The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the tag “universal wisdom”

Anchors Aweigh

First published July 29, 2016The_Royal_Navy_during_the_Second_World_War_A11482

 

Gle

I was just out of school, still mostly a boy,  when I joined the Navy. There was a big war going on, and I was eager to serve my country and see the world. In the early days, I had the exuberance of youth; the certainty of my invulnerability. I believed I would return home a hero, with interesting tales to tell for the rest of my life.

It wasn’t long before my fantasies collapsed and my mood (and most of the others’ around me) swung between a self-protective detachment and abject terror. These emotions often manifested at inappropriate moments. One afternoon,  our ship was strafed by enemy planes. I and my fellow gunners manned the positions,  immediately becoming primary targets for fire. Two of my companions died right on the deck beside me, but I had no time to mourn, no time for fear. I focused on my job.  My aim was true. I brought down two aircraft, watching with indifference as their pilots and their crews were swallowed by the vast ocean, unbroken ocean.

During that battle and in the hours that followed, I felt nothing. It was only much later that a thick fog of terror and panic rolled in,  enveloping and smothering me.

Weeks later, a bird fell from the sky, dead,  onto the deck and suddenly,  I felt awash in guilt for having taken the lives of those foreign flyers. They were not so different from me and my mates, all of us just doing our jobs.

Some nights after many days of relative calm, I’d wake up in a cold sweat.  The quiet felt like a bad omen.

Apropos of nothing, the hair would stand up on my neck.  My breath would grow short and my heart would beat, rat-tat-tat, like an artillery tattoo, in my chest.

But in action, I was distracted,  attentive,  too focused on what was happening in that very moment to worry about what might happen in the future, even the immediate future.

And so the months went,  a pendulum between action and tedium,  fear and fatalism.

Eventually,  it was my turn for leave.  We were heading for a friendly port, and once there, I would be flying home for a week or so to see my family and my girl.

I hung in my hammock,  wrapped like a cocoon so I wouldn’t fall out,  swinging to and fro in the rough seas.  When I first came to the ship,  I found this movement rather sickening, but eventually I grew used to it and felt it comforting, like being rocked to sleep in a cradle.   The sound of the other guys snoring and grunting gave me comfort, for we were brothers and took care of each other.  I was sleeping peacefully,  dreaming of home.

And then, suddenly I was wide awake, up to my face in quickly-rising salt water,  the smell of fuel thick in the air. The ship had been hit by a torpedo and we were sinking fast.  I could see others floating around me, already dead.   I had only a few moments of consciousness left before it was my turn to drown.  I said a quick prayer and then gave myself over to remembering the last time my girl and I kissed.  And then I was gone.


Buy the book!

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!
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The Eagle Has Landed!!!

 

Yippeeeee!!  The book is live on Amazon!!!  (click link to purchase)

I was hoping to keep the price down but It’s nearly 400 pages so printing is expensive. Sorry!!! Nevertheless,  I’m quite pleased with the way it came out.  What I particular love about the book format is that you can randomly open to any story, and depending on your mood and where you are in your life at that moment,  you may find different meaning in it each time.

Positive feed back on Amazon would be MOST appreciated!!!  (hint, hint!)

It would thrill me no end if small groups of people got together regularly (like a book club) to discuss some of the stories as jumping off points to their own deeper understanding of themselves and of life.  I’d love it if teachers assigned the book to students, then asked the students to write their own life story in a similar format. Therapy patients could benefit from a similar exercise.  I invite actors to use the stories as monologues and writers to use them as jumping off points for books, plays, or movies.  Truly, I hope this book finds some life outside the blog. I’d be most appreciative for any help you might offer in spreading the word/work.

Thank you ALL for your loyal support and feedback.  Gail, you see I took your advice re the cover. And Lino,  I took your advice about arranging the stories in a way so that each one informs on the one before and after it, (unlike the blog, where they are published as they come to me.) Both excellent suggestions!

