Coping skills can be destructive, but there are times when they can be quite insightful. Finding a positive way to cope in extreme adversity can lead to insights that you could not obtain otherwise. You see this in an excerpt from “Pages in the Wind” as Emily tries to cope with a particularly violent episode with her father. Ordered to help her mother and brother afterward, she struggles to compose herself by transferring her thoughts to memories with her grandmother.
The sound of the clattering plates reminded me why I was there. I watched Robert bend over and hand plates to mother as she carefully placed them in the dishwasher. They worked in silence, handing the plates to her in steady succession. I thought of helping grandma hang clothes on the clothesline on a warm summer day. The chores were a backdrop to the laughter and joy of being with grandma. It was so effortless, and free. Staring at mother and Robert, I felt a sense of sadness for Robert. Robert never knew grandma like I did. He spent his time with father, going to baseball games and doing the things that boys love, I guess. He’ll never know what it feels like to be still and enjoy the peaceful bliss of spending a warm summer day at Grandma’s house. He’ll never know what it feels like to sit at grandma’s big kitchen table making raison bread, and listening to Grandma’s stories about the old country as we waited for the timer to tell us the bread was done. He’ll never know to wait five minutes for the bread to cool enough so you can spread the butter on the warm bread and watch it melt. He’ll never be able to savor the taste of the sweet bread, and watch grandma smile as we praise our tasty works of art. I felt my body relax in the memory of that cherished time. Composed, I looked at Mom and asked, “Mom, what can I do to help?”
Despite her father’s wrath, Emily’s spirit remains strong. She is able to feel empathy for her brother which seems on the surface implausible, considering she has every reason to resent her brother. They do not share the same childhood, and her father’s constant affection and attention to him is a constant reminder of her father’s hatred of her. Emily is able to superimpose beauty onto the scene in front of her, and wish that her brother could share in the pleasure. Whether she can retain this positive coping mechanism as she matures will be an important factor in her psychological development.