A gift of age and life experience is the opportunity to view things in the fullness of time. Within a year of my college graduation, the Challenger blew up and fell out of the sky and the oil business in Houston sank like a stone. It was a heartache for the city I had chosen as my first “adult” home and it seemed like all the reasons I had for settling there (except my first serious boyfriend) had turned into quicksand. Said boyfriend then got a job that took him across the country, which served as a catalyst to our “finally” taking the plunge and getting married. That marriage and move to North Carolina took me out of my comfort zone and led to my first sales job, which was the foundation for the rest of a career that has served me far beyond my wildest dreams and allowed me to travel the world. The necessity of having to figure things out for myself in a new town far from my home without the safety net of lifelong friends and nearby family helped me mature quickly and helped me understand that I really could, as the Mary Tyler Moore theme lyrics proclaimed “make it on my own.” Which was good, because that marriage soon came to an end and I needed to do just that.
While I was out there “making it on my own” by all outward appearances, I piled up quite a few romantic misadventures for the ensuing 20+ years. These are mostly forgotten now, but they sure hurt like hell at the time. And there is no doubt that what I learned from each of them in hindsight allowed me to know that as the relationship was starting to develop with my now husband, this was one worth digging in and facing my fears about, and making real room in my life to explore its possibilities.
Did I come to all those conclusions and get that healthy perspective in real time? Of course I didn’t. At the time, any of those now nearly irrelevant-in-the-scheme-of-things occurrences individually felt like the end of the world. Taken together, sometimes I thought I might drown. I never thought I would get over most of them. I could have continued to wallow, and think “woe is me” and blame everyone but myself for the various cruel blows I felt I’d been dealt. And there would have been people in my life who would have thought that listening to me moan and groan about these things and just “giving me space” was helpful and supportive – the loving thing to do. It would have also been easy (and it was, for a time) to gravitate toward those who were as equally wounded and hurting as I was. That felt good for a while, but it wasn’t long til I was looking around, thinking, “these people are insufferable!” Of course I did not have the self-awareness at the time to know that I was becoming insufferable, too. Thank heavens for the friend who one day told me that if I didn’t quit bitching about my ex-husband, we weren’t going to be able to spend any more time together. That was the just the kind of metaphorical slap in the face I needed. I stopped talking about him, but I wasn’t ready to explore it any further just yet. I didn’t ask myself any questions. I didn’t really change. I didn’t get over anything. I just got quiet. And I kept making dumb choices, and kept wondering why things never seemed to work out.
Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” That might sound a bit dramatic, but it rings as true today as it did in Socrates’ time. Examining my own actions, feelings, failings and fears was a heck of a lot harder than just pointing my hurt and anger and disappointment at someone else who wasn’t around to talk back to me. Finally, I had to admit to myself that either I didn’t really know how to do that work, or I didn’t want to. The answer was both. I decided to find a counselor, something that at the time I thought only crazy or weak people did. I didn’t care. All I knew was that I was tired of being tired of hurting.
I found a wonderful woman who patiently but firmly helped me and forced me to dig all the way down and sort through why it was that I was continually willing to settle for less than I was willing to give. There wasn’t anything deep and dark about what we discovered. It wasn’t anything my parents had or hadn’t done. I was from a loving, wonderful family, which is one reason the usual answers weren’t readily at hand. The bottom line was that I had figuratively knitted all of my past hurts, failures, disappointments and anger together and wrapped them around myself like some sort of invisible masochistic security blanket, rather than talk about them and risk showing any chinks in my armor over the years. It was comfortable and safe there, in my blanket. But there wasn’t room to let anyone in, and those who tried never really got to know the me who wasn’t weighted down, wrapped up, and filtered by all of that tightly stitched knitting.
There were times I’d leave Susan’s office feeling like I had just been hit by a truck, but eventually there were more times than not that I left feeling lighter, happier, and ultimately, empowered to step out and be strong enough not to settle for less. I was still me, but I had learned my heart. I had faced my fears. I had admitted my failures and bad judgments. I had done the work it was going to take to grow and ultimately succeed and thrive, rather than merely exist. I had told the truth to myself, folded up that blanket and stored it safely away. It wasn’t discarded, because every once in a while it’s good to remind myself of what’s in that back corner and why I don’t ever want to wrap myself up in it again.
Winston Churchill said “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” This was actually a paraphrasing of a quote by the philosopher George Santayana, which was “those who cannot remember the past are destined to repeat it.” As I reflect tonight on my own journey of self-examination, I can’t help but draw comparisons to the current politics in our country on this Super Tuesday night. Where we are today is a result of where we’ve been. Our choices today are a result of what we collectively chose in the past. Are we owning up to why we are where we are, regardless what candidates we support? Are we going to try to learn from the past and remember its lessons, or is the future already pre-destined because we won’t?
As our current President likes to say, “we’ll see what happens.”