Much love,

Adrienne

The Measure of a Man

first published July 2, 2016michelangelo_david

Ke

I was the youngest of four brothers. My father had been a great athlete in his youth and he expected all of us to travel the same path. From the time we were old enough to walk, we were encouraged to run and swim and climb and throw and fight and do all the things that strong, powerful, masculine men do.  There was no sympathy for or indulgence in weakness of any kind.

We were raised to carry on his legend by becoming  the kind of men other men admired. As children,  we were expected to be braver, smarter, and more well-liked than other boys. It was impressed upon us from the time we were very young we must never do anything to tarnish our family name or reputation. There must never be even a whiff of controversy or disagreeability about us. We were raised to be kind to those weaker than ourselves. We defended injustice when we saw it.  We were helpful to those in need.  We were generally peaceful but strong and able enough to win a fight should someone else throw the first punch. We were raised to be real men, good men, admirable men.

I never doubted that my father’s values were well-placed. His moral compass was infallible.  I understood his reasoning in everything.  I lived to make him proud of me. And he was proud of me.  I was handsome, popular, smart, a champion athlete. I didn’t have to be coerced to adopt his values.  I did not stay the course merely to please my father.  It was obvious to me that this was the right and proper way to be.  I felt fortunate to have his guidance knowing that others floundered with no beacon to light the way.

When I was about 13 or 14, an uncomfortable stirring began to nag at the back of my mind.  Other boys my age were thinking about girls.  In fact, that’s all they thought about.  I kept waiting for that same fascination to arise in me. I expected to wake up one morning and find myself as lust-driven as my classmates.  I worried that I did not share this irresistible biological urge.  I told myself I was just a late bloomer.  Or maybe my glands were afflicted in some way and not producing enough hormones.  Perhaps I needed to eat more masculine foods. (I began a diet heavy in red meat, certain that would solve the problem.)

Meanwhile, I kept a low profile. It was not in my nature to lie, so instead I was reticent and shy. I didn’t want anyone to examine me too closely, to ask too many questions. My athletic skills were valuable to the various teams I played on, but I rarely socialized with the boys outside of practice.

When I was 17, I started dating a girl in my class.  This was done for the sake of appearances; to stave off the inevitable questions.   I did not want to have to explain why I didn’t have a girlfriend.  The answer was too complex and I didn’t even understand it, myself.   The girl was also shy and from a religious family. Our relationship was respectful and chaste, which was ideal as neither of us were interested in anything sexual, each for our own reasons.

When my friends started bragging about their conquests, I held my tongue. Even if I had been having sex, I still would not have shared my exploits. Such behavior was unseemly. They grudgingly admired me because I didn’t kiss and tell.

Eventually, I went off to university, far from home, away from the inquisitive eyes of anyone who had any preconceived notions about me, where I could start again with no preconceived notions about myself.

I had long harbored suspicions about myself, and they haunted me.  Such thoughts were terrifying and when my mind alighted upon them, I quickly changed the mental subject.   Eventually, however,  the feelings, the desires, the need,  were too big to deny.  They screamed and barked and howled.  They would not stop, would not be silenced.  They could no longer be ignored.

Here was my dilemma: if I could not face the truth about myself, I was a coward, and that I could not abide.  But if my suspicions were correct, my life was a ruin.

But the truth could no longer be denied, and so it was there that I discovered what I was.

This knowledge ripped my sense of self right out from under me. It went against everything I’d ever believed I was, everything I’d spent my life preparing to be. I’d become that thing that brings shame on the family; that thing that can never be accepted; that thing that made a mockery of my father’s fine lessons in manhood.

I could not be my true self and remain part of my own family. They would never accept me as now knew I was. And now that I knew, I could not pretend to them to be otherwise. By deceit, I already put myself apart from them,  even if they didn’t know.

And so, I was cast adrift with no moral anchor. What did it matter if I was brave and strong and true? I was still a mockery of a man.

