Not long ago John and I went to see a movie. Just the two of us. Erin was in Wisconsin and John and I decided to spend that rainy Sunday afternoon in Dothan at a movie. The Debt is about telling the truth. Ultimately, though, it is more about the lies. It isn’t the lies we tell the world that ultimately eats us alive – it’s the lies we tell ourselves. Those lies define us – make us the people we turn out to be. We lie to ourselves every time we settle for less than what we wanted. We tell ourselves we’re happy. We tell ourselves our lives are the way we always hoped they would be. We tell ourselves that all the little compromises we have made along the way don’t amount to anything. What we don’t tell ourselves is that what we really are is cowards.
We are afraid to take what we want from life – maybe out of fear that we will hurt those with whom we share our lives. But if those people love us as they say they do, don’t they want us to have the life we want? Aren’t they willing to love us enough to help us pursue our dreams? Are we courageous enough to let them? Or, in chasing what we really want, are we afraid to risk those things we have simply settled for? Those things, those compromises, define our comfort zone. Many of those choices have little to do with how we see ourselves and more to do with how those who love us want us to see ourselves. Why?
Are they afraid that in the choice we will fall? Or are they more afraid that the choice is really just running away from them? Is that what it is? Really? My mother has often said that she had always believed that of her two children I would be the one to get as far away from Kinston as I could the first chance I got. Why didn’t I? Fear? I don’t know. It would be easy to say that the pieces of my life just fell into place to work out this way. But since I’m talking about honesty, I can’t really claim that is true. I am where I am because of the choices I have made. I went away to college but was so unhappy that I moved myself to a school closer home. I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to major in, so I just took my transcript to my advisor and asked her to look at it and tell me what degree I could get with what I had in the time I had left. I took a job as a secretary because it is nigh impossible to find a teaching job in November…when I graduated. I took my first teaching job at a private school because I felt I really should be using my degree even though the secretarial job paid more. I actively pursued a job in a public school because there is no way John and I could have the life we wanted with my job paying the little that it did. So, many years later, here I am.
There’s a country song that says something about “the crooked road that took me straight to you.” Please forgive me if I have misquoted, but you get the idea. My life has been a series of seemingly unexplainable, unrelated twists and turns. I talk to my students all the time about getting out into the world. I encourage them to explore options that will take them outside their comfort zones. I probably did my best job with that particular goal with my own child. Once Erin spread her wings she soared.
So what lies am I telling myself now? Probably the biggest one is that I’m happy that Erin is moving on with her life. That one is a whopper! Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for her. She is making her own decisions, fearlessly, and making her life what she wants it to be. I just feel as if when this school year is over and she moves to Wisconsin, as she is actively planning to do, that I will be terribly lonely for her. Things will never be the same. I’ve talked a lot about easing into this natural separation progression and how that is making the whole process easier. It has, really, it just can’t do anything to make me happy about it. Someone told me once that from the moment your children are born they begin their journey away from you. It’s natural. It’s the way things are meant to be. It’s only right. Maybe what gets me about this is that my choice hasn’t come into play. My choice for her life isn’t one she took. She listened to our advice and considered what we wanted for her and then took the route she wanted to take. Do I think the choice she has made is the wrong one? I don’t think so. Should things not work out the way she has planned, the potential consequences are vast. But, then, that’s where my past choices come into play. Should her plans not come together the way she sees them doing so, the culmination of my choices will put me where I need to be . . . right here if she needs me.
Have I lied to myself in the past and told myself that I’m happy when I’m really not? Sure! Who hasn’t? I like to think that I have a realistic approach to the whole “happiness” concept. I read an article yesterday that said that the couples who are happiest together over the long term are those who do not insist that every problem be solved or every argument reach an amicable settlement. The couples who persevere and grow old together are willing to accept that only 68% of the disagreements they have over the course of their marriage will actually be resolved to mutual satisfaction. It seems to me that those couples have simply agreed to disagree. They have agreed to be happy. They have made their choices along the way and then chosen to be happy.
In the movie that we went to see, the lie the characters live has much more serious implications. In my little corner of our existence I will continue to make choices with a conscious effort to be honest with myself about what I want. I will take the opinions of those I love into account and then look into my heart and make a choice. I’m sure there will be times that some of those choices will turn out not to be the best thing I could have done. It won’t be the first time, nor will it be the last. At this point in my life I think the most important thing to remember is that my opinions about what Erin should do to be happy are just that….opinions. I want her to look into her heart and make a conscious choice to be happy. There may be consequences and / or ramifications, but I believe that if she is honest with herself and chooses what she truly believes will make her happy, that those consequences will be few and less severe than if she lives her life by others’ choices for her and then lies to herself…telling herself that she is happy.
Her not being close by will not make me happy. Seeing the joy on her face and hearing it in her voice will. And that is not a lie.