My mother was a delightful but depressed woman. Since I was the “accidental” baby, born when my parents were in their 40s, I never got to meet their parents. Had I known my grandmother, I think I would have had a much better sense of what it was that troubled my mom, but not knowing what happened never kept me from trying to fix it. Nearly 30 years after her death, I still occasionally sort through the pieces of her life like a really hard puzzle, trying to figure out a better way to reconstruct them. And not being able to make her life better doesn’t stop me from trying to fix other people’s lives, too.
Despite life wisdom, rational thought and even therapy, many of us still believe we can fix that thing that hung over us for so long.
The ripple effects of this story sometimes seem endless, but I can see clearly how I ended up with this sense that the only way I can feel OK is for other people to feel OK, too. That’s my story, the one that often torments me on some level and frequently leaves me feeling ineffective on another. Most of us have a story like this, the thing that a parent or a teacher said to us, or warned us about, or urged us to do, or did to us. It’s the thing that stays with us and creates a hole, a cold place, despite the rest of our lives being rich and lovely. I’m thinking that as I head into this next year, a few months into my 66th year, my life might feel a lot more comfortable if I could give up that idea that my job is to make other people feel better about their lives.
My friends have their own stories—like dads who told them they weren’t smart enough, moms who convinced them they were unattractive or too heavy, entire family lore that painted them as the person who would never amount to much. Whatever the drama of our own families, and no matter how successful or beautiful or rich or happy we’ve become, those stories stay with many of us still, as if we are doomed to that fate regardless of the facts. And despite life wisdom, rational thought and even therapy, many of us still believe we can fix that thing that hung over us for so long.
So we try too hard with our own kids, spend money on unnecessary beauty treatments, let our tendencies toward perfection rule our days and, if you’re like me, step in when someone is even vaguely troubled and try to repair it for them. “I know this is ridiculous,” we think to ourselves, “but maybe I can just try this one last time to prove them all wrong.” It’s as if one more surge of effort might finally put the thing to rest and free us from the long-held distress of feeling that we aren’t enough.
Since most of us know in our more lucid moments that those old concepts and stories are no longer true or possible or even worthwhile, I’m thinking that 2017 can be our year to let them go. Whatever that thing is—that pesky, annoying idea that stays mostly in the shadows but never fails to remind us that it is still alive and well—this new year could be the time we finally just say no.
I know, for example, that I can’t ease everyone’s problems and that I can be ok if someone I care about is not. It doesn’t make me a bad person to go forward with my life if, for some reason, they are stuck at a tough point and need to work through their own stuff in their own time. If you’ve been hanging on to that thing your dad used to say to you, or the time that teacher told you that you’d never be quite smart enough, let’s dump all of that this year. Toss it out. Let it go. As cliché as it sounds, we’re old enough to write our own stories now, and smart enough to be however and whatever we choose. Without the weight of those demons stowed away deeply in our pockets, I’m thinking this could be our year to fly.