Betty Duffy

Monday, October 18, 2010

She Comes Across Some Old Things That Recall Other Days

(a rerun)

“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.
(Mom and Dad with my big brother)


Sarah said...

This has always been my favorite post. I need a daily reminder that 'this is my Eden'.

lauren said...

So beautiful and real and full of truth... This is the post I read the first day I found your blog. And I knew then that if I have a chance to only read one blog, it will be yours - because through your writing, I can tell that there is someone out there who feels like I do, who I could sit with and share my desires and frustrations and she would say, "I KNOW!" Thank you!

Hope said...

I had a stack of blog posts to read this evening and I want you to know I saved yours for last (saving the best for last) and I was not disappointed.

Calah said...

Thank you so much for this post. I feel this way a lot, and I always feel like there's something wrong with me that I'm not grateful for what I have right now. It's good to know I'm not alone. Your post was beautiful and eloquent and so true.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful, thought provoking post. I will ponder it while on my walk today.

Young Mom said...

This reminds me of a post I read recently where I woman talked about losing her baby boy and looking back at the pictures and saying " Those were the best days of my life, and I didn't even know it".

karyn said...

When you had that banner on your blog previously, I thought it was maybe your parents because it's in black and white. But now that I see the picture of your parents (I love your mom's smile) then I have to assume the banner is you and the hubby??? I'm glad you put it back up; that one's my favorite (though my son liked the soldier one).

BettyDuffy said...

Karyn, It's actually my grandparents (my dad's mom and dad). My husband and I aren't as photogenic as any relatives in recent memory.

Mike said...

One of the most important things I have ever learned in my life is the Catholic concept of "detachment."

Detachment does not run from the created world, and all that is good about it. It does not ask that we part with dreams or aspirations.

But it requires a kind of indifference as to whether the dreams ever come true or the aspirations are ever realized.

This indifference is very hard to come by. But on the days when it works (and it must be worked on ceaselessly), it delivers the profound freedom to live in the here and now.

Sally Thomas said...

Yes, yes, yes. Funnily enough, I know that conversation with your confessor, because I seem to have it with mine all the time, too.

Marie said...

Have you ever read "Paul's Case"? It's one of those you have to make it all the way through. . . .

My friend pointed out to me once a kid she saw walking home from school, all the other teens were all self-conscious and stooped or laughing in desperation with their friends, trying so hard and so scared, and this kid (she thinks he had Downs) was just walking happily down the street, and she said he was so obviously just living in the moment.

I read soon after a Chesterton note that living in the moment is actually, in reality, living in eternity. Living out of all time.

Thanks for your post, for rerunning it, I didn't get to see it the first time. And I've always wondered about those wonderful pictures. I'll always picture you as your grandmother when I read your writing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Betty. Discontent is my constant stalker. Never fails to rob me of peace and joy. And the thing is too often I find out too late that I am already dissatisfied with my day or my lot. Thanks for the call to gratitude and contentment.

Do Not Be Anxious said...

Where we are at is where we have chosen to be. "We made our bed" is so very true. Expressing ingratitude is only a sin insofar as we are discontent with the results of our choices, and failing to recognize that God is there too, and making the best of our sometimes bad choices.

"There is nothing better". Based on our choices and God's work with them, I could agree there is nothing better NOW, but there can always be a better future --- heaven is not here on earth. I liked Kierkegaard who said something like "the greatest thing we can ever be, at any moment, is to be who we were MADE to be."

God created us uniquely with a unique plan; there is nothing wrong with striving to "get with the plan." It's called "growing in holiness." Never be ungrateful for that yearning.