Just. Keep. Swimming.

I hear the expression, God just wants us to be happy a lot. It bugs me to no end, and anyone who knows me, knows that. I have two problems with it, 1) I don’t believe there is a God who cares about us in that way, and 2) I don’t believe that the purpose of my life is to be happy, in the way people who say that so glibly mean.

The first point – whatever, your mileage may vary. The second, for me, is not really negotiable. If it’s what you believe, knock yourself out. You’re certainly not alone. You will never convince me, though. It may be true for some, but I don’t believe it’s true for most of us, and definitely not for me.

I was lucky enough to encounter a teacher early on in my life, before I had really thought too much about what my “purpose” was. Mostly I was interested in making money, having a good time, and riding my bike. I was a thinker about many things, but I avoided the “purpose” question, cuz I had a vague feeling I knew what mine was, and I didn’t want to accept it yet. Then, in a conversation while shopping with a friend one day, she said something to me that would alter the course of my thinking, and ultimately my life.

I don’t remember how we came to be discussing life purpose specifically, though those types of deep conversation were a common part of our friendship. In the course of this conversation she said she believed the purpose of life was to be of use. Those two words hit my brain and my heart with the force of truth, and I have spent the rest of my life dancing with that idea and the truth of it.

I didn’t want that to be true. I wanted life to be easy and fun, and I liked the idea that life was intended to be that way. I also understood immediately that for me, that meant service to my adoptive family. Somewhere deep in my soul I had known that since I was born, but boy, did I not want to know that. When I look back now, I can see that I had been living that truth, but I saw it as temporary, not my actual life.

When I was in college, I took a year off between my sophomore and junior years. I told people it was because I didn’t really know what I wanted so needed a pause, but the truth was that my parents needed me, so I went home. My mother had had a breakdown and couldn’t be alone, and my dad had to work. So I came home to stay with my mom while he was gone. I returned to school the following fall and graduated 2 years later.

Soon after graduation I had a job lined up in North Carolina, where I wanted to live, but before I left, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. My mother couldn’t cope with that alone, so I went home again to see him through that and turned down the job.

That time I didn’t leave. I’m here still, in the small town in which I grew up, and now in that same house, with my mother the last 9 years. I’ve had a good life here, if not the life I had imagined. I had all the important stuff – interesting and meaningful work (especially the last 20 years), good friends, family close by, including my grandmother, who was my best person in this life. All good. I had fun with friends, and I traveled a little bit, which I really enjoyed. It was not the life I had dreamed of, but it was good, nonetheless. At some point, my decisions were ruled more by the chronic depression I had lived with since an early age than my family, and then at some point in later years, I realized that I was here by choice, not by default.

I bought a house here in 2009, and though I’m not living it in currently, I have no intention of selling it. I will live it in again, at least for a while. When my mother is gone, I may decide to go somewhere else. Or I may decide to stay. I honestly don’t know. I try not to think that far ahead. It’s nice to think about options, though, cuz right now I don’t have many. That’s just the way it is for now, though, and that’s okay. I’m of use to my mom, and that matters to me. I’m finishing my service to my family and then I’ll be free to do something else.

Maybe. Who knows what the future will bring? What matters to me is that I’m living my life as intended, and I’m happy doing it. Mostly. I have moments of resentment, of struggle. Then I come back to the truth of who I am, and what my purpose here is, and I just go on.

That’s all there is really. Wherever you find yourself, whatever you believe your purpose to be, just keep going. Be true to yourself and to what you know your life purpose to be and though it may not look like anyone else’s around you, just go on. Live in the moment, and for the moment, and rest there. Be happy in the knowledge that you are doing what you came here to do. Be grateful for the opportunity. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s not what you thought you wanted or what your life would be.

This is it. I really believe that you can’t miss your life. You will learn and do what you were meant to as long as you are open to it – as long as you listen to the truth in your heart. Life isn’t about circumstances. It isn’t about moods, or even feelings like happiness and sadness. You can be happy doing difficult things and during difficult times, and you can be sad in the midst of what others and maybe even you consider to be fun. There is certainly a place for fun and laughter and silliness in life, but it isn’t the purpose. We’re here to learn, and to grow in maturity and understanding, to live in community and to LOVE. The rest is decoration. (Don’t get me started about social media..)

I’ve noted here before that Dory from Finding Nemo is my hero. To my mind, she is a model for a good and successful life. She lives totally in the moment, and her motto is, Just keep swimming.

Yep. Just keep swimming. You’ll get where you’re going – where you’re meant to go – but you have to keep swimming. All you have to do is go on. There is nothing more required.

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Then and Now

I experience a high level of anxiety much of the time. This just started again about 10 years ago. I say again, cuz I had it in spades when I was a kid. All anxiety, all the time. I’ve been thinking lately about the common denominator between then and now. Let’s see, what do those two times have in common? Ah, living with my mother, feeling trapped much of the time, and being anxious to get to something/somewhere else.

Hmmm…then and now.

If you had asked me when I was starting college and tasting freedom for the first time if I would ever make a choice to be in this situation now and I would have laughed in your face. Are you kidding?! NO WAY!

Yeah, so here I am, 42 years later and it turns out there was a way. So now go back 10 years when my dad got really bad and everyday was a struggle, and then 9 years ago, after he had died, and it became apparent to me that my mother could not live alone. I thought I was agreeing to live with her a couple of years. She had been ill all of her life, I figured she would follow my dad fairly soon.

Uh yeah.

