The Gift - The Curse
The Gift—The Curse—Candace Cole-McCrea Page 1
My childhood memories are distorted. There is no way I can justly or accurately record the daily experiences of primary family members who were burdened with me, returning home to them after my institutionalizations. I was a very disturbed child, one that no one had any idea how to reach. I look back now and realize that it took a lot of denial on all of our parts for us to endure….yet there was much good. I see that families are not typically all good or all bad, all nurturing or all destructive. It is not that easy to define social behavior. For example, let me introduce my grandfather…
I remember my Scottish Highlander grandfather, my mother’s father, so fondly and so intensely. While he was a modestly built man, his Spirit was so tall and strong that no one I ever heard of had ever disrespected him. Economically and through his employment he had no status—he worked for the railroad—but, ethically, honorably and spiritually, there was no wiser man as far as anyone in regional counties knew. All of us of the McCrea clan were known far and wide as Fred McCrea’s heirs. . It was expected that his character was inborn into each of us. (Ahh, if only spiritual ethics overcome culture that easily! But, alas, I am getting ahead of my story.)
My grandfather had a hard life of pain and regrets born of poverty, a sad marriage, pulmonary scarring from firing train engines that led to coughing spells which eventually causing the loss of one eye. Despite this, he spiritually stood tall and strong. He shared his sufferings almost no one. He was not one to complain. He saw too many blessings in daily life for that, though years later, amongst his writings, I would find a poem he had written that would speak not only of his loneliness but also of his determination to transcend human suffering, vulnerability and fallibility. (See appendix). He believed deeply, that the troubles people clung to, made his responsibility of sharing Divine Love with others all the more commanding.
Gramps believed that we were not too smart, as earth creatures go. Somehow we were evolving in ways that resulted in the abandonment of our Spiritual birthright in favor of self and money.
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He often told me that we could learn very little in our lifetimes, though we speak as if we learn very much. No one, he believed, had the time in his or her life to learn thoroughly more than just a few subjects or ideas. I realized later that his use of the word “learn” did not imply rote memorization; to have learned something was to live it through heart and soul. Head learning is not true learning.
Gramps taught that we each had to choose what we would truly learn. Specialization was natural as our biological equipment did not allow for All-Knowing. The only question what we would choose to learn: the Trivial or the truly Valuable. And he wanted to know, and spent his life studying, was what he saw as the Valuable. And with his choice, came a vision.
Gramps had a vision of our society as a community of people who each knew all they could about one or two “vitalities” and thus relied on each other, respectfully and interdependently, for the society as well as each member, to thrive. (While this vision stemmed from his Scottish Highlander clan heritage and ethics, it has always amazed me how his Seeing only differed in language from that of my father’s family….one of Mohawk Amerindian heritage). He defined the essence of community as cooperation based on shared Spirit, not competition; respect, not exploitation. Like so many aboriginal groups worldwide, my grandfather would never understand or see any value in individualism or capitalism. (Gramps parented during the depression; knew poverty born of industrial greed. He wanted no part of it.) He sought to turn America’s direction before it was too late.
Not only politically and economically, but also spiritually my Sottish grandfather, with no more than an eighth grade education, was a gifted visionary. He lived his life as an example and testimony to others that a solution to this country’s growing problems was right under our noses—we just had to be willing to listen to Spirit and live our sacred birthright.
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So my Gramps laughed, hugged, sparkled with strength of Spirit and dedicated his life to learning to live the few “Vitalities” he saw as most necessary, to be daily put to use for the sole purpose of helping humankind to remember our True Identities. He had learned two things, he said, for all else he openly declared himself an ignorant man. He had chosen that his lifetime would be built around learning to live two lessons, two “Vitalities” and nothing more. One “Vitality” involved our earthly duties, which he defined as living holistically, organically, for personal health and environmental needs, utilizing methods for maximum sustainability and respect of all life. The second “Vitality” that overshadowed the first was an all-encompassing Judeo-Christian scripture study. He saw the need for this to be translated into a how-to book to govern human life and community. On these two subjects and these only, he spoke, taught and wrote.
