To Love in Spite of Everything

Most of us have stories about our parents. When I get together with my brothers, we always call up funny incidents or their witty sayings.

The folks have been gone over 20 years, and I can assure you not all the events were rosy. These days, however, at a more than two-decade distance, we don’t care much about our old complaints.

Like water against the rock, they have been worn away.

Had you asked me about my early years a few decades back, I wouldn’t have spoken as often about the fun times as the dark ones.

They grew up in the Great Depression, and nothing about the economic survival of the Fabians (Jeanette Stein’s family) and Milton Stein’s home in the same period was easy. Nor did their parents win childrearing awards.

I was a therapist to people who still carried the psychological wounds of childhood. My understanding of their experiences sometimes grew out of my own youth. 

A number of my patients wished for different parents, a desire I never thought about but could grasp from the stories these women and men told me.

That raises questions.

Did you long for alternative guardians? Do you believe such a solution could have saved them from each other? Would it, at least, have prevented a portion of the emotional injury you incurred?

Of course, almost all of our caretakers did considerate things dumped in the same garbage can with the bad ones worth erasing.

What else would have lodged in the discard pile if the wish became real?

All your school friends, including a magnificent classmate met in fourth grade and held close to the present day. The games you enjoyed, especially those you won.

Remember too, the people who recognized the lovely voice you possessed, how fine your drawing was, and the teachers who displayed kindness or demanded more academic effort until finally, you gave it.

You’d never have encountered the next-door neighbor who played catch with you because he knew you missed your dad and the kindly owner of the corner candy store. He called you “son” and shared baseball stories. 

Don’t forget another adult who saw the goodness in you when the folks at home turned away in disgust.

In this imaginary vanishing of the elders, your first love departs, too, along with all the joyous, light, romantic dates with others.

These and 1000 other experiences — absent from your life.

Well, I hear you saying your life would have been even better with an alternative Mother and Father designed for each other and you.

Perhaps, but you’ve forgotten one missing ingredient to that superior life.


I’m speaking of your life itself because if the same imperfect pair hadn’t made love when they did, you’d never have been born. Imagine a different growing sperm/egg couple taking your place on the bridge to the world.

Your parents gave you life, a chance, even if the winning ticket didn’t seem worth the paper it was printed on. Since you are reading this, it means you’ve found value in the time and the opportunity.

Much as we curse the darkness, the door exists to seek the light.

Do you doubt this? Read or listen to the thoughtful short poem by Sharon Olds, I Go Back to May 1937.

If the author’s apparent autobiographical details are her own, she describes how she invented a way to manage despite her parents.

There are many ways of overcoming.

Take one.


The top image is Georges Braque’s Still Life with Ace of Hearts, 1914.

The first recitation of the poem includes the text as read by Guy Mulinder. His version allows you to read along with him or turn off the sound and read silently.

The second, by John Lithgow, is also very fine.

18 thoughts on “To Love in Spite of Everything

  1. Interesting poem. A good writing prompt to see what pops up. I’m always amazed at what bubbles up when I write to prompts on my own or in writing classes. In one class I wrote about my being alive as a gift because my parents were advised to abort me due to my mother’s health. Instead they hired help to care for their four children and my mother went to bed for four months to save the pregnancy—me. I think now what a big decision that was 81 years ago, long before modern medicine. Maybe I’ll use this poem as a prompt and thank them! At this age, like you, I can look past what I didn’t always appreciate when I was young and see the good.

    Liked by 2 people

    • drgeraldstein

      Very wise, Lois. Nursing grudges beyond their expiration date piles the unhappiness delivered by others to that which we manufacture ourselves. As you say, for some of us who have been given the gift of time, the look back comes more easily. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh my….so many things prompted tears. “Do what you’re going to do”…a line from Sharol Old’s poem full of lament, delivered by John Lithgow? I felt that deeply…carry on, dear ones…I have the perspective you lack, a foresight, but I would deter you. “Do what you’re going to do”.

    I suspect my parents would both have been better off, in so many ways, had they walked away from each other. Their love was complicated and their parenting more so, but I find in the looking back, that they did their best. Those notions of “re-parenting” and traversing pain are interwoven throughout our therapeutic roles…especially nuanced for those of us who carry our history of darkness and light – right at the surface – but like you, I’ve made peace. And this, your concluding thoughts?

    “Well, I hear you saying your life would have been even better with an alternative Mother and Father designed for each other and you.
    Perhaps, but you’ve forgotten one missing ingredient to that superior life. You.”

    Thank you, Dr. Stein. What a lovely gift you’ve given me this morning. 💗

    Liked by 4 people

    • I am delighted that this touched you, Vicki. Your own writing offers enough insight into your family to suggest why this topic and the Olds poem might have been especially meaningful to you. You are most welcome.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yes….I felt as though you were speaking directly to me. Another reason why I enjoy your posts, your perspective oh-so much. Thank you seems insufficient. But thank you…just the same! 💕

        Liked by 2 people

      • I really cannot put words together at the moment Dr. Stein, so I will simply thank Vicki for doing what I cannot right now, and thank you for this post that will be carried with me always. I had no idea anyone could ever speak so profoundly about my past without knowing me. Your words, and that poem by Olds…have both shattered me and lifted me this morning.

