If I Had My Choice …

“If I had my choice …” or “If I could choose any one thing, I would …”

How many times have I heard these phrases? Or read them? It’s likely that we hear them so many times a day we begin to overlook them or ignore them. They become so much white noise added to the background of our lives. I find myself thinking these phrases often. Just this morning, I was thinking about how certain things in my life are not the way I would prefer them to be. And I thought about how it didn’t feel as if I had come to this place in my life, physically or emotionally, by choice. To a large extent, I feel like most of my life has been a case of making the best of whatever was handed to me, whether by the people around me or by the universe at large or whatever. And I found myself thinking it …

If I had my choice, I would …

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Presumably, the end to that sentence is that I would choose a different path. Or I would pick something better for myself. Or more fun. Or more … whatever. The ending to the sentence isn’t what really matters. What really matters is the thought that immediately popped into my head, which was this: “But would I? Would I really?”

I do believe Life has, more or less, happened to me. To a large extent, I did not participate in the choices I made that led me to where I am. I followed along with the plans others had for me. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or, later, my husband. And so, I went with the flow, more or less. I never thought about what I wanted. I never thought about what my own dreams were. I never thought about … well, anything. I never planned anything. Or, if I did have the shadow of a plan in my mind, I let it go all too readily and easily in the face of what others wanted.

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In some ways, it’s liberating, isn’t it? I mean, to feel like you can look back at your life … or that you can look at the unhappy/unpleasant/untenable situation you are in … and realize you are there because you simply flowed along in the river of life, absolves you of all responsibility. Right? It’s not like you are unhappy because of choices you made. Or that you feel stuck and ineffective because of things you actively did. Someone else put you in that spot. And, if you had had your own choices or your own way, things would have been better.

But, seriously. This isn’t true at all, is it? Because I did choose. I chose every single thing that got me to where I am today. I chose those things by NOT choosing anything. I chose those things by following along with what others wanted and by making the best of whatever was tossed my way. I chose through inaction.

It kind of hurts, when I think about it this way. When I sit and think about it and am honest with myself, it hurts a lot. It makes me a little sick to my stomach. And that’s how I know it is at least partially the truth. That sick-to-my-stomach feeling almost never leads me astray. It is almost always right. Maybe not totally right, but for the most part.

So that brings me back to my original thought today: If I had my choice … Would I be capable of choosing? I honestly don’t know the answer to this question.

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The truth is that I never had choices growing up. In my formative childhood and young adult years, I didn’t have the freedom to make my own choices or to dream my crazy dreams. I didn’t have the freedom to dream any dreams. My parents, and, in particular, my mother, had very specific plans and expectations for me and for my future. I was supposed to be a certain kind of person. I was supposed to approach the world in a certain kind of way. I was supposed to do certain things with my life.

I wrote. And my writing, in a way, was my dream and my escape. I used it to let myself wander free from the expectations and the plans that were laid before me. But the truth is that I was never strong enough to break away from those expectations. I kept my writing secret, because it was a source of mockery and ridicule in my family. My brother’s creative talent for drawing was celebrated. My talent for writing was not. My parents were not interested in it in the least. It was never taken seriously. Not even by me, even though I kept on doing it in secret, hiding my scribbles here and there in my room.

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When I went to college, I continued to toe the line with regard to my parents’ expectations. I was supposed to get good grades. I did that. I was supposed to major in a certain thing. I did that. I was supposed to go to law school. I did that, too. At one point, right before I moved for law school, I realized I did not want to do this. I wanted to take a step back and think about what I wanted for my own future. But my parents were adamant that I not delay. “If you don’t go now, you will never do it,” they said. And I didn’t believe in myself enough to voice the logical reply that rang through my mind: “And so what if I don’t?” I didn’t believe in myself enough. I wasn’t strong enough. And so, I went. I moved to a town I hated. I suffered through 3 years of school that I hated. I worked in a profession I hated.

And so, here I am. I am almost 50 years old. And I still have no idea who I am. I still have no idea what I want. I don’t know what my dreams are. Or if I even still have dreams. I mean … is it too late for that? I’m a mom. Does that mean my time is over? Does that mean my daughter is the one to have dreams now, and I am only here to make her dreams a reality? Do I only exist to make others happy?

