Dealt, played, and discarded; cards, each with a corresponding value based on the utility served towards the end goal. The relative value of each card shifts respectively as its utility increases or decreases, but always with the final step of being discarded.
This analogy can be applied to many different situations, circumstances, and relationships. For my purpose here, however, the analogy is confined to explain and understand interactive familial relationships.
One is born into a family and thus, the cards are dealt. Over time, or based on a predetermined hierarchical protocol, there is an acceptance of the role that determines cardholders and cards. The cardholders, as they grow into and accept their role, hold the power, with the ability to give and take, value and devalue, hold and discard. The cards, as they grow into and accept their role, are held in servitude, will honor the cardholders, and will subject themselves to a lifelong purpose as defined by the cardholders.
Thus, the cards are dealt, and the game begins. A good cardholder, playing effectively, will recognize the necessity of a compliant card, and will accordingly manipulate the card’s self-perceived value based on such simple attributes as affection and bond, while consistently utilizing a secondary play of manipulation between the cards, alternately distributing value between them and gaining a compounded benefit drawn from the interactive relationship between the cards. Advanced cardholders will utilize advanced forms of manipulation such as philosophy, theology, and sociology to firmly hold the cards in their place and to keep the card readily available for various plays. When the time is ripe, when sacrifice is necessary, or when a card has simply lost its value, it can ultimately be discarded and, if all the cards have been used and the deck has been flipped back over, the cards can be drawn and used again. In relationships, particularly familial relationships, the game can be infinite, provided all of the parties initially and continually recognize and accept their role.
A primary and transcendent component to the familial game, although seldom recognized, is choice. The reason I say that it is both primary and transcendent is that the game is generational. The parties to the game, both cardholders and cards, are usually born into the game. They are, in effect, acting on the choice of the cardholders who have developed from inherency to choice. As the parties enter the game, they grow into roles that are accepted and assumed in such a sublime manner that they seem almost natural or inherent to the sociological establishment of the family order. This acceptance manifests itself into the patterns required of each role, cardholder or card, subsequently resulting in the card’s willing acquiescence to the cardholder.
As the parties mature and the interactive behaviors develop, as time goes on, however – and this is the part that is so rarely recognized – the roles become an absolute matter of conscious choice. The reason the mold is so seldom broken, is that the realization of choice never occurs and the parties move on through life as master and serf, leader and follower.
I must insert here two notable exceptions (and I’m sure professionals of the field can insert more): First, I have been witness to families that seem to have been built on such a foundation of healthy relationship that this game and its characteristic boundaries simply did not exist and interactive behaviors that might otherwise have been expressed in hardship, rivalry, or power, have rather been embodied in compassion, unique character, and democracy. Second, I have witnessed individuals who have been born of such a predominant will that, regardless of the existence of the game and its inherent boundaries, they could not be contained in such base confinement and have soared where another of less fortitude might have been bound.
And this mention of the predominant will brings us back round to the matter of choice. For the ability to choose is driven by the power of the will, which is driven by the overall value of self. As one’s character is developed and shaped into low self esteem, the willpower is diminished, and the ability to make positive choices along with it.
In the case of rare occurrence, where one has moved through the game as a card, had his affection played upon, had bond feigned and disguised, had what would be common truths that in a perfect world should be held as self evident exposed as the most horrific lies, and finds himself on the receiving end of an epiphany, one must choose to break free of the game, to break the generational cycle of dysfunction that is the game I’ve described. To accomplish this, one must, once and for all, with absolute irreversible finality, remove himself as a card. The result is a shockwave to everyone involved, as the concept of utility is lost and each party to the game is suddenly forced to be taken at current face value. Without choice, and yet as a result thereof, the hand is folded and the game comes to an end.
The final stage of this interactive process can be tragically heartbreaking or earthshakingly beautiful, and is very often a combination of the two. Regardless, it must here be examined as two possibilities.
