Months back I posted a blog entry similar to this, and removed it because I was told to do so. I have rewritten it and post it now with the disclaimer that all characters referenced in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
They all act the same. I have observed it: like father, like father. In person or on the phone the dialogue is consistently the same:
“Great, how are you? Awh, well, livin’ the dream! Everyone’s fine here, just running around, you know, sitting around relaxing when I should be cutting the grass – but hey, everything is great!”
Their way of living life is by showing the outside a positive, fine, consistent, happy front. As long as that is covered, then the inside can limp along injured, broken, and probably no one will ever know.
I do not lie like they lie. Perhaps “lie” is too strong of a word… perhaps what they say is indeed somewhat true… they are just avoiding the unpleasant, uncomfortable feeling having to explain … what… a life of constant disappointment? This could be either a tried-and-true method of avoiding uncomfortable feelings, or a conscious effort to keep others from suffering that feeling with them. Doubtful, however, the latter… they don’t really think about sparing others their emotions; it is more a learned strategy of self-protection. If only a perfect, happy world looks to exist, then no one is brought in too close. No one needs them, they need no one. Generations can learn this is the way to do life. Surface-level relationships are just easier.
“The child is the father of the man.” William Wordsworth may have meant that, as it was in childhood it shall be in adulthood. I take it further to mean that what we learn in childhood is what we live and pass down to our children. We model certain behaviors. If you grew up in a family where hugs were the norm, you will most likely be more open to hugging as a parent. Granted, you can change (or at least modify) what you have learned… if you recognize this is not how you want to live… but it is difficult to change anything without the motivation to do so. You have to want to be changed.
I was raised with a powerful but soft-hearted father, and an emotionally variant mother. I still love receiving greeting cards from Dad that say, “I love you, Sue” because that is his way of saying the words to me that I truly need to know. Mom was, and still is, a dramatic, theatrical woman who openly shared with me as a child that I was driving her to a “nervous breakdown.” She was also there for me at 2 a.m. to listen to all my heartbreaking details of Jay wanting another girl in the cheer squad, of Gene buying me a hot fudge brownie sundae at Big Boy and confiding that he is gay, and of my first major breakup and how despite my efforts Scott wouldn’t leave Alcohol for me.
Unintentionally, just like my mother, and her mother, I constantly update those who love me of my emotional barometer. My internal storms are usually broadcast for those close to me to see and observe. This previous summer those storms were intense and a lot more difficult to hide. An emotional roller coaster is fatiguing! Besides that, “normal life” went on – all while the turmoil churned. I ran around daily complaining, I have too much work to do! I have a job, and messes that need to be cleaned up… I have to coordinate over 300 volunteers for a national championship race – hell, I have to RUN that 100-mile race! I cried, I had stomach aches, I drug myself to work, I ran poorly. When I feel lost, you see it, and it looked terrible on me. What I had considered a great “strength” of living “authentically” was quickly becoming one of my greatest weaknesses. But how else was I supposed to handle it when that was the only way I knew to feel?
I guess my point is that you learn how to act and react from the environment from which you came, and from which you have lived most recently. If you saw a parent or parents ignoring pain and maintaining a hardcore outside, you might be living the same. If you saw your mother crying when she lost a faithful friend or when she was extremely disappointed, you might believe that it is okay to process hurt openly.
I am not hard-hearted.
I have learned to deal with nearly all life issues with passion. Changing that part of me would be difficult, if not impossible to do… and if I changed that ability to access raw emotions I would radically change the person I have become. Mom taught me that it is better to love and lose than to not love; I have taught my daughters to trust and share their hearts, to not fear being truly close with loved ones. I want them to hug their children someday – big bear hugs that risk their public reputations with friends but really just make them the envy of their enemies. But feeling does hurt. I will give him, the father’s father, that credit: you have avoided heartbreak like a true champion. And why would you want to feel pain if it could be conveniently avoided, right?
You survive like you have been taught to survive.
Mom used to look either rock-solid in charge, or frighteningly distraught. I could tell that it frightened her to have so much of herself invested, to be that “out of control.” When I went away to college she cleaned the house down to the corners. She hung on to memories and drove around with a stuffed toy of mine in the passenger seat for months. Worse than not being able to pack a lunch for me, she had lost a life companion. So I got weekly care packages in the mail, and weekends home, and lots of hugs and special food. Sure, it would have been more clear-cut to be closed and final, saying goodbye and turning off the care switch. Like his father, or like him, or like his son, her life would have been so much simpler to say goodbye and watch me go.
Saying goodbye – and feeling the loss – hurts.
I think for the first time in a long time I am considering that a happy existence shown on the outside does not necessarily mean a cold heart resides inside. True that no one is brought in too close intentionally, because what would happen if they needed someone? They have only learned to be strong alone. Might they still feel passion on the inside, even though it is stifled? Do you figure, though, that anyone will ever access the raw nerve that generates a truly open and vulnerable “I love you so much”? I would hope so. I have to face that it just wasn’t me who could reach it. He said goodbye and watched me go.
So what does this all mean? Probably nothing… perhaps everything. You survive as you have been taught to survive.
To those who love me: thank you for your support over the last year. Please know that all the hours you have invested in me are here, banked for you as the same loving support when you need me. I am here for you! That’s what real friends do – what real partners do – when one is down the other supports. And yes, this way of living, it is hard, and it hurts, and it takes time and investment, and risk – and it is not at all easy.
Indeed, a conversation ends so much sooner if you report that everyone is just fine; and we walk away with our whole selves still intact. I, personally, hope to leave a part of me in the hearts of all those I love.
If we have the power to choose at all, I dare ask, how would you rather live?