I share this personal story as part of my continued journey of discovery and expansion with the intention that others may find inspiration to look at the sharp edges of their past and discover, as I have, the beauty that can be found inside of those cuts and scars. From the practice of mindfulness and from a place of love, I share this openly and honestly – Orhan Mc Millan
Today is my mother’s birthday. For those that knew her, Berat Altan Tolan Mc Millan, their Ayla, my Anne (Turkish for mother), was a dynamic force with a commanding presence who through her life’s journey of struggle eventually led her to an expanded awareness. She inspired me to look deeper and discover the beauty that is found in every circumstance, even those of deep pain and fear.
I thought about all the different layers and ways I celebrate her and her life and for this birthday I chose to focus on the parts that sometimes we overlook and ignore as the years go by – the harder parts; the sharper parts; the parts that sometimes cut deep and the parts that if given space can offer us the most beauty. I find the real treasure in life’s journey is being able to look deeper at some of those sharper edges because with them there are gifts. It’s the cracks in the walls that allow light to come in and dispel the darkness.
From my perspective now, it seems that one of my mother’s dominant paths on this planet was one of struggle. It is the path she manifested in order to experience that which she needed in this lifetime all the way until the day of her untimely death.
It’s the cracks in the walls that allow light
to come in and dispel the darkness.
I do not know much of her childhood outside of she being the only daughter of a five-star Turkish general and that she had three brothers. From the stories I recall, she had a lot of favor with her parents. But that more profound knowledge will remain a mystery to me.
My parents met in Turkey when my dad was serving in the Air Force in the Mediterranean city of Izmir, and my mother was living in Istanbul. From the stories I heard, their life there was fun, engaging and spirited. Volumes of pictures reflect two beautiful young people, celebrating with friends, dressed for dinner parties and dances, lots of laughter as they had the first two of four boys while living in Turkey, my older brothers.
Coming to America had to be an amazing struggle for her considering the circumstances of moving to a foreign country, leaving her daughter from her first marriage, speaking no English, having two young sons of her own and entering into the arms of a family that initially did not want or accept her. She was as foreign to them as they were to her. The isolation had to be painful.
The culture shock alone had to be overwhelming of moving from a global city such as Istanbul to find yourself in a single-wide trailer in the Southern state of Alabama in the 1960s. This too had to be a significant challenge.
But she persevered and developed her voice and created her place many times by knocking down the structures around her.
Looking back, one thing that always amazed me was not only did she learn to read and write English; she actually became a master of celebrating American holidays and ultimately embracing the idea of the American dream.
Eventually moving to Baton Rouge, where my younger brother and myself were born, and the family raised in a little house off of Winbourne Avenue and North Foster Drive. She continued to adapt, expand and become a master of American society while holding on to her Turkish culture.
Ours was the house that did not just have a few yard decorations for Halloween or a jack-o-lantern by the front door, instead year after year, we were one of the most celebrated houses on the block with experiential scenes of scary ghosts, moss-draped branches, vampires, and ghosts.
And it didn’t stop there. At Thanksgiving, I can still smell the most amazing baked turkey she would cook, cheesecloth and butter being here secret weapons. And yet, the family dinners left something missing inside her. They left her unfulfilled.
My awareness of my limitations and faults continue to expand, and simply by being aware of them, I can release and transform them.
My mother was a devout and practicing Muslim, and yet at Christmas, our house was decorated from one room to the next with every type of Christmas decoration and ornament. She embraced Christianity just as she did with so many other things in her life so that we would have all the opportunities to thrive.
Of course, my family had the same struggles that so many other families have with finances and opportunities and communicating, and hell did I mention that there were four boys? That in itself had to be a challenge.
Over the years, my parents’ marriage grew into one of anger, frustration, violence and extreme dysfunction. And we all bore witness to it.
And with my mother, there seemed to be something else that she struggled with all her life, and even to this day I don’t exactly know what it was, but I do think that my mother suffered from mental depression and a possible bipolar disorder.
She had attempted suicide once that I recall and had two nervous breakdowns. She had these vertical scars on her forearms that she always said was from an oven burn until one night, she disclosed it was a suicide attempt with a razor years prior to me being born. Combine that with the escalating volatile and dysfunctional relationship with my dad, isolation from being thousands of miles from her family, her daughter and grandson; it really is no surprise of all the shrapnel that came with the explosiveness of her life. I definitely got my share of the cuts.
