Wasting Away

“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.”
T.S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism

I caught up with a childhood friend yesterday on Facebook. She and I were best friends and neighbors until she moved away when we were both 14. I’ve seen her once since then – 30 years or so ago when she came back to town to visit her mother – but then we lost touch. It was nice to see pictures of her now and to hear about her life, but it made me sad, too.

When asked to superficially describe my life I find the only thing I’m comfortable talking about is my work. I don’t want to admit that much of my life was determined by the severity and duration of the chronic depression I’ve struggled with since high school, and the rest by my obligation to my parents. I feel good about myself and the fact that I’ve survived the depression and done right by my family, until I’m talking to someone else, especially someone I grew up with. Then I find that I feel that – compared to them – I’ve wasted my life. Or, at least, that I have nothing to show for it.

On the face of it, anyway. In the condensed Facebook version you can’t see how much I’ve grown as a human, or what I went through just to be alive now. On the surface, it seems like maybe I took the “easy way out” by staying in my hometown and living a “small” life by myself. Maybe I was lazy or scared and couldn’t manage anything more important or exciting. Or more normal. 

What’s not clear is that my life has been the hardest way out, for me, anyway, because none of it is what I wanted or dreamed of. I’ve had to deal with the worst things I could imagine as a child – never getting away from my family and being alone all my life. I didn’t ask for depression; it just took over. I didn’t ask to have the parents I got or to feel obligated to them. I didn’t choose any of the things that made other choices impossible as my life went on. I have always just made the best of what I was given, which in terms of freedom to choose, was not a lot.

In the vast realm of human suffering, my life doesn’t even register on the scale, but it was hard for me. It’s been a struggle. I don’t have anything to show for it except that I AM STILL HERE. Still getting out of bed every morning and facing the days as they come. Going through a very difficult time right now and hoping that things will get better, but knowing they may not for a while, and still getting out of bed.

Every. Single. Day.

That’s worth something, isn’t it? Not giving up? Still trying to be a good person, and trying to do the right thing. Isn’t that valuable? I think so. But it doesn’t condense well, and that will always be a problem for me, as much of what goes on between people never goes below the surface.

I know, though. I know the whole story and I know I’m alright. My life has been worthwhile. I haven’t wasted anything. Most importantly, the ending hasn’t been written yet. There is more to come and I will keep showing up for whatever it is with the best that I have to offer.

 

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