But this can’t be right, either. Can it? Because thinking about this … thinking about how I have never been a “real” person to anyone around me … It feels wrong. Like, maybe it’s the truth, but I don’t want it to be the truth. It’s not MY truth. I want to have dreams. I want to figure out who I am and what I want. I want to work at making my own dreams come true.

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But, if I have never let myself dream or plan or hope or want, do you think it has now become impossible for me to do so? If I have been trained, from the earliest age, to be a person who wants nothing and only makes the best of whatever is handed to her, do you think it is possible to change this? If I make a conscious, concerted effort to sit down and think about what I want from my own life, do you think it is possible to undo a whole lifetime of “this is how you are”?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t. But I feel that part of being kind to myself in 2019 has to be sitting down to think through all of these things. I have to start taking a step back from what others want. I have to start actively thinking to myself, “Self, what do YOU want? Is it the same as what others want from you? Or is it different?” I have to start thinking about the person I am and the person I want to be. I have to start figuring out how to believe in myself. Even a little bit.

Will I be any good at this? Honestly, I don’t think I will — at first. But I think, with practice, maybe I can get better at it. Maybe I will always stumble and get tangled up in the expectations of others. But, if I realize I am doing this, that is an improvement. And learning how to untangle myself will be like taking giant leaps and bounds forward, instead of the marching in place I have been doing for most of my life.

So, let’s do this, 2019. Let’s figure out how to dream our big dreams — at last.

The Dead Wood

I trimmed my roses back a week ago. Or, maybe it was two weeks ago. Not that it matters. The important part is that I did the trimming, not the time frame in which it happened. I love my roses. I really do. Generally, I don’t even mind pruning them. I try to keep up with dead-heading them in the Summer, when they bloom and bloom and bloom. And then, as cold weather approaches and Winter starts to close in, I give them a really big prune. And I mean “big”. We are talking a drastic cut back.

The last two years of my life have been a mess. In so many ways, I have felt like most of what I knew was wrong … most of what I had built was crumbling … and a lot of fear and uncertainty took hold. I still struggle with my own depression. My daughter was diagnosed with depression. My husband had a heart attack and quadruple by-pass. I lost both my beloved aunts. My husband lost his job. And he is still searching for a new one. And truthfully, I know we are still lucky and blessed. There are so many people who are suffering and sad in this life. There are so many people who have it much worse than me. It feels selfish, in a way, for me to talk about or write about the things I have struggled with over the last couple of years. And yet, selfish or not, it has been a struggle. And continues to be one.

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My roses have always been such a joy. They have bloomed enthusiastically and energetically all throughout the Spring and Summer. And even into the Fall. But this past Summer, they hardly bloomed at all. And I realized that, in the scurry and struggle of my life, I had been a bad rose mama. I had neglected them terribly.

And so, I pruned. It felt good to stand in the gentle breeze and focus on nothing more than the one cut right in front of me. And, after that, to move on to the next and the next. All things in their proper order. As it should be. It felt good to talk to my roses, to apologize to them for being absent for so long, and to thank them for all the beauty and joy they have brought into my life. The rhythms and motions were familiar and comforting. It feels like it’s been a long time since I have slipped into my own life and worn it like a comfortable shoe.

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At the end of it all, I was left with something that resembled a pile of sticks. By the time I was done, the sun had started to set. I stood in the gathering half-light of dusk and surveyed my work. And, as always, I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. What had I done? My beautiful roses! Had I gone too far? Had I ruined everything in trying to do something good?

Right now, my rose bushes look sad. Our weather has been cloudy and drippy and chilly. I think this makes them look even more pathetic, and the one little string of lights we have wrapped around them to decorate for Christmas hasn’t helped in the least. Have you ever seen that Charlie Brown Christmas special where Charlie Brown rescues the saddest, smallest, most pitiful little tree and, then, the whole gang puts lights and decorations on it? Yeah. That’s what my rose bushes look like with their little string of holiday cheer.

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But I have to keep faith and hope that, by Spring, things will look different. Things will look better. By Spring, there will be fresh leaves and new growth where, before, there was only dead wood. And by Summer, there will be blooms once more. Even though, all Winter long, I am going to look at my stick-bushes and feel that same sinking feeling. But it’s temporary. I have to remind myself it’s temporary. And I have to remind myself that removing the dead wood is good, even though it might feel like a bad thing. New growth can’t happen without it.

