She always encouraged me to explore. She helped me understand that if I hurt others, it feels the same to them as when I get hurt. She showed me others’ creations and destructions, and helped me to make up my own mind about them. She described her own opinions, and always listened to mine. She expressed respect for others’ views, and could politely disagree, or stay quiet if the time was not right. She knew how to help others feel comfortable in public or in her home. She cooked with me, and together we fed hungry mouths until there were no more. She always told me the truth. She knew my greatest weaknesses stemmed from my greatest strengths. She did her best to help me grow, but she always let me choose the best direction.
The world’s will was so strong, and I didn’t want to have a will — just to explore and be happy was enough. Slowly they chipped away at me. They told me I was a genius. They said I was meant to use my gift for the greater good. They implied things were as they saw them, that no other way could possibly be right. They finally convinced me it would be a waste for me to spend my life focusing on the things that made me happy. I also deserved every opportunity money could buy. I needed a university education. I needed a good-paying job. I should be responsible and trustworthy for much more than myself. I needed to marry, to have children, and to carry on my family’s name. I learned to make the decisions that brought their encouragement. I was destined for greatness, and they would do everything in their power to help me achieve that greatness.
The momentum they built for me carried me very far. I got my university education, twice over. I’ve had well-paying jobs. I’ve taken advantage of what money can buy. I’ve nearly married a few times. None of these achievements has ever felt like a happy exploration, though I’ve created and destroyed many things. None of them have ever helped me feel good about myself.
I’ve picked up a lot of bad habits from the world. Judging things as right or wrong, even just for myself, has fenced me into the smallest of boxes. Now that I’ve known the strong emotion of self-righteousness, and the extremes to which it will take me, I’ve learned to fear others’ judgements of me. And rather than rip my ego out, and return to a simpler life, I turn those parts of me off, like so many circuit breakers in your basement.
Sometimes, I get lucky. A picture, a smell, a song, a word or something I ingest will force me to turn off those judgements. It will remind me of her. It’ll force me to reject things that don’t make me happy. It’ll make me cry and purge like a drunken sailor, staggering back to the ship after the bar has closed. I’ll get up off of my knees and take baby steps. I’ll begin to let my pain go. I’ll start to make decisions for myself, not just for others. I’ll give myself permission to smile.
And then, just maybe, I’ll open the door and invite you in.