Ignorance is bliss. Yes, agreed. When you keep on doing what you know and everything is right in what you are doing there is a certain sense of ease to living life. When you stumble upon a new perspective that leads to a new truth, there is a conscious choice to be made. The Earth used to be flat and not so long ago if you consider the span of time it has endured. Then something shifted, a person’s perspective changed, and the world didn’t seem so flat after all. The choice needed to be made by millions all over the world to stay with their mindset of being weary of sailing off the edge or embrace a willingness to consider that one could and may circumnavigate the globe.
I grew up in a small town in western New Hampshire surrounded by mountains with lakes, trees, and lots of people exactly like me. My perspective was pretty much shared by everyone else. When I moved to Maine just before my sophomore year in highschool I thought I had arrived in a big city, we were twenty minutes from Portsmouth and just over an hour north of Boston. Life changed drastically, my small hometown bubble had burst. One by one previously held beliefs about myself and people in general were questioned and begged to be reexamined.
Decades later I’m still very much learning that change is constant and growth is not only trying it can be downright annoying and sometimes even painful. I remember a teacher pointing out that I had a streak of tenacity. I smiled and blushed at the compliment. Looking back and having worked in education I have a feeling what he was really implying that I was stubborn, strong willed, and unable to budge in certain areas of my thoughts and knowing. In the past decade, looking back I can share that I have been given ample opportunities to reexamine long standing beliefs and behavioral patterns in order to consider if there might just be a kinder, gentler way of looking at myself and life as I know it.
I believed with all my heart that giving meant never receiving, hard work was the only remedy to laziness, self judgement kept one from never making mistakes, and probably the most detrimental held belief was that everyone else’s opinion and time was more valuable than my own. Traveling through life with this ingrained mindset makes for a very long rocky road with little reprieve and lots of feelings of guilt, shame, and fear of what others may think about you. Often times this was at the expense of my own balance, happiness, safety, and well being. Sometime during this Summer after facing a new challenge in my life I decided to consider that there may be a new way of looking at life, embracing it. I was longing for a sense of ease, peace, and calm. I was recognizing that there were things that I felt were important and worth spending time on that I have been pushing down while I agreed to do things and fill roles for other people, in some cases for individuals I barely knew. Yet with the beliefs that I had held since a very young child, those other people somehow seemed more valuable and important than myself and I was doing a good deed, providing a service to my community, and being a better person than I thought I was.
When I allowed myself to consider that there may be a different way to live, tiny little moments began to open up. People who I hadn’t seen for a very long time, opportunities to do things I had once dreamed of, and moments of calm and ease slowly began showing up. At first, I would say thank you but no thank you. Then as I strengthened my resolve to consider, I began accepting, I allowed myself to receive, and suddenly I was feeling change in the air. In allowing myself to consider, I believe that I have begun unblocking blocks which were set and cemented oh so many years ago and have become hardened and stuck with disappointment, negative self talk, low frequency emotions like jealousy, guilt, fear, shame, and doubt. I’ve decided to try something new for a change and be ready and willing to receive and be all the best life has to offer. So far it’s going pretty well. The road hasn’t changed, it’s still long and rocky in some places but the way in which I have decided to travel it is so much more enjoyable. There are still a good number of blocks to unblock but as each day passes I find myself more readily aware of each of them and in a better place to remove them. Life is meant to be good, living can be done with a sense of ease and peace even when it delivers lemons.
As I was preparing my response to Jen’s entry, I received word that my aunt Pat had passed away. Aunt Pat was not just an aunt to me, she was my godmother and a consistent source of love and support from the moment I was born. In the hours after the news spread, a younger member of my family posted on Facebook about how they had just discovered a bucket list that she had written for herself. The post lamented that my aunt had only crossed one thing off of her list, it further implored anyone reading to “go out and live your life while you can. Stop letting work or obligations or bills or self doubt stop you from doing things. Go live.” I’ve been surprised by the time and emotions I have spent reflecting on such a seemingly uplifting and motivating post. It reads like one of those inspirational memes, but it is bugging the shit out of me!
What’s bugging me is that it is written from a perspective that assumes and dismisses. It assumes that what was on that list was important to my aunt, and it dismisses that which truly was. Not only do I believe that this is what Jen is pointing out in her entry, but, perhaps more importantly, I believe our lack of an ability to see an alternative perspective is the greatest condition ailing our country these days.
The Facebook post assumes that if my aunt had lived her life differently and checked off all of her bucket list boxes, that her life would somehow have been better and more complete; that we could have looked at her scorecard and declared her a winner at the game of life. My aunt may have only crossed ONE thing off of her bucket list, but I promise you that she wasn’t sorry and she damn well wouldn’t want anyone to feel sad for her. You see, life is about choices, as the post and Jen’s blog entry imply. What may look like obligations, self doubt, and a failure to live a fully actuated life are really choices that are consciously and purposefully made by the person living them. They are choices that reflect the individual’s values and what makes them happy.
During my last visit with aunt Pat, I was talking with her about how people move away from home chasing that next promotion, higher income, more things, and, at all costs, avoiding family connections. I told her how I fantasize about living somewhere warm on a sailboat but that I could never do that. I could never be truly happy living that far away from home or from my Dad. It is not because he needs me, he is healthy and fit, and still takes care of me way more that I do anything for him. No, I couldn’t be happy living that far away because I couldn’t go sailing with him on Casco Bay, I couldn’t go hiking with him in the Whites, I couldn’t go get a burger and a beer with him at his favorite pub.
As I went on about this, my aunt just listened, then she told me about my uncle Keith. She told me how he had willingly loved her, and her two boys from a previous marriage, and the daughter they had together. She told me about how he turned down the opportunity to make more money and to gain more power and prestige within his company. She told me that he turned it down because he didn’t want to be away from home in the way he would have been required to be. It was a choice he made. She also told me of how he lovingly took care of his aging mother, something that he wouldn’t have been able to do had he accepted that job.
It reminded me of a choice that I made a few years ago. I chose to love a woman dying from cancer. I chose to put my personal and professional lives on hold to love her and care for her. I chose that, and now, despite my having lost her, I have no regrets. The love we shared. The person she helped me become. I could not have made a better choice.
As aunt Pat and I continued our visit, she reflected on her life but not once did she ever express regret that she only crossed one thing off that list. No, she told me stories of family and friends. She spoke of her late husband. She beamed with pride as she spoke about my cousins saying, “I have such wonderful children. Each of them are such good people.” Every story she told me reflected a memory of someone important to her and every memory was a tale of love. Never was there an ounce of regret for a trinket not purchased, a place unseen, or a dollar unearned.
Not too long ago, a different family member looked down his nose at my life’s choices. He felt as though I had lived a “safe” life and that I was a slave to imagined obligations. Let me tell you, as I stood in the back of my aunt’s funeral service on Saturday and surveyed a room full of people grieving the loss of their mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend, I was struck. I was struck that I was looking at my aunt’s bucket list. THIS is what was important to her. These people! We were all so important to her that she never even considered putting us on a bucket list. Her love for us was so fundamental that it never even occurred to her to write it down on a list and it superseded anything that did manage to make it on a list. Ironically, that family member who all but mocked my life’s choices was nowhere to be found. His condolences expressed in a throw away text message.