Monday, January 4, 2016

Live and Let Live

So the holiday festivities are behind us but what lies ahead are mysteries to discover. I love a good detective hunt. In fact, it was in the midst of my celebrations that I stumbled upon the clues of an unintentional gift or two.

My family and I were gathering with the one, yes I said one, family member I remain in contact with today. I was listening to the tales of their life and the comings and goings of their average day. While it was a different year than the one before, their story was the same.

I listened to the litany of self-sacrificial actions they took on a daily basis, many times over. I heard yet again the ways in which they were not supported by the same exact people as every other year that had passed. You see, I normally only offer a listening ear because the unspoken rule that was established oh so long ago by this person was: Do not offer any suggestions or criticisms of myself or the significant others in my life because I will only, and always, defend them and myself.

And I followed that rule for many a year, until this most recent interaction. I just, well, I just couldn’t take the absurdity of what was falling out of their mouth anymore and I jumped at the chance to shine a spotlight on its ludicrous nature. For their part, they played the same role and only offered multiple justifications for everything and everyone. In an unconscious fashion I was being told they were still playing by the old rules.

I was a bit exasperated to see them treat themselves so poorly and permit others to follow suit. I know how their story started, mine was written on the same pages, so I had great clarity and compassion as to the hows and whys of their choices. But over a quarter of a decade ago I began writing a new story, and the chapters that followed for me were a far cry from our original plot; for them, it was to be more of the same old same old. Clearly they liked the script they were handed.

How do I know this? Because for the last 36 years they have made the same exact choices a million times over. They face financial ruin for the second time, unemployment is scheduled to come around in March, they complain about their stress, fatigue and lack of support as they work three jobs and face a life threatening illness. But none of that, which has slowly manifested over those 36 years, matters because actions speak louder than words. They can say whatever they like, but their actions are telling me they are quite content with where they stand.

I wanted to beat my head, and their head, against the wall and say, “Stop doing this to yourself!” I understand the premise of their actions: I am not lovable, being a martyr makes me feel important and I’ll put up with all the shit because something is better than nothing. But all I could think about was my sadness at watching their demise and what I saw to be the looming of an unhappy ending.

I needed to re-group.

I could only lead by example, and clearly they were not interested in a game of follow the leader. Our moment together was offering each of us a gift. They appeared to be content playing with the same cardboard box year after year, but I was ready to rip open my newest present.

The first thing I discovered was a question: If I cannot make them see their worthiness, what can I do? Currently they are legally blind and sporting blinders which means as things stand, I need to be the one to hold the vision of them as deserving and lovable. My head banging impulses were only sourced from my own powerlessness and judgment and sounded something like, “You’re a dumbass.” That energy is not supportive nor is it telling them, “You are lovable.”

With that understanding I took a step back, and down, and held a picture of them in my mind’s eye as spectacular and glorious. It felt calming, centering and truthful(l) to hold that anchor for them.

That’s pretty good, right? I mean I was trying to learn something out of the whole mess. But…it was short-lived because soon there was this tugging going on inside of me. It felt like a bulldog had seized onto one of my thoughts and wouldn’t let go until I paid attention. Flustered, I paused to listen and heard, “But I still want them to change!”

Oh fuck, now what? Well, hidden at the very bottom of my gift box lie another unwrapped treasure and question: Why am I so invested in them changing? After all, everything that is or is not going on in their world has absolutely no impact on mine. None.

I would like to tell you that the simple answer was, “Because I love them.” While I do indeed love them and suffer a twinge of heartache from their pain, my motivation seems to be a bit selfish as well.

When I first glimpsed that realization, I tried to quickly wrap that sucker back up and I looked over both shoulders to see if anyone else had noticed. But it was too late, I already saw the answer to the question. Now, I’m going to tell you what I discovered but I would prefer we keep it just between you and me because I don’t necessarily take pride in admitting this truth.

What was keeping me so anchored in my need for them to change was…my desire to be right. I already told you that we shared a significant past and that in time our paths diverged from one another. When I made the choices I did, I took on the role as odd man out. I stood alone and still do to this day. I do not regret those choices but what I was discovering was that my ego was still addicted to the thought of someone, at least this one relative, coming back to me with, “You were right, Kellie.” That felt like it would be the sweetest victory. Unfortunately, what was music to my ego’s ears was certainly not the most altruistic approach to the matter.

So now what?

We’re back to the title of this long, rambling tale (I thank you for hanging in there.) - live and let live. That was the next truth I heard echoing in the caverns of my mind. It was also the motto I used all those years ago when I went down another path, reminding myself that I needed no one’s permission for the steps I took. I didn’t need their approval then, nor do I today. My actions were indeed right, right for me, and I needed to send a memo to my ego to remind it of just that.  

If that was true for me then, it is definitely fitting now for my relative as well. They are free to make their own choices and live those consequences. What I needed to be wasn’t ‘right’, but accepting. That is always an aspiration of mine as I trek this human trail, and one that I most likely shall never master.

Mastery or not, it is a worthy goal. Live and let live, it gives us permission to be who we are and gracefully permits others the same.

Be well and happy.

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