now? And so on.

What to do? I don’t believe suppression is healthy. I understand people who try to run as far from every aspect of their pasts as possible, but I also don’t think that this is best, if for no other reason than that means, in part, running away from yourself. You were in your past, and you were good. Also, though I’ll admit that this might just be my inner Ent speaking, I’m wary of the overnight overhaul of an entire life.

It helps me to think of the Inner City Parish Church in Budapest – a building which is part-Gothic, part-Baroque, and still contains a Muslim prayer-niche left over from the Ottoman occupation, during which the church was used as a mosque. This hotch-potch of architectural styles isn’t very pretty, but it’s truthful, and it’s an example of recovering from brutal experiences, not by erasing every sign of them, but by incorporating them into what it has become – which is not only simply Catholic again, but also home to the best chant choir I have ever heard in my entire life.

I think that a mind recovering from occupation and abandonment or escape should hope for something similar. There’s no need to attempt total erasure of the past, total denial or total rejection. This is especially true if your experience was mixed with real good. Avoid feeling you need to acquire the Perfect Interior and Exterior; a few mismatching facades or bits of peeling paint really aren’t the end of the universe and don’t make you a failure. I think it’s okay to expect to see the odd Ottoman prayer-nice remaining in your interior chapel decades after the occupation is over. The important thing is not to be so obsessed by whether or not they should be there that you become blind to the art and and deaf to the music which has returned to your chapel since the occupiers left.

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