Torch in the Dark–a memoir by Hadiyah Joan Carlyle. My mom.
For the past few weeks I’ve been in engulfed in a fun, engaging whirlwind of concentric circles of personal reflection.
First, the 2012 Legislative Session slammed into a final conclusion with a intense 22 hour marathon. Second, I returned full force at a critical time with my company in the software industry. Third, my daughter Liat’s Bat Mitzvah occurred where the blessings of family and friend descended upon us. And fourth, my mother’s newly published memoir–Torch in the Dark–arrived in a box in the mail.
Items one through three are the relatively normal comings and goings of a husband, father, entrepreneur and citizen legislator. Number four, however, is both more unusual and strangely emotionally demanding.
I’m proud of my mother’s accomplishment even if I naturally don’t necessarily see everything through the same lens that she presents.
It’s a strange enough feeling to read about some of the most intimate, difficult, emotionally charged and intense moments of your life in the third person. It’s even more unusual to do so as a part of someone else’s story even if that ‘someone else’ is one’s mother.
Hadiyah has been writing her memoir and honing her skills as a writer for ten to 12 years and has boxes of additional material that didn’t make the final edit.
Since most readers here haven’t read her book, I’ll say that it’s the story of her struggle as a single mother in the turbulent streets and hippie communes of 1960s and 1970s as she journeys toward emotional recovery and economic self-reliance as a union welder. Many of the stories that she selects seem like yesterday, and the color, nuance and richness of the events are in high definition. It’s raw, punchy and direct. It’s painful and perhaps even funny. But it’s her story, not mine.
My feelings overall are driven by a sense of amazement that I am here at all. Alive. Connected. Spiritually engaged in a life oriented around fatherhood, marriage, work and service to the community. I have sometimes spoken openly about the chaos of my childhood, sometimes used to political advantage the story of my mother’s pioneering efforts as a woman in the trades, sometimes felt deep shame and humiliation for those things I did not learn about the norms and values fostered in a more traditional home setting, but I always recognized that I had to look deep within me myself find the strength to deal with the emotional roller coaster of my life.
One story: When I hitchhiked with Willie, an 18-year old ‘friend’ across the country at age seven it was an extraordinary, strange, interesting, exciting, frightening and daring trip. Hadiyah writes about how she drove us to the entrance of Interstate 5 in Bellingham (Lakeway Drive, I remember it vividly) and dropped us off, we looked at one another as we stood alongside the road and said, “I can’t believe she’s letting us do this, doesn’t this seem a little over the top?!” After our second ride the novelty wore off and I realized quickly that this was serious business in terms of safety, responsibility and keeping my wits about me. I wasn’t frightened as much as thoughtful and somber about the importance of adding value to Willie as he tried to figure out the next ride, next location, where to sleep, what to eat. It was survival along the highway jungle and something told me that my job was to keep it all together and not let fear drive behavior.
Fortunately, in 1972, rides came easily and we rarely had to wait too long. The looks of amazement on the faces of those who picked us up can only be described as pure astonishment. Mostly truck drivers but also families with vans, couples and so many others.
We were stranded in Denver for hours along a busy, dangerous, loud highway. I was chilled to the bone and for the first time I was seriously afraid, a sense of terror gripping me that we would be crushed under the weight of a passing truck that didn’t see us along the side of the interstate. As the time passed I more than once visualized my small body thrown across the highway as the massive rigs roared by. I gripped the side of the highway and turned my back to the traffic as Willie searched the eyes of passing drivers for a ride. A giant truck finally stopped and swept us into the safety of the cab, away from the dangerous road.
My favorite ride was a group of young men in a small sports car with a nice big dog in the back. We crammed our way into the car and it soon became clear that our hosts were out and about in a small town, rural party mood. They were drinking heavily, speeding and laughing all the way. Once they realized the extent of our situation and their unique guests, they resolved that they would help us go as far as possible. Since we were somewhere near the western side of Wyoming, there was almost nothing for miles and miles and miles. My recollection is that they drove us nearly all night long as I sat in the back listening to Willie and our hosts talk about life, adventure, risk and seeing the country in an almost Jack Kerouac cliche. I recall waking as the sun rose along the beautiful Wyoming prairie and our hosts having a near coronary of distress with the realization that they had driven us hundreds of miles and they would not make it back home in time for work. They dropped us off, turned around and headed back west.
We continued on for a total of 6 to 8 days. We found a place to stay at generous strangers’ home’s each night. Only once did I feel a sense of extreme discomfort when I could sense activity inappropriate to a young kid. Finally, arriving in Atlanta, the story and energy and ability to keep it together fell apart, Willie was tired of it all, and I could tell it was simply over. I called my grandfather who arranged a flight to Newark, New Jersey. I was completely exhausted but also aware that I had done something totally, completely outside of the normal bounds of common sense and even reality. At one point, I even found myself laughing a bit at the absurdity of it all and Willie and I decided that we deserved merit badges of some sort. I thought of my friend at home in Bellingham in Cub Scouts who received a merit badge for helping a neighbor weed her garden.
The stories and reflections go on.
For me, I realized early on that I had to fine-tune a sophisticated sense of emotional intelligence to survive. Knowing that I often had to rely on myself to get fed, dressed, back and forth to school and educated in other ways, and make some money, it occurred to me that finding safe adults who would offer their mentorship and support was vital. I have been fortunate to find many such mentors: Jack O’Connor, Melody Miller, Featherstone Reid.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t reflect upon the journey to this time and place. There is not a moment that does not pass that I don’t feel the deepest spiritual appreciation for the luck, blessing, gift of having survived through the difficult years of Hadiyah’s experience and having the opportunity to raise a family. Sometimes I stop in the hallway of my own home and look at the stunning view from Queen Anne of Seattle, Elliot Bay, ferries and reflect upon the good fortune of being alive. When Mt. Rainier is shining in the distance from my bedroom window, the view of the volcano takes me back to my old room in our house in Bellingham when I used to stare through another window in another lifetime at the snow covered Mt. Baker. I stood for hours at that window struggling to make sense of the emotional chaos, fear, anger, resentment and pain that circled around me. And somehow even at times finding peace and humor.
Like all of us, I have many faults, many challenges, many weaknesses. I feel my own failings deeply and am hard on myself for those things I do not do well. But one quality I do posses and that stays with me each and everyday when I open my eyes: Gratitude for the beautiful gift of life.
I hope you will read Hadiyah’s book. You can find out more about it at www.torchinthedark.com. You can purchase it here on Amazon although the Kindle version won’t be available until summer. I’m proud of her accomplishment in writing it. Maybe one day I’ll write my own.
Your partner in service,