The Effect of Feedback

Feedback – The process by which a system, often biological or ecological, is modulated, controlled, or changed by the product, output, or response it produces.

It must have been the end of the summer because I remember the floral lightweight dress I was wearing. Our family car, a striped down Chevy or Ford, (the only kind my dad’s company ever provided), was parked on the street in Detroit, in front of our aunts’ studio apartment. The sky had turned dark, and standing in the doorway of the car, I was focused on the sky that was filled with thousands and thousands of stars. As I gestured upward, to point out this amazing discovery, Whack! Dad smacked me across the face, yelled a cuss word, and pushed me into the back seat of the car.

Unable to process what had just happened to me, and what I had done to bring it about, I felt stunned. Sitting in the back seat beside my younger sisters, I wrapped my arms around my shaking body, nursing my hurt feelings, determined not to cry and get myself into even more trouble.  I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong at the time but, looking back it’s clear that wherever we were going, we didn’t have time for stargazing.

I’m not sure how old I was but I had to be 7 or 8 because it was after my first communion and I remember preparing to go to confession, sometime shortly after this incident. At the Catholic school I attended we had been instructed as a way to remember our sins, to ask ourselves how many times we’d disobeyed our parents. I had already developed my own short cut for this task. I would count the number of smacks or spankings, or scoldings I’d received, and then tell the priest I had disobeyed my parents that number of times since my last confession.

But this event, the evening I was distracted by the stars, didn’t seem to fit neatly into my system. I obviously didn’t do what my Dad wanted me to do, given that he whacked me across the face and yelled at me to get into the car. But I hadn’t disobeyed him. I was doing what he wanted. I was just taking longer than he wanted me to take. Kneeling in the church pew, preparing for my turn to go to confession in one of the small little chambers on either side of the priest’s compartment, I came to the conclusion that I had not disobeyed my father. I had only displeased him and there wasn’t a commandment for that.

All these years since I have to admit I haven’t done much stargazing in my life, in spite of being around people, like my husband, who have a strong interest in the galaxy above. Could that instantaneous dramatic feedback on that evening long ago still be connected, in my psyche, with admiring the stars in a night‘s sky?

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