For years I’ve had an idea running unnoticed behind my thoughts, the way programs run in the background on a computer: this is the way my life is supposed to be.
It’s an idea that can lead to resentment, but recently I’ve had a revelation. There’s no supposed to be; there’s just what is. Maybe this new (to me) version of truth will help me with my quest for acceptance, as in, “Accept the things you cannot change.”
It’s not that I’ve ever thought life was supposed to be all gardens and beaches. Accidents and illness, struggle and heartbreak - I’ve long known they were part of the mix. Since I was quite young, I’ve had a vision of how life works. You go along happily for a few years, encountering joys and troubles along the way but staying fairly upright, when suddenly life comes along with a catastrophe and pulls the rug out from under you.
Still, I had a sense that there was some natural progression from infancy to old age, stages of life that would come in a certain order. This was one of a number of unexamined assumptions produced by a safe and secure childhood. As a child I lived in a luxurious cocoon. I was the youngest of four children, the baby of the family. My family was intact, my father made a very good living, my mother made a comfortable home life, my brothers adored me.
a luxurious cocoon image:busyknitter.com
Some of these unexamined assumptions are useful: I can do it; I am loved. Some are just silly. I was born when my parents were in their forties; we lived in big houses. My grown brothers lived in tiny apartments. I concluded that when you’re young you’re poor and when you’re old you’re rich. This idea miraculously survived years of working in poverty law. I was probably forty when I realized there wasn’t a natural progression from one state to the other.
When I was little I assumed my future was college, husband, housewife, motherhood. (You can tell from this when and into what class I was born.) This assumption exploded with the second wave of feminism, with reading the Second Sex at fourteen and The Feminine Mystique at fifteen. When the dust had settled, a new assumption took its place. I was in charge of my life, I could choose my path.
I’ve always known life isn’t fair. When I was raising two kids they’d say, as siblings do, “It’s not fair.” And I’d annoy them with a little ditty, “You always, you never, IT’S NOT FAIR,” and tell them no, life isn’t fair, that’s just the way life is. Every year I’d spend a semester and three credit hours trying to teach my law students that life’s not fair. They had not entirely earned their good fortune, nor did poor people deserve their misfortunes; a good deal of everybody’s situation was due to luck, good or bad. click
Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. I’ve known this for years; I’ve said this for years. Yet there in the background, belying this knowledge, was the belief that my life would proceed in ordered stages.
The gods have laughed at me over and over, yet I have to learn the lesson again and again. I had to learn it once more when my son came home to recover from a serious illness. Now the four of us - hard-working husband, retired wife, teenaged granddaughter, and middle-aged son - are bumping along together as well as we can. It’s not what I expected when I retired. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
All my life I have struggled to accept what comes my way. I should have been an alcoholic; then I could have gone to meetings and heard the Serenity Prayer. Maybe it would have sunk in. But I can’t go much beyond one drink without getting drunk, and I hate being drunk. I prefer musical inspiration anyway; I want to learn to take One Day at A Time. click
Writing has always brought me clarity. But I’m still confused, still trying to understand. There's no supposed to be. There's just what is.
N.B. This post is full of God and Jesus. I haven’t become a believer. Growing up in a sanctimonious culture, I’m saturated with pious aphorisms. And just about my favorite music is gospel, full of trouble, promise, and joy.
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