Betty Duffy

Monday, February 1, 2010

She comes across some old things that recall other days.

“I had this idea that there was a whole world of marvelous golden people somewhere… people who knew everything instinctively, who made their lives work out the way they wanted without even trying… Sort of heroic super-people, all of them beautiful and witty and calm and kind, and I always imagined that when I did find them I’d suddenly know that I belonged among them…that I’d been meant to be one of them all along…and they’d know it too.” (--April Wheeler, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates)

At my parents’ house the other day, my mom and I went through old pictures. In my childhood, I was a towhead, a ham, always posing, vain from day one. I told the orthodontist that I needed braces in seventh grade to support my future career as an actress. I always intended to make it into the world of the marvelous golden people. I had to get ready for my close-up.

It’s interesting to look back at those pictures now, having arrived, most likely, at the pinnacle of what my life holds for me: marriage, kids, a little house. I could continue to hold on to the hope of a more "fabulous" life throughout my twenties, but some imperceptible switch flipped in my brain once I hit my thirties, and now, somehow, it seems appropriate to quit yearning for the future and perform a retrospective. If I can’t have the mythical future, I might as well set about mythologizing my past.

The evidence is all there, it’s in the photographs, that while I spent my youth pining for the future, I was in the thick of a marvelous and golden present and I didn’t know it. I had good friends, a good family, good health, and good legs. Any suffering in my life, I’ve had to fabricate. I want to shake that girl awake and tell her how good her life is. I remember so well how nothing was ever good enough.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful though, if instead of looking back on my past, regretting my lost youth, and the squandering of my golden years, I could somehow mine the gold from my present life and savor it? As soon as I envision for myself some other, better reality, past or future, my peace flies out the window.

In Revolutionary Road, April’s better hypothetical life was in Paris. If she and her family could move to Paris and avoid the trappings of a conventional suburban life, she thought she could be happy. Anything that got in the way of her dream was the enemy, including her husband’s success at his job and the conception of another child. When we set our hopes on unrealities, God’s blessings begin to look like a curse.

I could pick my poison on any given day of the week. One day it’s “I’ll be happy when my kids are better behaved in public.” Another day it’s, “I’ll be happy when I have someone else to clean my house.” When I can get through a Mass without taking the baby out, when I have time to read, when I publish a book, when someone notices how hard I’m working, when life is easy and I’m golden, happiness will ensue.

My confessor has said it to me so many times when I come in expressing yet another dissatisfaction or ingratitude: “You are exactly where you need to be. You chose correctly. There is nothing better than what God has given you: your family, your kids, your home. There is NOTHING better. Your life is Eden, and the Devil loves to make you think there is something more. That’s how he tempted Eve, and how Eve lost paradise.”

Hence, here’s a thought exercise for this morning:
1. What is the one thing, the one fantasy that prevents me from loving my life today?

2. What do I consider the obstacle to my achieving that dream?

3. Is it possible that what I consider an obstacle is actually a blessing?

This is Eden. My life is Eden. Ten or twenty years from now, I can look back on the pictures I’ve taken of my family recently. Possibly I’ll have experienced real suffering by then. Maybe for some reason, I will have lost paradise, and I’ll see myself smiling, surrounded by these five little faces, a husband who loves me, every grace and blessing, and I’ll wish that I had recognized what a charming life I had.


Gardenia said...

God bless you for your post. you really GET IT. how insightful. gosh, you really set me on a good thinking spot just now. And I wish I had the confessor you have. how wonderful that he is that way. yes, we seem to spend a lot of time thinking things should be could be different, and THEN we'd live the life we are supposed to live. when in fact, we already are. this IS our eden. just a great post. (and nice to meet you, I'm not sure I [posted yet and introduced myself -- I found you last week I think).

Karyn said...

Amen! Someone once spoke about listing ten Gratitudes every day and to open each prayer with a thank you. It's hard to keep gratitude ever present. Thanks for the reminder!

lauren said...

Thank you.

I recently ran across your blog, and it has quickly become one of three (out of a hundred or so) that I ALWAYS check... to see if you have something funny or clever or thoughtful or wise to share. And I am so glad I clicked on you today. What a great reflection. Those questions will keep me thinking for a while.

You have a gift for writing. If you ever DO publish that book of yours... I'll be waiting in line to buy it!

mrsdarwin said...

I look back at my past and realize that yes, those were the days when I had good legs. Compared to now, anyway.

What I find difficult about making now the "golden days" is the obstacles that remain obstacles, even if they're dear obstacles. When the baby is crawling all over the table when I'm trying to homeschool, I can see how this will be a great memory, or is even now a funny moment. But that doesn't change the fact that it is a real barrier to getting things done (things that need to be done) in the here and now.

Or the housecleaning: yes, no one regrets on her deathbed that the house wasn't clean, but there is a debilitating and slightly depressing aspect to living with stuff all over the place, even if you can't help it because the baby and toddler WILL throw things all over and leave you with no time to fold the laundry. I suppose it's the ability to offer up these small but real trials that truly makes the present the stuff of wonderful memories.

Peter and Nancy said...

Too true. Although my family's life was about 50% misery from age 12-17, my school life and a few good friends were golden. I doubly appreciate my life now because of those hard years, but comparison is what gets to me now (usually comparing my parenting skills to others'). Thanks for this reminder to live in the present.

nicole said...

I am so there too. I KNOW that this is it, this is precisely what God chose for me, and if I could embrace it and surrender to it, I would stop looking/wishing/longing for that something better. So I pray for the grace to do so. A lot.

Also, I found that book to be completely depressing and was kind of sorry I even read it. I hate when that happens with a book.

Lauren said...

