The other day I was sitting in my living room having a wonderful cup of coffee I had just made and suddenly I felt myself be twenty years old, listening to a song about love and yearning. I remember very well what I was yearning for. It had nothing to do with my past, nothing in my past was yearning material. It had to do with my future. I was yearning for my future.
I’m pretty sure – even though it feels crazy to me now – that young girls and women are taught to yearn for a future. A future they may or may not get. I didn’t get mine, but it was more from my tastes changing than sitting here writing this and feeling unfulfilled.
Every Wednesday in my school – it went from kindergarten to twelfth grade and in the auditorium/chapel the first row on the right as you walked in were the fourth-graders(K – 3 not allowed), the grades went up to the last row and then down to the first row on the left side where the seniors sat. I make that point because that meant the whole school of girls, 500 of us, got the same message week after week, year upon year.
Our headmaster would ask us how many were going to college – most of our hands went up. He would exclaim the benefits of college: it was where the young men would be and the better qualified we were to go to the best schools, the better marriages we would make and the more happiness we would have.
Year by year as I went up the rows of seats and down again I would find out there were easy two-year colleges situated not far from the so-called better men’s colleges. These had secret mottos like, “a ring by spring or your money back.” You think I’m kidding. I’m not. We were serious, our futures depended on it.
There was no way out. That was it. Marriage and happiness. Frank Sinatra was singing, “Love and marriage…. go together like a horse and carriage.” So when I got married, I would be happy. It was in all the Disney movies, too, it still is. So there I was remembering twenty and yes, I was married. The happiness bird hadn’t landed yet.
My husband had settled into a routine of “we’re married, you do it, whatever “it” is, and we both have to go to bed early, forget sex, and be responsible. Responsible for what? I didn’t ask, I was not the questioning kind. Authority spoke, I listened and either ignored, acted or rebelled. Those were the choices I saw. When my husband and I had lived together, we had shared doing dishes, the bed never got made and we went to sleep and got up in time to go to classes or work or do whatever we were doing. This imposed schedule of up at six and to bed at nine was incomprehensible to me.
Back at my school, not so very long ago in my life, everything had a point. Our headmaster knew everything and the teachers made sure his dicta ran smoothly. We were all bent to the same shape. Every year each rising senior class would vote on their school ring. Each year the senior class voted for the same ring. When it came our turn I thought it would be a good idea to change. I found another design. I showed it to the rest of the class. I showed it to the leadership of the class and got them to think it was a good idea.
We voted on the ring. We voted for the new style. I felt triumphant. I had changed a hundred years of rings. I had persuaded my class, at the time the largest graduating class, to be different. I was ecstatic.
Well you know I wouldn’t be writing this if my plan had succeeded. I won the battle but it had sparked a war. Our Latin teacher, who had changed my grades whenever I had gotten higher than a C in any of my classes, called another vote. We were gathered into a room, told about the value of consistency, of history, our place in it, how gratifying it is to be part of a larger whole, how unattractive it is to be different, how unacceptable.
Another vote was held. Pieces of paper in a box – just as before. The box taken to the headmaster’s office. We waiting in our classroom. And when they came back they were happy to announce the old style had been chosen. We were back in the fold. History could go on and we with it.
Yes, she changed my grades. I didn’t know this until a few years later when I happened to speak with two of my teachers and I lamented working so hard to get my grades up and getting the grades but it not being reflected on my transcript. They were not completely shocked to hear and said yes, they had given me grades reflecting my work and Miss Stevens had changed them. They both knew other instances. Other girls like me not really part of the school “picture.”
I’m pretty sure the headmaster became my template for authority. And I’m also sure that I put my husband in the role. And he came up way short. We were both playing to roles more unconscious than conscious. There’s a lot of research now showing that as children we take in our surroundings and believe in them way before we understand what anything means. We get our concepts of fairness and duty in the world without choosing them. The messages are clear before we have any clarity about what we are doing, whose rules are we following.
This applies to us our whole lives. We choose with our history firmly grasped but not understood. We base our choices of jobs, spouse, partners in business, cars, food, on what was our norm. That includes what we love and hate, what we resent or think is essential.
It’s important to uncover your truth, your self. Listen to the unexpressed values you hold. “following your bliss” only works if you know who you are and are willing to take the risks associated with that knowledge. It does not mean to do what you want. It does not mean to do what you think is right or what someone tells you to do. It means to seriously get to know yourself, see yourself and have the courage to stand up for yourself, take responsibility for what you want, what you care about. That’s when you become your best friend, that’s when you can be trusted, when your compassion includes yourself.
I’m going to make another cup of coffee – different this time – and remember who I really am. What about you?