But then, who could I be? I needed a new identity, a new way of being, a new skin. I tried on quite a few, but nothing felt comfortable. No matter who I tried to be, it all felt like a costume, a pretense, a role that wasn’t at all natural.  I had been taught to be a certain kind of man, and now all those lessons were moot.  What was left?  Who was I?  What was I?  I spent several wasted years adrift, searching but not finding the answers. I did things that, had they known, would have disgraced my family.  I was not always honest nor brave nor true.  Even crying filled me with shame.

I couldn’t be myself anymore and I couldn’t be anyone else, either.  I was nothing.  Nobody.  Nothing about me was true or real. There was no reason for me to exist.

And so, at 24, I hanged myself.  I did not leave a note. I did not reveal my secret. The act of suicide, itself, I knew, would be shameful enough.

The pain was ultimately intolerable but from this side I can appreciate the understanding that has followed from it. This loss of identity, the complete denial of ego, and the accompanying torment provided the most valuable lessons I have ever been shown in any lifetime.

There needs to be a balance between feeling the importance of the self and realizing how unimportant we really are.

 —

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 

The Harshing of the Mellow…

first published June 5, 2016

cassandra

Cas

I fancied myself a tragic Cassandra, my warnings to the world ignored and unheeded. I could recognize the birth of a killing wave long before even a ripple fluttered beneath the water. I paid attention when the stone was dropped,  and could accurately calculate how long it would take before those waves engulfed  the shore, There, the revelers and the workers plowed on,  willfully oblivious to impending disaster.

I was not well-liked. Few wanted to be reminded that their own greed and selfishness and laziness and ignorance were contributing to an inevitable crisis.  Nobody wants to be lectured by someone who is in no better a position to stop the juggernaut than they are. The best way to get through life with any measure of happiness is to ignore the sword that hangs over all our heads.  But I could not let anyone forget.  I would not allow them the luxury of denial or ignorance.  They mocked me, condescended to me, ignored me because I could see what they refused to consider.

It didn’t matter that my predictions generally played out as I claimed they would. I was not sought for my advice.  Instead, I spent my life on the edge of panic, without hope, certain every moment that the end was imminent.

But of course the end is always imminent for everyone. This is the human condition. Each generation eventually dies. Society, technology, mores…they are always changing,  sometimes unrecognizably in a short time. What is calamitous to the parent is perfectly normal to the child. As the older generation loses its ability to adapt,  the young easily inhabit the new conditions, having known nothing else.  The human race is resilient, after all.

In the end, the pattern unspools as it was always meant to.  All the millions of moving parts conspire to weave the future in the only way possible.  My dire warnings and fears were for naught.  What did it matter that I could see further than most? There was nothing any of us could have done to have made things turn out differently.  There was nothing to do but wait for another tide.

—–

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
-Adrienne

There For Each Other…Again

 

 

Where: Somewhere along the beach in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. When: August 2012. What: Three young men enjoying the sunset together. Camera info: Contax G1, 28mm Biogon, Kodak Portra 400.


 Maj

I was born into a family who lived on the outside.  We were not part of the main culture.  We did not follow their customs or traditions. We did not celebrate their holidays.  What was perfectly normal for us was an oddity to our neighbors.  Our family tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.  We made a special effort to be friendly, polite, law-abiding.  My brother and I were encouraged, cajoled, pressured,  to do well in school.   We did not know too many others like us except for extended family,  and they did not live very close.

I was the only one like me in my class throughout my lower school years but late into secondary school,  I met a few other boys about my age. Had we met in a place where everyone was like us,  we probably wouldn’t have chosen each other.  Personality-wise,  we were nothing alike,  but by this shared odd circumstance,  being three of a kind in a sea of others, we became bonded.

These boys remained my dear friends all through my life,  even after we discovered larger communities of our people, and tapped into its business network.  Ever after we didn’t need each other anymore.  Despite our differences,  we remained close.

We forgave each other sins that would rend other relationships asunder.  We trusted each other with secrets nobody else in the world knew, not even our wives.  We were brothers.  It was understood that if something should happen to one of us, the others would take care of his family.   We were responsible for and to each other.  We shared a storied history.