Yes, Gramps was respected far and wide. He was invited to give sermons throughout central New York and Vermont. He could be seen teaching points to ordained ministers, medical men, common citizens, hobos. He provided a wide community with his healing arts, herbs and diet advice. He saved many lives, including my own, more than once.
Whoever saw his gardens was amazed at what he could grow in small spaces. He searched Albany area for small patches of ground that were not used, to ask permission from the owner to grow vegetables if he would improve the soil while he was gardening. He had small patches all over the region. With these, without owning any land, he could grow large quantities of organic vegetables to feed all poor, sick, disabled or aged people throughout long northern winters. He often secretly left vegetables in summer and home canned soups in winter in doorways, homeless camps and boxcars.
No one within range of his old Volkswagen bug ever went hungry, if Gramps had heard of their need.
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When not gardening, serving others or preaching, you could find him in his tiny dilapidated trailer parked in an impoverished trailer park, which he insisted, was all he needed to be comfortable on earth…if he took little, there would be more for others to share. He was not poor! He often expressed his wealth. He knew True wealth could not be defined in economic terms. Poverty, as he saw it, was primarily a spiritual condition of a society’s people that had demonic ramifications for the health, well-being and material survival of all life. It was a symptom of a disease of the soul and of the heart…a societal symptom of decay.
Gramps McCrea literally gave his life away. He gave his life away, joyfully, lovingly. And, yet, he grieved. He grieved the spiritual, societal changes he saw happening in his lifetime as fear became the ruler of our lives. He grieved that we had learned to fear our enemies rather than to love them. He grieved that what we had chosen to learn from the two great depressions and two great wars of his lifetime was to fight each other in a race to the top for money and career “security”. He saw people believing more and more that safety and happiness lie in having a lot of things rather than having a lot of heart. He grieved that we did not see that selfishness and self-centeredness were not gods to be worshipped but demons that deserved no benediction. What would we become, he often cried to me, when we felt ourselves above the need to respect each other, our responsibility to earth, to our God? Why would we not read the oldest scriptures? Why would we not remember that we are children of the Divine?
My Grandfather McCrea, grieved. He grieved for his children and for what they might teach his grandchildren. Would we all be lost? Everywhere he looked, he saw reason to grieve. His children lived as parents in an era very different from his vision—an era in which financial and material gain was all that mattered. Quality of life was measured in money. His children lived in a time when the cultural manifesto stressed that there was no safety possible for our country, social world, the earth. The bomb had been invented and that was not enough. More weapons were wanted, amassed, bragged about, designed to terrorize further.
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The cultural belief was that all one person could do was amass wealth to protect one’s self and one’s immediate family. One “should” literally sell one’s soul to a company to land a job that promised “security”.
Of course, no matter the cultural attractions and promises, Gramps’ children heard him—they could not help but hear, for my Gramps possessed a strength and force that could not be silenced. Though he was humble, there was no doubt that his presence commanded. And, of course, his children saw—they could not help but see—for wherever they went, people approached, sharing how Fred McCrea had refreshed and sustained physical and spiritual lives. They could not help but hear; they could not help but see. What could they do with the confusion, the discrepancy between what their era was telling them and what their patriarch lived—what could they do but choose one or the other?
They were young. It was the 1950’s, a time of affluence for “the lucky” and extreme poverty for everyone else. The only enemy was the Soviet Union, outside themselves, not something within. They chose.
Gramps was respectfully shuffled to an ancient oak rocking chair on the rickety front porch of the old homestead. His children and their spouses all crowded into the kitchen to talk of things that mattered, like big cars, houses in suburbia, golf and bridge games. A new world had opened up for them. They had survived the war to end all wars. They celebrated with cigarettes and cocktails in a society that was not yet wise enough to warn of the addictions, deaths and family tragedies that would follow many years hence. They were young. They laughed, talked, flirted, drank and smoked. Their children played in what was left of the peaceful, but dying, old home town. Back home only for holidays, then to return to the “better life”. Anyone who was young or modern left the old home towns—left all behind without a second glance—the decaying homestead, neighborhood, the community, the ethics, the patriarch, even each other. To be modern was to leave. To be modern was to “visit” family and to just be “polite” to old neighbors.
