When my mother fell gravely ill recently, I was confronted by who my family really are. While gut-wrenchingly disappointed by the recent lack of familial support, I learned a most important life lesson. The chasm between who you who think your loved ones are, and the reality of who they are, is often achingly wide.
We see it often in movie-plots – when the matriarch / patriarch of a family die, the family gathers together from their disparate
realities to mourn, and we watch spell-bound as the personalities clash, old hurts re-surface, the fabric of the family unravels, and long-held secrets are unveiled. In the movies, however, it usually ends in a heart-warming reunion of mutual understanding and
re-newed love. The reality is far less wholesome or satisfying.
Mine is a fairly traditional family, where men are awarded authority on the basis of their genitalia, rather than merit, and birth order is often held up as a rationale for decision-making. While this has always enraged and infuriated me, my parents recently learned (the hard way) just who will step-up and make the hard decisions, and who will duck and weave responsibility. Even symbolic acts of support, such as sending flowers, became telling signs of who cares – and who doesn’t. Behind the façade of family unity, the cracks really started to show when it was time to pay the bills. Fortunately, I was able to make the life-changing decisions on my own. If I’d been waiting on family to contribute (fiscally, emotionally or intellectually), our Mother would have been long gone.
The life lesson brought home to me by all of this was stark: in life’s moments that matter – we are alone.
We often feel that no-one understands us – and we’re right. No-one truly knows your darkest fears. Few share your passions. Some share your views. Others travel part of our life’s journey with us, but no-one travels the whole journey. No-one can do your exams / say your vows / give birth* / sit a job interview / die for you. (*Assuming you’re pregnant to begin with. Otherwise, you could, in some countries, have someone have it for you. Or you could adopt.)
Whatever others may say or do, the copious advice or support they may offer – when the hard decisions have to be made – it is we alone that must make them, we alone that must be willing to defend our actions, and live with the consequences. This is often immaterial day-to-day, it’s only when it REALLY matters that we notice it most.
This need not be disheartening. In fact, such knowledge can be liberating. If we are truly alone when it matters , then what does it matter what others think of us? Surely, this means we are free to live our own life. Having recently just come out, I found the idea rather exhilarating.
It’s all too easy to become paralysed by the expectations of others. Fearing judgement, or worse – failure! – we resolve not to try at all.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but no-one’s watching. Ethel Barrett said it best:
“We would worry less about what others think of us if only we realised how seldom they do.” – Ethel Barrett
You’ll never please everyone else, so you may as well please yourself! Quit living for others, and start following your own heart. Shed the expectations of your family, friends and colleagues; set aside the judgment of others – if they won’t be there when it matters – what does it matter what they think?!
Go forth and live your OWN life!