The first possibility is that the cardholder is not in truth, that he has long ago recognized the self-searching desire of the card to grow beyond the boundaries of the confined relationship, and that he is playing along to more deeply confine the card because there is yet a value he must attach to accomplish a utility in the play at hand or in the future. In this case, as so often occurs, the cardholder feigns that he has recognized the fault in his position and has recognized the true value of the person he has, throughout the relationship, been playing as a card. If the card buys into the counter-play, he eventually finds himself heartbroken, for not only has he been duped by the cardholder, he has betrayed his own instincts and has inflicted upon himself an often irreversible fate. This is the process by which the card is repeatedly played, sinking further into the role each time. Having once tasted the fresh cool water of epiphany in the desert of desperation, however, the fate is now shaped in a mold that is encased with bitterness and sorrow. The self deprecation becomes more damaging to the will than even the wounds inflicted by the cardholder, and the card is never again able to move even a small step, even one play closer to choice.
The second possibility is that two people, facing one another, finally understanding and accepting what has taken place, possess for the first time the ability to see things as they were in contrast to how they are, and experience a single opportunity to assess the relationship at its true value and determine whether it will move forward or be relegated to memory. It is in this circumstance that there is both heartbreak and elation, as the raw vision of the reality of the past stands out in such stark contrast to the promise of the future. The card looks upon the cardholder in such a state of devaluation, recognizing that while he held this person in such high esteem, the person had perceived him as nothing but a card in the hand to be played and unceremoniously discarded. The cardholder, however, finding himself in a position of equal astonishment, now sees the tragic fault of his prior disposition and experiences an enlightening shift in his paradigm of relational value. He now recognizes in his counterpart a new light that shines on the unique value of all relationships. This startling vision holds within it the possibility, the promise, indeed the absolute requirement of confession and redress. And as both hearts break together, from opposite ends of the spectrum, they find themselves looking at a past that wounded, a present that scarred, and a future that heals. Then, accepting the relationship for what it has been, with the wounds it has caused, the two move forward in the shared experience to cauterize the wound, creating the scar with which both will forever be reminded of this revelation. This finds them at a door called closure, and from here they can embrace the potential of the promised healing that will forever characterize the relationship in the future. Both parties can now, through true love and forgiveness, turn into the new horizon, together or alone, having grown into a new being.
In parting from this thought, in asking that your attention and energies be given to one final consideration on the matter, I find the knowledge firsthand of having experienced this game and of having reached an epiphany, a moment of truth, which was not reciprocated. In the interest of the very survival of my soul, I turned and walked away, ever so sadly. I felt the cold winds of bitterness blowing through my life and felt the anguish of unresolved sorrow threaten to freeze shut the encasement of my life.
It was in these times, drawing back inward, considering more deeply, that I abandoned the object of my belief and allowed my faith to take over. It was at these moments that I did not seek to pray, but prayed from within my heart with a depth that words could not find. And if prayers are answered, it was this that I heard. It occurred to me that all of this, the cardholder and the card, the game, the epiphany, the walking away, the turning, has been a part of the process we call love. And too often in life, for the sake of self defense, of survival, of retaining the best parts of ourselves, the ability to love, the ability to give, the ability to hope and to promise and to cherish, we abandon the responsibility to shine that very light on the person from whom we have turned. And this person passes on, and there is emptiness, a void that can now never be filled. Too often again that void is filled with a sad, subconscious realization that the only cause to which our dedication was applied was self.
If these epiphanies, these astonishing moments of cataclysmic truth, are real, then they must within them contain the recognition that there is a responsibility of giving of ourselves, at a minimum, one last truth. If the party from whom we have turned, no matter what ill character we feel they possess, was someone for whom we ever truly cared, then we are required to forgive; and within that forgiveness there is an action. It is not what is commonly called closure, the ability to tell someone they have harmed you, to purge yourself of the wounds you feel they’ve inflicted, but to tell them nothing more than that you love them; not that you did, not that you once held for them something which they never returned, but simply that you love them – then, now, and forever. Then you can rest, assured that you are not just playing the same game that you claim to have abandoned.
There is a very realistic possibility that, by actually growing beyond the wounded child you once were and sharing the truth of unconditional love, you have been able to open the only door in eternity through which they may have passed to do the very same thing. And you do not know if it isn’t possible that their bitterness, the shut-cold-encasement from which they inflicted your wounds, was not born of having never applied the same hard dedication to forgiveness.
These things are true. There are doors through which people are waiting for us to enter. There are hearts that are waiting for us to heal. And the doors through which we walk into these hearts are doors through which only we can enter. They exist for no one else. No one else can do our work, no one else.