And maybe there is a life lesson in there for me, too. Maybe I need to cut away some of my own dead wood: my regrets, my sorrows, my guilt. I need to look in the mirror and say kind things to myself. I need to have faith that this difficult time will pass, and that there are better things on the horizon. In the Spring, there will be new leaves. And in the Summer, flowers.

A Lazy Sunday

Is there anything more lovely than a lazy Sunday? Saturdays, if they are lazy, are wonderful, too. But my Saturdays tend to be more frenzied. There are always errands to run or things to get done or activities in which to participate or friends to see. All of these things are pleasant, and they make Saturdays fun. But I’ve never thought of Saturday as a lazy day. Sundays, though … Sundays seem perfectly made for laziness.

In my growing up years, I hated Sundays. I may have written about this before; I have the distinct and sinking feeling that I’m repeating myself. But there are times when I suspect I don’t have any more original ideas inside my head. And so, off I go: repeating and repeating and repeating. Maybe. Possibly. Or, possibly not. Not that it matters. We are here now, and I want to talk about lazy Sundays. And that’s that.

As I was saying, I disliked Sundays in my growing up years. There was always an early roll call in order to attend Sunday School and church services. I tended to be a bit of a night owl on Saturday nights, often falling asleep around 1 or 2 AM. Being rousted out of a sound sleep at 7 did not make for a happy camper. We had to drive about 30 to 45 minutes (depending on weather and the deer population) to get to church. That drive seemed to take forever and a day. To this day, I swear time died in that car. I thought we would never reach our destination. It should have been a nice time to grab some extra sleep on the way to church, but this wasn’t usually allowed. Nor was sleeping during the hour-plus service. After church, there would be a short time of visiting and then another eternity of a drive home to prepare lunch. Once lunch and clean-up were done, the rest of the day spread out before me like a whole lot of nothing. There were chores to do, of course: dishes to do, horses, dogs, and cats to feed, sometimes some work in my little tack shed or a quick round of cleaning up the horse’s pen. Mostly, though, the heavier chores were done on Saturday.

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Childhood Sundays closed in around me like a blanket, muffling the realities of life. I grew up in the country, so it was quiet. Often, my dad was away for work. But, when he was home, my parents would do their own Sunday things, like reading, writing to friends, work on the car, or small household tasks. We never had the TV on during the day. That was reserved for evenings. I remember the small, background sounds of daily life: the hum of conversation in the other room, the clink of dishes in the sink, the snort and stomp of my horses, my dog barking at something outside my window. At the time, I thought Sunday would never end. It was so mind-numbingly BORING. I couldn’t wait for Monday to come so that I could set off into a new week with new adventures, and so I would be able to see my friends at school. Sunday felt like a never-ending span of nothing stretching out before me, into the far reaches of time.

I’ve lived a lot of years since those childhood days. I’ve been to different places, both as a visitor and as a resident. I’ve lived a different type of life. I’ve had excitement and tragedy and happiness and sadness. I’ve found things and lost things, and I’ve left bits and pieces of myself here and there along the way. There have been adventures, and noise, and just … lots of stuff.

And this is what I have discovered: I miss those quiet, lazy Sundays of my youth. There is a restlessness inside of me, but it’s not a restlessness to move forward. On the contrary, I very much wish I could move backward. Not necessarily backward in time, although there are some things I would love to recapture from my youth — in particular, dearly loved ones who have gone and are terribly missed. I would love to go back to a time when my parents weren’t old, and to when my life felt secure and safe. But, no. That time is gone, and it can’t be recaptured. I know that. But those lazy Sundays of my youth stand for a simpler life. A quiet life. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, and now, it seems like something that is forever eluding my grasp. I can feel it, just at the tips of my fingers, but it slips away every single time I reach for it.

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Today we had a lazy Sunday at my parents’ house. My daughter and I attended church last night, as is our routine. So I was able to sleep in a little today, and then I kept my mom company while she made lunch and we waited for my dad to come home from their church. We ate together, then all went our separate ways: me to finish reading a novel and take a nap, my dad to watch TV with his headphones on, and my mom to nap in her recliner. My daughter is holed up in her room, playing a game on her DS and writing.