        Liked by 4 people

      • drgeraldstein

        We share some things, Deb. I only wish we humans could seek the things we share more than the things that set us apart. I am pleased you were touched in the way Vicki was. Much appreciated.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. “Did you long for alternative guardians?” Yes, sometimes.

    “Would it, at least, have prevented a portion of the emotional injury you incurred?” Probably, yes.

    Did I love them in spite of everything? Yes.

    Are there perfect parents out there somewhere? I kind of doubt it. As children, we are directly affected by many decisions our parents make, and the collateral damage can impact us far into adulthood.

    As the song goes, “Bless the beasts and the children, for in this world they have no voice they have no choice.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Your frank answers to the questions are brave, Brewdun. Thank you, too, for the song lyric. I’d never heard it. What is the name of the song?

      Of course, you are right about there being no perfect parents. I think, however, most children would easily put away any list of grievances for parents who are aware enough of their child’s presciousness, who ponder what is best for their child with regularity, who show them plentiful affection, and neither neglect or abuse them. If only the world had a sufficient number of such guardians it would be a far better place for everyone.

      Thanks, again.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh my, what a fascinating post. I love that you recognize that whether we lucked out with our parents or wished for different ones, we have wended our way here “Since you are reading this, it means you’ve found value in the time and the opportunity.”

    Yes, we can’t erase any part of the past without erasing a lot of other things so we might as well learn from it. At this point, I wouldn’t give up the wonderful lessons I learned from suffering!

    And I’d never heard that poem – what an enjoyable experience to listen to it! Thank you, Dr. Stein!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Wynne. It was only recently that I was introduced to the poem, so the freshness of its impact is not lost on me.

      “Yes, we can’t erase any part of the past without erasing a lot of other things so we might as well learn from it.” Very well said and most wise, Wynne. It is the only alternative, since we are otherwise left to dwell in the suffering without end, learning nothing helpful by it.

      Thank you always for the effort and vulnerability you put into your gracious responses to my writing and to that of others, as well.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I had never heard this poem but like Deb, I feel as though Sharon Olds wrote it about me. Oh, I have spent so many fruitless hours of this life of mine imagining myself travelling back and changing things: not just for my parents but for me, as well. I still ‘travel back’ but lately, I have found myself imagining visiting younger versions of me to tell her it’s okay: it’s all happening so that 61 year-old me can become… well, me… I am finally at a place where I wouldn’t change anything because I understand that all of it was a necessary part of my growth (like you, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine coming to such a place of understanding even 20 years ago). But the greatest of all gifts I have been given is a complete, compassionate understanding that my parents did the best they could do. And they were just a couple of lost kids. I was moved to tears by this post, Dr. Stein and I sincerely thank you…🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your tender thanks, Patti. I think some of our acceptance as we move forward in time comes from an openness life has taught us, as well as the simple condition of aging. Some of our adaptations, in my experience, “just happen.” We adjust to losses, not with ease, but nonetheless naturally.

      I’m glad the Sharon Olds poem found a proper recipient in you, Patti, and, once again, thanks for your gratitude.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I share your observation that time does wear away the negative views we once held of our parents. That has been my experience regarding my violent father who passed away over twenty years ago. As you point out, I am who I am because of that imperfect couple who brought me into this [current] existence.


  7. Thank you, Rosaliene. I know this might be a bit close to home since your mom’s death was very recent. If it brought you pain because of that, my apologies.


  8. Tamara Kulish from

    A few years ago over a span of around a couple of years, I had 4 people approach me, tell me they were psychics and they had a message for me. When I invited them to tell me what they came to say, each one said almost exactly the same thing, which was “I had agreed to all my troubles before coming into this world.”

    That shook me, and when I questioned the 4th, she affired that this applies to each of us. The purpose is to guide us through lessons we wouldn’t otherwise learn and those in turn help to transform us into who we need to be.

    Very controversial no doubt, but it did help me to reorient my thoughts entirely from poor me and why me, to what am I supposed to learn so I never need to return to this particular lesson again?


  9. Thank you, Tamara. I haven’t read a more provocative comment in a long time. It raises many questions, but I will ask only two. Since I have no experience with psychics (and assume some are charlatans), I wonder whether there are certain frequently used phrases within the group that claims to have extraterrestrial knowledge? If so, that might explain the similarity of their comments.

    Question #2. You stated that they approached you. Is it possible this is one way these self-proclaimed psychics solicit business for themselves?

    Please understand that I respect your writing, the kindness you display on your blog, and find you a charming person. If four people came up to me with a comment such as they offered you, I might well question whether this was a coincidence or something more.

    We live in a world where countless people report they have heard the voice of a deity or have been called by a deity to do one thing or another. I can’t say this is impossible, only that our conversations with ourselves (a routine part of everyone’s life) raise questions about the source of at least some of these experiences.

    The world is full of unanswered questions. I am glad you are in it. About that, unlike many other things, I have a decisive answer.


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