Iyanla Vanzant’s Peace from Broken Pieces: Generational Curses, “I am my mother’s daughter, no, my mother is me!”
Let me begin by saying that I have a personal bias against what I have come to think of as Lifetime books. You know the kind of one hundred and twenty-page paperback book that once lay on the two for one entering sale’s table of Borders. Yes, Borders, the place where we once upon a time bought books before Amazon, the online baron of all things sold, became the proprietor of such exploits.
Yes, the infamous Lifetime book that you once shoved into your purse hoping the emotional turmoil and quickly rushed better-than-happy-ending book (as if anything deeply important or relevant to the plot could be said in 120 pages) would drown out the sound of train wheels screeching halting for entering and leaving people. Yep, I tend to cringe at such books because they keep my Alice in Wonderland’s imagination, which my therapist would term my childhood coping mechanism, stymied in the present a presence I have spent most of my childhood avoiding.
If I am honest, such books make me uneasy which is why I nearly scoured at the “old woman of my heart” when she recommended I read Iyanla Vanzant’s book, Peace from Broken Pieces. Mind you, I am not dumping Iyanla’s book into the pile of Lifetime books, but on initial glance at the cover and the title I felt like visiting the heap. However, thank the goddess for persistent godmothers/mentors who do not have a problem shoving a hardcover book into the arms of their stubborn goddaughter/mentee knowing almost intuitively that the book will help as my grandmother would say, “loosen some things” within their goddaughter/mentees’ soul.
So, I read the book and cannot put into words how Iyanla’s story in particular her countless pages about her family pathologies has helped me to put my finger on some things when it comes to my own family in particular the women in my family. Iyanla talked about generational curses. Mind you, this is not the first time I have heard about generational curses. I grew up Missionary Baptist so I know a thing or two about curses both the generational kind and the vernacularly profane kind which often involves four letter words. However, what was nuanced about Iyanla’s rendering of it was how it could be biological and how we as souls choose the biological families we are born into to learn certain lessons from being a part of that family.
Iyanla said that there was something biological about her pathology. Being in the academy, I know many race and feminist scholars of various disciplines who would take issue with this statement. However, I will have to admit it resonates with me and makes a “whole heap of lot” of sense when I think about my story, my mother’s story, and my grandmother’s story. You see, my grandmother married a man who beat her and then once they separated the remained friendly with each other almost to the point of remarrying. Then my mother loved a man, my father, who beat her senselessly and then once they separated never filed for child’s support, sent us over to his apartment to view him beat his girlfriends, and says to this day that Poncho was good man who had problems after his mother died. Then I, in the past, have cared deeply for only two men who by all accounts “did me wrong” and remained or sought to remain their friend after we parted ways. You see, the women in my family have a difficult time letting abusive men and by extension abusive choices, experiences, and friendships go.
I learned from my mother that though men hurt you, you in some ways are obligated to remain in their life and not simply to remain in their life but to be friends with your abuser. Talk about generational curse. But the biological part of it I have yet to fully etch out. I did not get the fullest of this realization until I instant messaged my mother on yesterday. To say the least reading Peace from Broken Pieces has sparked many thoughts concerning my childhood and questions I have for my mother. And, so, when she instant messaged me about my little sister I took the opportunity to ask her about her story. Knowing how sensitive she is about having any type of deep emotional talk, I asked anyway and all she said was that her story is my story and all I had to do was look at my life and I will see hers.
To be honest, initially I was confused. You see, I am believer in Alice Walker’s quote, “I am my mother’s daughter.” Meaning, I am my mother’s story and not the other way around. But, as my mother typed her response she said she was painfully shy sweet girl who lived with her great grandmother and whose mother did what she had to do. In that moment I knew my mother’s story because I know my story. And, all I could think was how biological my families’ pathology is because if my mother’s story is correct I know how my grandmother mothered my mother with dis-attached affection. I also know how her mothering affected my aunt because I know how it affected my older sister. It made my older sister responsible for my upbringing when she was only a child herself. And, I also know how incest or rumored incest happens in my family to the oldest girl child usually by the father because of what people have said about my great aunt and aunt. And, because of how the women in my family mother and their love of abusive men it is easy for daughters to fall victim to the abuse of men.
And I tell you all these things cannot simply be socialization or coincidence that there is something amidst in my family when it comes to generational reenactments of past traumas because it shows up sometimes similar sometime different in the past three generations of women in my family. To say, the least Iyanla’s book has opened my eyes to the truth that “I am my mother’s daughter,” but that my mother is me.
And, all of this reminds me of the mother, An-Mei Hsu, in the book and movie, The Joy Luck Club, where An-Mei Hsu tells her daughter, Rose, that she had hoped to break the curse of her mother’s submission to an abusive husband by being a vocal and dissident woman, but somehow it skipped her, An-Mei Hsu, and landed on her daughter, Rose, who is desperately struggling with being direct about what she wants out of her divorce with her husband. Though the story was gripping, what stays with me is the expression of utter surprise that laced An-Mei Hsu at the thought that her daughter would have to face the same demons her mother faced even when she sought to make her daughter different. An-Mei Hsu looked helpless and sad.
I tell you, Iyanla’s idea of generational curses being biological is very real at least for the women in my family. For you see, I have learned my mother stories whether she has shared them with me or not for “I am my mother’s daughter” and my mother is me.