“I admire the way you inhabit your life. You don’t seem to care whether other people approve.” – Mamah Borthwick
“We all have our little battles going on inside,” – Else Lasker-Schuler
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.
When I turn about 75, if I live that long, I’ll be happy to say I’ve lived most my life on my terms. I’ve compromised some but I don’t see that as a bad word. In fact, I see that as a good thing because it lets you have certain things while letting someone else have their preference too. Win-win – always a situation you want to be in.
As I was saying, I’ve always gone after what I wanted and more often than not, got it. It sounds like a brag but it’s not, because everything has worked out beautifully for me to obtain what my heart has desired. There have been times I’ve failed and I am grateful for those times, too, because in hindsight I wonder what I’d have done with those things if I’d gotten them. All I am saying, though, is that I’ve lived life pretty much on my own terms.
And I’ve paid the price.
I’ve been immersed in gut-wrenching, soul-squeezing pain as a result of the choices I’ve pursued. I’ve been happier than the happiest heart, lighter than the softest feather, brighter than the most blazing sun because of other choices. And more often than not, the choices that give me both these extremes are almost always the same.
At my lowest, I’ve felt the futility of life, the complete pointlessness of the choice I made and have been filled with regret for those very choices. I’ve doubted myself to the point of distraction, second-guessed every step I took in that way and have hurt for the people I’ve caused pain to because of my decision. But in the end, I’ve been given the ability to bounce back, almost whole, and I have. Because there’s no other way to be than happy. I refuse to let go of that core of joy, of effervescence that keeps me going at my darkest times. Because letting go of that would mean letting go of the richly-woven carpet that life throws out in welcome. A carpet of stories, inviting me, inviting each one of us to come, sit and listen; and should we want to make the choice and be part of the tale that’s been told on that beautiful carpet, to be part of the process that selects the silken skeins, to choose the colours, to weave with intense intricacy the design that is forming, that too is fine. What a shame to give it up. To just stop, never finding your head rising and smiling towards the sun, making your skin, the back of eyelids, your very heart tingle with the promise of a new day. What a shame, indeed, to give up on this kaleidoscope we call the universe.
The reason I am going on seemingly randomly like this is because more and more I’ve heard people say to me what Mamah (pronounced may-muh) above told Else, that I “inhabit my life” well without really caring what other people think. Oh but I do, I do. And every time someone says that, it hurts with the sharpness of a papercut. To be thought as someone who doesn’t care for her own kind, to be thought of as someone with no empathy is demeaning.
I care about every little thing, perhaps too much; which is why, perhaps, if at all, I come across like I don’t care. I may not conform to notions of life, society and love but I will always respect your freedom to express it and live in that conformity. If there’s a choice I have made that the world will condemn me for, you can be sure it is a choice that has given me immense pain, sleepless nights and days when my head has threatened to go to pieces arguing with itself. But also know that it is also a choice that has given me moments of tender happiness, uncluttered joy and flooded an area of my life with sunshine.
It may be a joy whose reason or source is short-lived but I prefer to take this life-affirming joy and keep it carefully in a box, which I take out on my low days, to examine in the sunlight, to see the colours shoot off it, creating a light-band of memories. This source of joy, this soft molten-diamond, held beautifully together in my memory might also have given me immense pain but it would be rather selfish of me if all I looked for and was ready to accept were the good things only. A little pain never killed anyone.
Looking at my life, which is an open book, to the chagrin of many people who love me, or my choices, I find people are quick to judge. And I don’t want them to stop. Judge by all means if it makes you feel better about yourself. But if you can, remember, that I have my own battles inside me. Painful, bloody sometimes-never ending ones. No decision has come at the cost of someone else’s pain. No action has come without thinking about another. I battle on and continue making the choices because I believe this is my life; it’s the only one I am going to remember. And barring a mind-debilitating disease that might lay possessive claim on me, I’d love to be 75 and have wicked stories, stories of love, longing, loss, life, to tell my over-protected grandchildren.