Now, 9 years and counting, and I’m still here cuz she’s still here. Thriving, in fact. In much better shape mentally, emotionally and physically than she was when I moved in 2012. Her doctor compliments me for taking such good care of her. How’s that for irony?

The difference between then and now, is the ways in which life has shaped me, and the way I think about myself and my place in the world in those 42 years. Most importantly, I believe in karma, and I firmly believe that she and I are in a karmic dance of epic proportions. It was no mistake that she raised me, and it’s not a mistake that I can’t get away from her. 😄

Family caregiving is quite common in the world. This is, in fact, Family Caregiver Appreciation Month in the US. It’s so important they gave us our own month. Though, that’s about all they give us. 😉 It’s certainly not celebrated in our culture or valued. Whatever. I don’t worry much about what other people. I’m doing what I’m doing, and that’s what I focus on.

This Sunday will be the 9th anniversary of my father’s death, and Monday will be the anniversary of the day I moved in with my mom. What’s a journey it’s been. It has changed me, and it has changed her. Both for the better, I’m sure.

And yet, I wake up most days with a feeling of dread, and my dreams are anxiety-driven and wake me up in the night. If I’m so sure that I’m doing the right thing, and doing it well, what’s the anxiety about? I wish I knew. I think it might partly be that there’s no end in sight and I know I’m not done until the end. Freedom is really the only thing that’s been my driving force in this life, and that is not something I have – at all – now. That is hard, for sure.

So I can’t treat the cause, and I don’t want to take medication, so I have had to find other solutions. Exercise makes a HUGE difference. Not only does it feel like a good investment in my future – a time when I will be free again – and my health, but I sleep better and feel better when I get a bike ride in, or a walk, or when I get a strength training session in before work. I have limited sugar and alcohol in the last year, and I find that makes a big difference, too.

Also, I just realized recently that routine – previously my arch enemy – helps. I loved working from home during the pandemic and I was pretty bummed to have to go back to the office a few months ago. At some point, though, I realized that I like the routine of 3 days in the office and 2 at home now. The days I go to the office feel more normal than being at home, as that’s what my life was mostly prior to 2020, and the days I’m home are a little break, which is nice. Who knew? I was surprised, I’ll tell you.

I find though, that the more time I spend away from home, away from my mother, the calmer I am. I’m lucky I can be away from her now, as that probably won’t be forever in our dance together as she declines, but I’m grateful for that bit of normalcy again now. I used to journal and I used to meditate, but I’ve found that those things make me anxious now. I can’t explain why, but there it is. Whatever. I try not to beat myself over the head about what I should do. I gave that up a while ago. I’m doing what works. I’m getting through the days, and that’s what matters. I’m taking care of myself and my mom. It’s what I do.

Then and now.

PS – thanks for Kathy at Lake Superior Spirit (https://upwoods.wordpress.com/) for the insightful post that got me thinking about this yesterday. 😊

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Whose life is it anyway?

I had a conversation this morning with some co-workers about hunting. I support people’s right to hunt whatever is in season if they so choose. It’s legal here and it’s something many people enjoy. Great. Go freeze your butt off and hope you don’t get shot. It’s your life.

I could not imagine a situation in which I would be able to kill another living creature. If I had to do it to survive, maybe, not for sport or fun, though. We’re all just on this planet living our little lives, and that includes the flying, crawling, swimming, fuzzy things, too, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t feel that my life matters more than anyone else’s, including non-humans. It’s okay that I feel this way.

Because this is MY life.

I’m tired of folks teasing me cuz I’m not like everyone else. My supervisor thinks it’s funny that I’m freezing in my office. She’s not cold, so the fact that I am doesn’t matter. One of my officemates gives me a hard time because I don’t spend all day chatting. Mostly I sit at my desk with earbuds in, listening to podcasts and working. I have never considered work hours to be social time. He says to me a couple of times every single day, “try to keep it down over there, would you?” Ha Ha Ha Ha.

So funny! Not.

I’m over it. You be you and I’ll be me and at least one of us will be a lot happier. I get to be the way I am, and you get to be the way you are. We’re all different – it’s a feature, not a bug, as they say in the software development world – and your different is not better or worse than my different. This is a big world and there’s room for all of us and our differences.

Somehow we have become a society that believes that it’s okay to judge each other and the ways we are living our lives, even if we know very little about another person or their history. Not only do we judge, we are suddenly very vocal about it, feeling that we have the right to explain to someone else in the most strident terms the ways in which they are doing it wrong.

There have always been bullies in human society, unfortunately. People have always judged one another, I guess. Some societies are very oppressive still. America isn’t supposed to be that way, though, is it? Aren’t we all supposed to be free in the pursuit of happiness? If what I’m doing doesn’t hurt you or someone else, what makes someone think they have any need or right to criticize me? Does me being me de-legitimize you being you? No, of course not.

So…

As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of the argument I had this weekend with my mom about how hard she is to get along with. Hmmm. Because, of course, the thing that bothers you most in other people is the thing you’re doing that’s driving everyone around you crazy that you don’t realize you do! Once again, a feature of our human psyche, not a bug. 😳 Ack.

She is, of course, just who she is. It’s her life, and she gets to be who she is. High maintenance? YES. She always has been. So, challenging, but not wrong. I can rattle off a long list of ways in which I often feel she is absolutely doing it WRONG, but of course, it’s not wrong for her. She is different from me, and it’s her life.

Rats.

I think I had better start there.

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