Asking a lot of the wind

Posted on 16.09.2011


I love Cary Tennis of Salon dot com. He’s the help column writer, and although he’s always been an excellent source of advice, he’s gotten so much more in-depth since coming out of cancer treatment a while ago. I read his column every week, even if I don’t find anything to read on the website.

I like his advice because he really puts himself in the writer’s position. He asks the hard questions of himself (and therefore, us) and isn’t afraid to tell people to do whatever they can to preserve themselves and what’s important, even if that means walking away.

This week’s column was amazing, and I felt the need to share it with my friends and readers, in case they don’t both with Salon.

Oy Vey! My Traditional Indian Mother!!

This question is about more than dealing with a parent who refuses to see you in a more modern light than they’d prefer. It’s about cultural heritage, differences, and the inability of some people to change (themselves or their minds) even for the people they love.

I want to share the part of Cary’s response that really hit home for me, and my own personal situation(s), below:

Culture is like a wind always blowing on us. If we are lucky and are going the same direction, then we have the wind at our backs, as it were. But if we are on the vanguard of change, then the wind is always in our face, stinging our eyes, roaring in our ears, pushing us backward if we so much as pause to rest.

So you are a young adult female in a quickly modernizing traditional society. You are the spearhead of change. And your traditional culture is embodied in people such as your mother. What you have done is challenge who she is and what she believes; you have challenged her existential foundation. She is her culture. Up till now, there has been no reason for her to question her culture. It is who she is. Now, you are asking her to separate into parts; you are asking her to do a particularly modern and delicate procedure on herself, to whip up for herself a whole new being, autonomous and self-directed, secular and individual, egalitarian and “open.”

You are asking her to do this without any recipe. Where is the recipe by which she is expected to whip up this wholly new, modern self, detached from tradition while intellectually conscious of it, aware of separate spheres of “individual” emotions and beliefs and “culturally derived” emotions and beliefs, endowed with the capacity to listen critically and emphatically to admissions that sound blasphemous and criminal and shameful, with the ability to think along three or more simultaneous levels at once, to have a multifarious consciousness of herself as an individual, herself as a mother, herself as a wife, herself as a daughter in traditional society and also those same roles in a modern or transitional society?

You’re asking a lot of the wind, is what I’m saying.


I really appreciate that Cary can repeat the things that my closest friends have said to me plenty of times, in a way that makes it finally click for me personally.

I read this article and thought about the issues I have with my dad. But I didn’t just think about my dad, I thought about my Aunts and Uncles, too, the ones who could never possibly accept me as the person that I really am. They could say that they accepted me on the surface, but we’d both know that it wasn’t heart-felt. And I think I needed to read this, to know that it’s ok to not have the excellent relationship with some of them that I’ve always wanted, but seems so hard.

Sometimes, things are hard because we have to work for them. And sometimes, things are hard because they’re hard, and they’re damaging to us emotionally, and they’re never going to get better, and it’s up to us to decide what’s worth working on and what’s never going to change, and to either stay and claim insanity or walk away without regret.

I can be sad that my aunt will never accept people who aren’t 100% hetero. I can be sad for what that means for our relationship. I can be sad that my uncle will never see people of a different color as ‘the same’. I can be sad that my other uncle is a petulant child that grew up with too many siblings to ever have control. I can be sad that my lack of religion or any interest in it will forever seem like something that needs to be remedied by certain members of my family.

I can be sad, and am, about all of that. But those things are things that I can’t change, and don’t have the time or inclination to work on.

In my own personal case, and even though it really bothers me most days, I really appreciate growing up so far separated from my extended family sometimes, because it makes walking away in this case so much easier. If we lived near each other, saw each other on holidays and had to talk more often than we do, I’d be trying to change their minds. But the distance, the lack of constant or even ongoing contact growing up, and my own life make these differences things I’m content to just walk away from, while cutting my losses. In the end, I have to treat some of them like annoying acquaintances who I’d rather not have my phone number. It’s sad to have to do that to family, and sad that we can’t just accept each other for who we are.

But we can’t change anyone. Ever. People only change when they want or have to change, and they generally don’t do it for other people. At least, not honestly.

People say that ‘friends are the family we choose for ourselves’. I find this especially true in my case, and I am thankful that my real family accepts me just as I am and isn’t interested in trying to change me.

Thanks for that, guys. I really appreciate my friend family more than I could ever express.

Posted in: life