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Gramps was respectfully shuffled to the old oak rocking chair on the front porch.
I also had no place to go. I did not belong with the parents drinking, smoking, laughing in the kitchen in private conversations not meant for young ears. I could not move or play with cousins and siblings outdoors. I was too afraid, too intimidated, of people to share conversations…. What to do with a small, withdrawn, crippled, socially retarded child who could not walk, who knew not how to play, who could not be left alone?
Ahha—an idea!!! Tie Candy into another rocking chair on the front porch…she won’t be able to fall out and hurt herself and she would not be left alone!
Gramps and Candy on the front porch, summer after summer, holiday after holiday, vacation after vacation. Retrieved into the house to eat and to sleep, otherwise together on the front porch, Gramps rocking by using his legs and me by moving my head.
Creak, creak, creak, the chairs rocked. Gramps and Candy on the front porch, sometimes enjoying summer warmth, sometimes wrapped tightly in quilts and shawls, snuggled against late autumn or winter chill. Gramps and Candy, rocking…rocking…rocking.
But we didn’t just rock. Gramps talked hour after hour, day after day, season after season to a child he hoped, somehow, could and would capture his vision, his heart, the Spirit he knew. If for no other reason than because he talked to me, I appreciated my grandpa. Everyone else only spoke to me in a functional language—“sit up”; “open your mouth”; “lift your arm for your sleeve”. Gramps truly talked to me. I learned though him that true communication is a communion.
Gramps talked to me…the first human who ever did. I didn’t know it then, but I was thinking, with head and heart, as he spoke.. Due to his sharing, I learned to think and feel deeply with panoramic vision. Gramps talked to me, shared his
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Knowing, as if I understood, and eventually, I believe I have understood and not only understood but more than that, learned to See, even while sitting in a wheelchair. I too spend my life teaching the Truth of community, caring and of Spirit.
Gramps and I sat, rocked; he talked. He poured his heart and soul out to the only family member not to busy to listen, a small defective child, literally held captive by his side. (What a sad symptom of the pathology of our times this one image has for me. I wish I could say times have changed and yet I see disabled and elderly people all around me who are cast aside. The only difference is today there are not front porches nor many extended families there to assure them of supper or a warm place to sleep. Professional care has taken the place of family duty, when it can be financially afforded. When it cannot be afforded…well…we all know…).
Alas, I digress and must return to my tale. At first appearances, it would seem that the isolation of Gramps and Candy to the front porch would constitute a form of neglect, abandonment, social poverty… and yet, within this seemingly impoverished experience, Spiritual Wealth was shared and Grace wrapped us both more warmly and tightly than quilts and shawls ever could. Through this seeming tragedy, Spirit within me was given Word as my grandfather spoke. I was given a gift so Divine, so rare today, that I find few who can even imagine its magnitude. I was given the gift of knowing my grandfather, of Listening and Learning Word, of Feeling his heart, of Seeing the Sacred Vision of his soul. I shared with my grandfather, the Seeing with Spiritual Eyes, Hearing with Spiritual Ears, Sensing with Spiritual Touch, Knowing with Spiritual Mind. I was given words for what lay deep inside of me…a spiritual Intimacy that I had known in solitude but had not known how to express. Gramps gave me words. He answered my heart. I was given the gift of a Spiritual practice that I could take into the world, a way to see and help the human race, an (albeit, limited) understanding of Being…though I had not the physical body, the measurable intelligence, emotional health nor social development so often seen as
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prerequisites or substitutes for Wisdom, I received through his spirit, the Grace of Spirit. This gift, this True Wealth, has been more than enough!