We didn’t discuss or analyze the nature of our friendship.  We all understood it the same way.  There was nothing to discuss. We knew what had to be done.  We knew what had to be said.  And we knew when to do and say nothing.

I sometimes I forgot how much they meant to me.  Sometimes,  I took them for  granted.  Sometimes I needed time away from one or the other one  because he exasperated me so.   Sometimes,  there was anger, and it seemed as if the friendship might be over, but none of us felt quite whole without the others, and so somebody would apologize. They would make the effort to reconcile.  They would recognize their own fault in it. They would take responsibility for it.  And in this way,  we grew as men.

It was only after they were both gone that I truly understood how important they’d been to  my life.  I didn’t survive them by very long.  We were all old men when we died. But that short while of living without them was spent in the contemplation of their friendship, and its importance to all of us.   How blessed I felt to have known these simple men.

Now we are together again and always will be, in some form or another.

——————

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
-Adrienne

 

photo credit: Simon Garnier    http://www.simongarnier.org/three-friends/

 

Mastering the Art of Love

first published February 14, 2015

tree_of_love_0_0.preview

Aya (the “love expert” — again)

Lifetime after lifetime, I was trapped in the same not-understanding; unloved without any comprehension of why. In some lifetimes, I simply retreated into myself and didn’t bother with others. In other lifetimes, it pained me deeply to have my feelings reproached. I once threw myself off a bridge to escape the pain of unrequited love.

Eventually, I began to observe and learn. Over more lifetimes, I came to understand that the key to being loved is to remind others what is loveable in themselves.

When this is done as practice, one naturally observes others in a positive way, seeing them in the best possible light. This engenders more love, which radiates outward, contagiously.

To be loved, first you must learn to love properly. The art of love, mastered, is impossible to resist. But still, there will be those who cannot believe the good  you see  in them.  They cannot trust love. This is their  heartbreak, not yours. Each human must discover for him or herself the importance of opening the heart to others. You cannot cajole or threaten or coerce someone to love. Each must come to it in his or her own way, in his or her own time.

Never regret the love you have given another, even one who is not able to return it. Do not blame yourself for staying too long. Do not feel foolish for wishing too fervently. Love, when it deepens your own understanding, is never wasted.

 

—————–

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
-Adrienne

The Long Mistake

 

Originally published February 11, 2015

tree heart aeg

To

I made a big mistake which took me a long time to recognize. And as my life went on, I compounded that mistake until there was no going back.

When it began, it was just for fun. I wasn’t looking for anything more than a temporary distraction. But she was not the kind of girl one trifled with. She made me laugh and she made me think. Each time I thought I had come to the end of her, she pulled me in deeper.

And before I knew it, I loved her. And she loved me.

We were bound. We both knew it. But she alone tended the tie that held us connected.   She kept the line in good repair so we would not drift apart. I paid it no mind because I assumed she would always take care of it. Often, I would drift away from her until we were out of sight of each other. This hurt her, I know. She wanted to let go, but could not. All I had to do was tug the line, and there she would be at my side, loving me again. In my selfish, childish heart, I believed it would ever be so. She was mine forever and nothing would ever break us apart.

Eventually, she stopped minding the rope. For her, there was nothing much at the other end except me with all my faults and lies and disrespect and silences and selfishness and carelessness of her feelings. The line began to fray with neglect but I did not notice until one day, I pulled and came back empty.

She had finally moved on and was lost to me forever. The knowledge of it made me sick.

Losing her was my first mistake.

My second mistake was living the next decades as if it didn’t matter. Everything I did was just another form of running away from my feelings, from relationships, from the fear of my own vulnerability.

As I got older and felt the end coming near, I realized I needed to make amends, not just to her, but to all the people I’d hurt and disappointed. She was gracious and listened to my feelings, out of habit no doubt, because she was kind. But she was not moved. My words changed nothing. Apologies are meaningless unless one sincerely intends to stop the very actions one is apologizing for. My bad behavior was already too deeply engrained. It was too late to change and part of me that would have made any difference. She had no reason to forgive me; no reason to trust me. She didn’t need my love. She didn’t need my friendship. I didn’t even understand what was required. I had nothing to offer her or anyone else.

