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Posts Tagged ‘choice’

Today is April 26th and the traditional time for me to write about my mom, on the anniversary of her death.

Last year my grief over my mom’s loss was weighing heavily on me. In retrospect, that was probably caused at least in part by the fact I was writing a book at the time that was all about grief and a teenager’s loss of her mother. In writing it, I was also remembering what it had been like when the grief was fresher.

This year, in contrast, my grief has been quiet. The book I’m writing right now has very little to do with grief, or mothers, or death. It is about other things.

But I have been thinking about the past because of my massive clean-out of stuff that is currently in progress. (Yes, it is still in progress. I just brought another packed carload to Goodwill yesterday, after spending another good portion of the weekend cleaning things out.  At this point I think I am fairly close to calling it good and stopping, but we shall see.)

I have always had a fraught relationship with my mom’s remaining stuff. It feels like a limited resource because she will never have any more stuff, and it also feels like all I have left of her.

I’m pretty sure this is false. It is just stuff. The reason I care about this stuff is because of the memories I’ve attached to it. But it is the memories that are what I actually have left. Memories and genetics, I suppose. The stuff is valuable in that it prompts memories I might otherwise lose. And that is why it is this stuff, stuff that belonged to my mom or that is generally from my childhood, to which I am ultimately most attached.

I don’t actually care that much if I remain attached to these objects. It would be great to be able to get rid of more of them, I suppose. But the really important thing to leave behind is not so tangible.

There is a sense of doom that pervades life after a troubled childhood. There is a fear that perhaps some things cannot be transcended, that there is an inevitability to the patterns played out by your parents, and their parents before them, and their parents before them, and back back back beyond living memory. Perhaps some people do not notice these dynamics playing out, but for those of us who want more from life than what we’ve seen in our families, this awareness is inescapable.

So then, it is this doom I wish to toss into the dumpster. Because we can make our own choices, we can educate ourselves, and we can reach higher. We can do better. It is not easy, this daring to strive for more, but it is possible.

If there is one thing this last few months have taught me, it’s that I can lay this idea of doom to rest. I can bury it in a field under an apple tree, a cautionary tale I won’t want to visit very often. Because the doom is heavy and clammy and it tries to pull you back down into the undertow. To believe in the doom is to give it power.

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Photo Credit: naismithd via Compfight cc

But it is not true. I have reached this anniversary of my mom’s death knowing that I do not have to become her. I do not have to live her life. I have made some of the same mistakes she made, yes, and who I am has been informed by who she was, for good and for bad. But I drive my own story and it’s already clear I won’t have the same ending.

I don’t know what my ending will look like, but I do know it will be all my own.

The relief of disowning the doom is profound.

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I saw a quotation some time ago on Facebook, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I’d decided to blog about it for my first post of 2014. Then a week or two ago, it popped up again, shared by someone different, a sign of the resonance of the idea.

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” -Carl Jung

I don’t believe that we can unilaterally leave our pasts behind us. We carry them with us, whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we want to or not, no matter how far we travel. The past happened, and we can either deny that fact and muddle along in blindness, or we can work towards knowledge and acceptance. What happens to us does change us.

But.

We still have choices. We get to choose who we’re going to strive to become. We get to choose how we’re going to move forward. We can choose to let our pasts define us OR we can choose to define ourselves on our own terms.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

I used to be afraid that my experiences would cause me to close myself off, that I would become bitter and jaded. But because I was aware of that possibility and decided I didn’t want it for myself, I worked hard to ensure it didn’t happen. I got to choose which way to send myself. And now, more than a decade later, I might occasionally experience a touch of cynicism, but that’s it. No overwhelming bitterness, no hatred of the world, and in some ways I’m more open than I’ve ever been.

We can’t always control what happens in our lives. We can’t control the decisions of others. But we can make choices about how we’re going to act and what we’re going to try to focus on. We can’t always prevent unproductive thoughts, but we can notice that we’re having the unproductive thoughts, recognize them for what they are, and deliberately replace them with more helpful thoughts.

The past has given us wounds and wisdom. It has given us strength and scars. And now every moment is an opportunity to use that wisdom and honor those scars and take control of our personal stories.

I’ll leave you with another quotation that feels right for this year:

“There is one thing which gives radiance to everything. It is the idea of something around the corner.” – G.K. Chesterton

May you all have beauty around your next corner, as well as the mindfulness to enjoy the radiance before you reach it.

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James Altucher wrote one of those popular list posts of things he learned from being a day trader. It is really interesting, as his posts often are. Two of his points particularly caught my attention:

  • Say “no.”… You have to decide every moment if this is the situation you want to be in.”
  • “This is crazy” means you’re crazy. …I know when I feel like, “ugh, this situation is insane” that the first place I need to look is at me.”

I like these points, and I think they go together well. Because when a situation feels insane, it’s probably particularly important to decide if that’s really the situation you want to be in. And those are the situations in which the skill of saying no is going to be particularly valuable.

The second point is crucial because it’s so easy not to look at ourselves. Sometimes we want to look anywhere BUT ourselves. But ultimately the situations in which we find ourselves are often about us. They are about us whenever we have a choice.

Even if it’s a painful choice. Those count too. Saying no can be one of the hardest things to do. Deciding to remove ourselves from a situation is often deeply unpleasant. Making different choices than we usually do can take huge amounts of effort.

Which road do you take? Photo Credit: simonsterg via Compfight cc

Sometimes we feel so attached to the way things have been or the way we wanted things to be that it takes awhile to make this choice. Sometimes after making the choice, we feel regret. We second guess. We wonder how it might have been if we’d chosen differently.

But really all that matters is the choice we’re confronted with right now. We can’t do anything about those other choices. We’ll never know how things would have gone if we’d chosen differently. We can’t go back and change things.

Sometimes we’re tempted to blame other people. We look at their behavior, and we want to point fingers and say, “Look! There is where the problem is.” And I’m not saying people don’t do some crappy things to each other sometimes. They do, and it sucks, and we don’t have to be okay with that kind of thing.

But in the end, we still usually have a choice, and so it becomes about us too. We get to decide if we’re willing to be in a relationship with this person. We get to set and hold boundaries. We get to say no. We get to say this is no longer a way I’m willing to be treated.

And what we’ll tolerate and what we won’t tolerate? The message that sends is about ourselves. So then the question becomes, are we choosing to send ourselves hate mail? Or today, are we going to send a love letter?

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