And, as I sit here in my mom’s quiet kitchen, the small house sounds close in on me: the hum of the refrigerator and dishwasher, the click of the tea kettle on the stove as it cools, the sound of ice dropping into the freezer’s bin, the melodic music of the wind chimes outside the back door, and the gentle, electric hum of a house alive with happiness and memories. It has clouded over outside. The wind is picking up, and I hear the distant rumble of thunder. But I have a glass of iced tea on the table next to me. I have the comfort of these computer keys clicking under my fingers. I feel safe — peaceful and content — locked in the world of the lazy Sunday.

I asked my daughter earlier if she was bored. She gave me a funny look and said, “Of course not.” It seems she has learned to appreciate the small and simple pleasures of a lazy, quiet day at an early age. She’s definitely smarter than her Mama!

Putting It Out There

I try to put out into the universe what I would like to see come back to me. For example, when dealing with other people, I always try to treat them with the same respect and courtesy that I would like in return. I try to treat people the way I would like to be treated — or better, actually. Sometimes, when dealing with a particularly annoying or rude person, I try to tell myself, “Self, how would you respond to this person if he/she wasn’t a stranger, but was actually your Mom?” Once I put things into those terms, it’s a little easier for me to have compassion, or to ignore insults and rudeness, or, at the very least, to have a little bit more patience. I try hard to live my life this way, and I try to live my faith this way, too. I know I don’t openly talk about my faith a lot in here, but it is very important to me. And my faith and beliefs teach me that I should strive to see Christ in every person I meet. I try to do this. I really, really do try.

It is  … Well, it’s darn hard. I am not a perfect person. Most of the time, I’m not even a particularly nice person. I am flawed and broken. I think the only thing I’m perfect at is being imperfect! I’m super good at that. Still, I hope it counts toward my universal karma (or whatever) if I try. If I try often enough, I might actually get good at this thing — one of these days. Or, maybe, I won’t. I don’t know. I might just remain perfectly imperfect, like I’m stuck forever marching in place.

Sometimes, I feel really discouraged and sad. Maybe even a little angry. Or a lot angry. Because it feels like I try hard to put the best of myself out there, only to have other people tramp all over it. Maybe my best “self” isn’t all that great, but it is the best I have. My best effort … my best attempt … the best of the feelings that live inside my heart. It hurts when I send those things out into the universe, only to get … well, crap in return.

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It makes me feel prickly and grumbly. And tired. Really, it makes me feel so damn tired when I think about the effort I make to bite back the mean things I want to say … or to do what I think is right, even when I don’t want to … or just to be nice to someone who will, then, turn around and slam (figuratively or literally) a door in my face. It makes me feel out of step with the rest of the world, like I am, somehow, all wrong or all out of place. I find myself asking, “What the heck is wrong with me? What is it about me that brings this out in people?”

Today, I had a situation where someone I have known and who has worked for me for several years treated me badly. I have always treated this person with respect and courtesy. I have gone above and beyond to help this person when they needed help. I have always been flexible with my schedule and kind in dealing with this person. And I have worried over this person even when our working situation became uncomfortable and stressful for me. The truth is, I should have parted ways with this person long before today, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it because I felt that this person depended upon me more than I depended upon them. Even so, this person did not treat me with the same kindness, respect, and courtesy I have always tried to show. It hurt. A lot. And, honestly, I wanted to be unkind. I wanted to tell this person to leave my house immediately. I wanted to deny them the comforts and courtesies I have shown all throughout our association. I was hurt, and I wanted to strike back at them, even if it was in a passive-aggressive way.

And that’s when I realized … I can’t control anyone else. I can only control myself. Of course, I knew this all along, but I think it’s kind of easy to forget sometimes, like when the tiredness of the world wearing away at  you gets to be too much or too heavy. And so, today was a good reminder for me. I could have followed my first impulse and been unkind and ugly. It would have made me feel a whole lot better about the situation — at least in the short run. But I have to live tomorrow and the next day and the hundred tomorrows after that with whatever I do today. I have to look at myself in the mirror and know the things I have done.

I’m not proud of my mean-spirited thoughts. And I know I will remain perfectly imperfect for a long time. Actually, I am pretty sure I will remain that way for the rest of my life and then some. But, for now, I’m going to keep on putting it out there: all the best of me, even if it’s a little bit tarnished and worn, and even if it’s  just a little at a time.