The pain of the loss hit me anew. Finally, I was beginning to understand just how much I had wasted. She had been my moral compass. From her, I always heard the truth. I should have held her close. Instead, I let her go and spent my life adrift. If we’d stayed together, I thought, I might have been happy. I might have lived a peaceful life. She would have kept me righteous. She could have stopped the self-destructive cyclone my life had become.

And so I regretted not just the loss of her but what my life had become without her. And I died choking on that regret.

All the currents of my life had pulled me away from her. I was destined to travel no other route than the one I traveled. It was not for her to keep me on course. That was my own duty. Certainly I could have kept her if I had loved her more than I hated myself, but if I had been able to do that,, I would have had to have known then what I only understand now.

The tragedy of my life was not that I lost her. The tragedy of my life was that I’d missed the opportunity to learn how to  love.

 

——————

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
-Adrienne

 

The Joi of Hoi Polloi

First published May 27, 2016

hoi polloi

Bel

Dying is the final lesson of living. I now understand that it was not mere chance that I died as I did.

Some people die alone.  Some pass away surrounded family, or perhaps by those attending to them in their final hours. Some die together in small groups, perhaps in a flood or a fire. Sometimes, war or disease or disaster takes many at once.   My death was life’s last chance to teach me what I needed to know. It could not have been any other way.

All my life, I hated the sound of my own useless thoughts, ricocheting around inside my head.  They went nowhere productive, just echoing in an emptiness I could not fill.   Emotionally, almost nothing moved me.  I walked through my life mostly void of any self-generated feelings.

I felt most comfortable when lost and anonymous in a large group of people. In the crush of the throng, I was no longer alone with my own thoughts. Pressed against others, I absorbed their feelings as if through my skin. I inhaled the passions they expired.  In my loins, I felt the stir of their sexual excitement. Their fervor became my own.  The rabble artificially filled me with what I could not produce on my own.  My emotions were by contagion only.

Once evening,  I attended a large sporting event. The stands were packed with screaming hoi polloi.  Rivalry was high.  Fights broke out here and there, not too nearby to be threatening, but close enough for me to feel the heat.   I was in my element, pulsing with the energy I’d appropriated from others.  Strong drink multiplied the sensations, and so,  as usual,  I;d downed enough to make me feel loose and open.

Later, on the way home, I discovered my normal route blocked, and I was forced to take a detour.  The path was unfamiliar and of course I was in my cups and somewhat off balance.  In the dark, I lost my way. I tried to find my way back but I tripped on a rock or root and fell into a deep ravine which was hidden from the path.  When I stopped falling, my leg was twisted under my body most unnaturally and the pain was excruciating.  I cried out for help until my voice was nothing more than a raspy whisper, but nobody could hear me.  There was no rescue. And so I stayed there, for days, in and out of consciousness, dying slowly, alone.  Just me and my thoughts and finally, my own feelings.

 

——————

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
-Adrienne

The Cure for Unhappiness

First published February 8 2016

zen bound

Ipo  (yes, him again!)

Wherever you find unhappiness in your life, seek the place where the spirit is shackled to the ego, then sunder the bond.

The spirit’s sole purpose is to ascend. The ego is ballast holding it earthbound. Loose the ties. The perspective broadens as you rise. What confounds and hurts when standing in the midst makes beautiful sense from a distance.

Humans pursue happiness in various ways but there can be no true peace until these knots are severed.

First, however, the knots must be acknowledged.

The ego manifests in our desires, our expectations, in our sense of entitlement from the rest of the world.   It manifests in our need to be loved and acknowledged. It manifests in the way the world is reflected back at us through the eyes of others.

But you are not these things. You are not your possessions or your job, not your social status or physical entity.

When you feel the pain of the ego, ask yourself “What does this represent?” “Why do I want this so much that not to have it will cause me pain?” And, most importantly, “Who am I without it?”

