Do you remember the scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke fought Darth Vader in the tree on Dagobah? He asked Yoda, “What’s in there?” “Only what you take with you,” the Jedi Master replied.
The Skywalker father and son saga has always scared me a bit, especially the story of Anakin. A good man turned into a hateful monster, ultimately committing large-scale infanticide before spending all but the last few seconds of his life as a servant of evil. Corny though it may sound, it freaks me out to think of the parallel with my own life. I too started as an innocent child, and then gradually let hate and an irrational obsession with changing the past — changing the unchangeable, controlling the uncontrollable — lead me down a path to crimes my spouse and family could scarcely imagine.
Today, instead of Anakin, I learned to identify with Luke as well. He went into the tree to confront his father, finding his own face inside the image of Vader’s severed head. Themes of struggle against one’s father are more common in our lives than just the work of George Lucas. Uranus, Kronos, and Zeus come to mind.
But, what about a son struggling with his mother? When I go into the cave and slay my mother, will I find my own face on her severed head? Probably. She is me, and I am her. The mental illness, judgmentalism, obsessive-compulsive tidying, obvious lack of self-esteem, tension between Victorian values and a desire to live a “normal modern” life, underdeveloped empathy, self-pity, and fear of trying new things; all these things are her. And, they are all me.
Luke entered the tree with fear and anger. And, that’s what he encountered. When I call my mother or — horror of horrors — visit her, I cling to fear and anger. I fear her judgments, her shrill and childish anger, and her never-ending perceived wounds and grudges. I am angry at her for raising me in a Victorian prison, and for poisoning my mind with pettiness and self-doubt.
But, I must leave that fear and anger behind me when I confront her. They will only burden me and cloud my judgment. I’m 46-years old, and married with two sons. My mother’s anger, sighs of disappointment, and petty judgments can’t really hurt me — not unless I allow them to hurt me.