Oh my goodness. This is what I think about every day. Thank you for this post. Especially right now as I am discerning some big stuff... it was just what I needed to read.

deanna said...

I sometimes think I am the only person not content. Clearly I'm not. I have been working on this for a long time, love your questions at the end of the post. We should start a club:)

BettyDuffy said...

Thanks for your comments.

Mrs. Darwin, I think you make a good point, that sometimes the power of positive thinking/praying just doesn't cut it. Things that are annoying or difficult are going to stay that way. This is exile--and it's hard to pretend otherwise, even if I'm doing the entire Divine Office of reading every day. I wish I could remember to offer up the trials when they occur. I always remember after the fact.

Nicole, I couldn't decide whether I loved this book or hated it. It had some incredible insights on people's motivations for doing the things they do, I thought. But Yates seemed to have no love for his characters. I'm not sure how he managed to make everyone's motivations suspect somehow, but he did.

Mary Ellen said...

This post was great and hit me right where I live - in the land of "if only." Every day I have to struggle to say "yes" to God in every little (sometimes annoying) detail, but when I do, joy follows. I've shared this post with many who have also said, "Yes, she is so right." Thanks.

Mary Ellen said...
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Lizzie said...

So true and I'm trying really hard this year to practise voicing gratitude even when I don't want to. I read an account of a woman who was feeling really miserable with her lot in life and felt prompted to sit and thank God for what she did have so she sat on her sofa and literally said 'thank you for the dirty carpet, thank you for the window, thank you for that grubby mark on the mirror' etc etc and by the end of a few minutes, her attitude was transformed. I so often fall into the trap of thinking the grass is greener as a single, working mum who has been praying for a godly husband for the last 8 years. Then I sit and have a conversation with someone at work who appears to 'have it all' and listen to them and realise they are struggling in their marriage and I never would have guessed and I'm humbled and thankful for all I do have....
We need to give thanks for what we have - to let God be God and trust that he has willed our circumstances for our greater good which sounds trite but is so so true.

JMB said...

I just regret that when I had a hot body it was during the 80s when all the clothes were supersized. Why did I live in that Benetton rugby shirt?

Kidding aside, two years ago I experienced a personal tragedy and it was through this tragedy that I was able to unite my suffering with Christ's. The Eucharist and the Communion of Saints are as real to me as our my children. I learned that everybody suffers here, some more outwardly than others. But nobody has it easy. You are correct, this is exile.

Kaighla said...

You know I can relate to this in a frightening way, and I am still in my 20's! lol

Kris Livovich said...

You are exactly right - the Devil hates what is Good. He hates what is of God and will take every opportunity to destroy it. When I give in to the "if onlies", he's waitng in the wings to add to them.

The questions at the end of your post are just right to send him away.

kamanawanbholy said...

Thanks for your post. Living the "if only..." world gets exhausting, doesn't it? Don't get me wrong, I go there all the time; it's almost a knee-jerk response. Little triumphs in embracing ones suffering, no matter how small, sheds a peace that keeps me wanting more!

joyfulpapist said...

Well said, Betty.

And as well as the 'one day I'll' wishing your life away blues, there are the 'if only' moments, when you regret your choices and wish you'd made different ones.

Boy, do I know it!

And I've learnt to say to the 'if only' moments, 'that path is closed - and who knows what would have happened had I taken it? I didn't. This is what I chose. This is where God calls me to be. This is where I live."

Well, most of the time. But I do wonder what my life would have been like if...

co' said...

I think you have touched on a theme that every reflective person struggles with and is so nicely captured in various poignant country songs.

But all joking aside, how do we mere humans understand Time? Time, not unlike God, is an ultimate reality, the physics of which will never change. Time necessarily moves forward at a constant pace. We do not know why this is the reality. At the same time, we are content to love a God (or reality) which we necessarily cannot understand, why then can't we also embrace the passing of time?

Maybe the answer isn't more guilt. "I'm not appreciating this dirty house like I should." Maybe the answer is appreciation for the all-encompassing power that surrounds us every moment we progress from one instant to another. Is it so much of a stretch to say that by being within time, we are also within God?

Dawn Farias said...

I thought immediately of Revolutionary Road when your post began and so got chills when you mentioned it.

This was so thoughtful and well-written and I really know what you are talking about.

Margie said...

I've waited to comment, but decided to go ahead since my sentiments differ a little from yours. And I credit it to this: age.

I've found that this life I have - as exhausting and frustrating and limiting as it can be at home with two young children - is as much of a paradise as I'll ever find. But I came to it late: I married at nearly 35, and waited to have kids 'til 38 (b/c, who would want to lose the selfish, eat-out-whenever-one-wants-to-lifestyle in favor of kids who'll rob one of desireable sleep?). By then I had been through two separate careers, and had done the single thing for so long that when life became only what I could achieve within the walls of the home, it was enough. And it is here, as a mother to these great kids, that I feel entirely fulfilled.

I have hobbies; the blog is an avenue to write, and I love to photograph. But I don't think I'll look back when they're grown and wish I'd spent less time with them in search of Something Else. I've had that, and it left me empty and lonely and without purpose.

My biggest concern now is squandering the precious little time at this, with them, that I have.

BettyDuffy said...

Margie, Your comment hits the mark. I'm fickle enough to feel one way one day and another the next. I've been toying with reposting an older post that expresses something similar to what you just did, and I think I'll go ahead and do it.

Jenny's Vegcafe said...

Pro-life, feminist SAHM with an unfinished graduate degree waving her arms madly over here.
I'm waiting for the day when being a feminist means that women are free to choose their own paths, even if it means eschewing the desire to break the glass ceiling to stay home and raise our children. The beautiful thing about this life of full day motherhood is that I got to choose it. Thanks for this post.