 ______
 
 me: This came to me the night before we hosted a big holiday party. I’d been cooking, baking, cleaning, setting up for days. I’d been on my feet for ten hours. My back was screaming. Finally, at 2am, thoroughly exhausted, I collapsed into bed, so happy to finally be able to rest. And then, IPO! (he’s so insistent!) Wouldn’t let me sleep until I wrote it down!
But as soon as it came into my head, I realized this was something important.
I’m generally happy and positive with very few things that nag at me, so this is not the kind of subject that normally occupies my mind. It literally popped into my head apropos of nothing. And not only that, but when I was so exhausted, I could barely formulate my own thoughts.
Since then, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this.   When I consider the things which have made (or make) me unhappy in life – incidents or phases or interactions with others which made feel hurt, frustrated, angry, depressed — in every case, this unhappiness was/is indeed a result of my ego. Of course, even knowing this, it’s not so easy to let go but at least it puts me on the right path to solving the problem, and puts the responsibility firmly in my own court.
I know this for sure: the more in touch we are with our spiritual essence,  the less we need to possess or achieve in order to feel whole.

______

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey! 
-Adrienne

 

Unchallenged

NEW!

 

Har

I grew up in a small farming town with an older sister and two younger brothers.  My sister and I could not have been more different.  She was everything I was not but wished I could be.  She took risks and did as she pleased, while I was afraid of disappointing others.  She was outgoing and made friends easily, while I tended to trust only those I’d known all my life.

She left home as soon as she was old enough and headed to a big city, where she found work. She moved a large circle of interesting friends.  She had many admirers, and eventually married a successful businessman. They traveled extensively and saw the world.  They had a couple of children — a niece and a nephew whom I barely ever saw.  As far as I could see, they were quite happy.

I stayed put, rarely venturing more than fifty miles from home. I envied her life, but I knew I could never follow in her path.  My brothers, however, rather than envy her, resented her for leaving them with a heavier load.  They were happy to remain in our town; content with their lives.  The difference between me and my brothers was that while I despised my fears, they either didn’t have them or repressed them so thoroughly they did not acknowledge them at all.

There are many kinds of fear in the world, but I suffered from a particular brand of cowardice that permeates small towns.   I was afraid of making a mistake with my life; of doing something unfortunate which could not be undone, so I let others make choices for me.  Before I committed to a gentleman friend, I needed my family’s approval.  I was afraid to venture out into the unknown lest what I believed to be right be proven wrong.  I hesitated to make my own moral decisions for fear I’d end up in Hell, and so I followed the rules of the church.

In a small, closed community, politics is little more than institutionalized gossip, power struggles among the mostly powerless, and petty vengeance. Those who are willing to speak most loudly are those who seize control..  And so it was in our town.  No one attempted to topple the pecking order; it was simply accepted as the natural way of things. Our brand of cowardice preferred a strong, confident person telling us what was right and wrong, even if it wasn’t.

Gossip was a necessary evil which kept us in line. The worry that our deepest personal secrets might be publicly revealed, discussed at a church social or whispered about in the salon as if we were a character in a tawdry novel, was enough to keep most of us on the straight and narrow.

Those who did not fear change, who were willing to speak truth to power, who embraced the unknown, who thrived on risk,  quickly came to the conclusion that if they did not leave, they would wither and die.  They, like my sister, made their escapes and rarely returned.

I envied my sister the courage to break away; for being brave enough to create her own version of happiness while I remained riveted to my unchallenged, uneventful life.

My life was happy, in its small way. I did not have much trouble or sadness or conflict. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how things might be.  I nurtured my children, obeyed my husband, did the requisite charity work, faithfully attended church.  Others made my decisions for me.  I died in old age, surrounded by loved ones.

Nobody who knew me while I lived would say I led a tragic life.  But from here I can say I wasted a lot of opportunities for spiritual evolution.

 

(this narrator came to me sitting on a porch, telling her story.)

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-Adrienne

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