And, yet, there is still much about my grandfather that I do not understand. I cannot reconcile my memories as I knew him on the old front porch, or as I knew of him as an adolescent when we would travel together delivering foods to needy people, or as I recall him singing Gaelic songs, like “Danny Boy” and “Take Me Home Again, Kathleen”, on cold nights in the tiny old homestead parlor.
I could not reconcile these memories of him with the singsong verse I hear today as clearly as if he were standing next to me once again…
“Candy Cole is no good—chop her up for kindlin’ wood”.
I could not reconcile. I cannot understand how he could laughingly sing that jingle to me, and to me alone. I only recall that this man that I revered more than anyone I knew would repeatedly, laughingly, sing that I was no good and should be chopped up for kindling wood. He was so wise, to me so all-knowing, so alive with messages and visions—was this a judgment from God or yet another prophecy, I worried.
I did not ask. I was too terrified of life and people to ask anyone, especially since my parents, aunts and uncles joined in this jingle, all smiling, with him. I just know I lived in terror and apprehension at these words. I thought that he, everyone, knew of and had agreed to everything that had been done to me in “hospitals”. Couldn’t they see the scars all over my body? As he, they, sang this jingle, it reinforced deep within my being that in the social world that it was alright, funny even, to hurt me, since I was no good anyway. I believed them….for many, many years, I believed them.
I look back now and realize there was no way that any of them could have known of all the horrors that were inflicted on the “defectives” of our society. My parents incarcerated me repeatedly over years at the advice of medical professionals, never questioning even as they saw me deteriorate physically and
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emotionally further and further from them. They could not imagine the abuse I suffered so often, so severely, that fear and trauma seemed for me the essence of social life.
He, they, did not want to see. Who would?
He, they, did not want to know. Who would?
Those were the days when, it was said, nothing bad happened to anyone who didn’t deserve it…a mantra that our culture of denial perpetuated. He, my parents and extended family, did not know. Each lived within a fantasy that personal material affluence would protect them. No one knew. No one saw. Herein was a child whose very life was imprisoned in more pain and fear than any of them would or could ever imagine possible, but they had mortgages and pretty cars in the suburbs. Didn’t that mean they were safe?
Here was a child whose physical self was so full of fear and pain that she often had no energy to eat, whose emotional self was so full of fear and pain that she could not know comfort, whose social self was so full of fear and pain that she could not reach out, a child whose soul cried daily for release through death…
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
Please let me die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
So I prayed daily until my nineteenth year. (Years later I would understand why black slave spiritual songs move me so. We shared the same cry for release!) How could any of them know when they did not want to know? I lived in a hell beyond their worse imaginings, but, I thank God because, in the middle of the
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hell, I was given spiritual gifts of such power, that has carried me through and helped me carry others through more hells than can be counted.
In my childhood time of life, however, I was given my grandfather and through him, a vision. I would live and learn to carry forth and build on his vision. I would learn to know the Grace of God in my soul and the truth of the sacred lesson, lived through the example of my grandfather, McCrea, that “to give is to receive”.
With time, I was also learn the True Spirit of Forgiveness…the power to forgive and to love my family despite all frailties, evn despite their lack of understanding, and their cruel singsong. This power of Forgiveness has nurtured me with such a breath of Life so powerful that I now include incarcerated child perpetrators among those I coach, counsel and work to help. I have searched my soul and find only compassion for these men. While I do not condone their acts, I know them to also be my siblings, children of a loving God of mercy and forgiveness, and yet I admit to amazement at the miracle it is that I can care for them and not see them through my own past trauma. It is only through the Grace of Forgiveness. As I sit and share among them in their cell blocks of incarceration, I try to show them that there is Someone who loves them, nonetheless…
I have been given gifts of Forgiveness, Mercy, Compassion and Vision.
I have learned fear to be my only enemy…the thief and murderer of Spirit, as so repeatedly taught from the world’s multiple scriptures.
I have been given incredible opportunities to learn.
I am most grateful for I have been most richly blessed.