And then there was Ayla’s love. My Anne expressed love to me in some of the most significant ways I’ve ever known. It was real; it was full; it was just like she was, dominant and evident. The love she had for her children was remarkable. And the love she shared with others was inspiring. I truly was loved as her son. That was one of my greatest struggles over the years was that through the violence and abuse there was never a moment that I did not know that I was loved and loved unconditionally; unconditional in the midst of these extreme and often painful conditions.
It’s how we choose to look back that defines how we move forward.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have a million and one fantastic memories and experiences. Those that know me personally are always subject to a story or three of remembering when. It’s all part of the same narrative, the good and the bad, the joy and the pain, the love, and the fear. It’s how we choose to look back that defines how we move forward.
Through years of therapy, mistakes, mindfulness, and forgiveness, I am in a place that I can reflect, without judgment, back on all of the highs and lows, cuts and bruises, kisses and kindness and find understanding, empathy, and compassion for all involved; Most of all myself. I also have the deepest gratitude for the support of dear friends, two of which have walked by my side through those years into today.
It is indeed why I do believe so strongly in the power of awareness, mindfulness, and clarity. It is why I talk so openly and candidly at times about things that some may feel should not be shared. It is because of my continued practice with these tools that I have come to a place to be able to be terrified and yet honest look at experiences of my past and find deeper meaning and healing in them.
I am thankful to be who I am, and I am grateful for every experience that I have had that has brought me to this place and time. I am grateful to be able to look at a situation and observe it for what it is and glean from it what I need to expand and evolve my life. I am thankful to be able to love my flaws and fractures just as I do my brilliance and light, as they are such a part of who I am.
There are times I miss my Anne so much. Part of me wishes that she would not have passed on when I was 27 and made it two more decades so that I could sit and have a Turkish tea with her today, on this birthday, and ask her questions about her experience and her story. I would ask, of what were you so terrified that you had to be in control of everything around you… even us… even me?
But that is not how it was meant to be. The answers to those questions had to come to me from a different source.
My mother died from a massive heart attack in October 1998 when I was 27. I had spent a beautiful Saturday with her at her condominium doing yard work and planning for another Thanksgiving. She and my father had gifted each other with a much-needed divorce by this time.
This new Thanksgiving holiday she had coined years earlier as the Hobo Thanksgiving and that anyone and everyone would be invited and that no one would feel unheard, unseen or unloved. We had some amazing, fulfilled holidays together in those final years.
The beauty in the answers that I have come to find have brought me peace, fulfillment, joy and love.
I have come to value those questions that I would’ve asked her as being the treasure discoveries of my own path and journey. The beauty in the answers that I have come to find have brought me peace, fulfillment, joy, love and a never-ending yearning to do better, to grow larger, and expand further.
My mother as well had begun a journey of self-reflection, discovery, and forgiveness.
I definitely do not have all the answers nor is that the goal in which I seek. My awareness of my limitations and faults continue to expand, and simply by being aware of them, I can release and transform them. It is why I am doing the work I am doing with men and manfulness, mindfulness living experiences so that we, as men, can be open, vulnerable, terrified and honest with ourselves and with those around us.
The journey thus far has been brilliant and magnificent even in all of its sharp edges, deep valleys, and dark corners because with them have come the strongest of healings and the highest of highs and the most amazing love. The love I have for myself being the greatest. And with this love of myself, I can fully love all those around me, flaws, fractures and all.
I truly do hope that my Anne loved herself and did not let the weight of her regrets outshine the eternal inspiration, light, and love that has only continued to grow in her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and to the hundreds of lives that she made better just because of who she was. I truly do believe she did. I know that I do.
I honor all of her today, this day, the day of her birth.
iyi ki doğdun canım annem. Benim için her gün bana ilham veren sevgidir. seni seviyorum.
If you or someone you know suffers from mental illness, depression, abuse, or one of the other litany of life challenges, seek help, ask a friend, or contact a stranger. Life is meant to be lived well and full; it’s your birth-right.