Perspective

Last week, I accompanied my son to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where he’ll experience what’s known as “plebe summer,” an intense and grueling introduction to military life that precedes the academic year. We walked across the still campus together at 6:00 a.m., for he had been ordered to report for his duty as a student and midshipman at 6:30 a.m., and in the Navy, 15 minutes early is on time.

Excited and anxious to get I-Day (Induction Day) underway, my son took long strides toward Alumni Hall, where he would be received by friendly folks who would shave his already short hair, have his clothes taken away and uniforms issued by folks a little less friendly, and ultimately be handed over to upperclassmen (known as “detailers”) who would be anything but friendly.

We arrived at Alumni Hall and my son squared his shoulders, gave me a quick hug and “I love you, Mom!” and walked through the tinted glass doors to report. Separating myself from the growing crowd of parents saying goodbye to their children, I walked across the still and beautiful campus alone. It was 6:10 a.m. I was proud of my son, happy that he was beginning to live his dream, relieved that he had finally begun I-Day (Induction Day), which many reported was the worst day of their lives. As I walked across the yard alone, I felt my own loneliness keenly, too, for I was a widow who had been surrounded by throngs of couples seeing their sons and daughters off.

Sadness and peace settled on me as I walked alone toward Bancroft Hall, the largest dormitory in the world, housing over 4000 midshipmen along miles of corridors. The courtyard outside Bancroft was empty except for a handful of parents busy with something along the first row of chairs already set out for the thousands of family members who would return in the evening for the Induction Ceremony when our kids raised their right hands and were sworn into the U.S. Navy.

As I approached, I saw that they had paper, markers, and tape in hand and were ‘reserving’ seats for themselves and family members by taping signs bearing their surnames onto the chairs. While I watched, more parents approached. Once they realized that others were ‘reserving’ seats, a sense of urgency began to pervade the growing crowd. People scrambled for more paper, more pens, more tape.

 

Within 20 minutes, the first quarter of both sides of the audience seating were taken. I sat in the middle and observed, thinking to myself how ridiculous the behavior was. Among the thousands of visitors to the Naval Academy that day were numerous elderly grandparents, some who used canes or even wheelchairs. People with medical conditions would be in the heat and need to sit down, but clearly the folks ‘reserving’ their own seats had no thought for anyone other than themselves. They were reserving seats for their five- or ten-year-old children, kids who could sit in the shade under a nearby tree later, rather than take up seating for an adult.

As I watched, I realized that by 6:00 p.m. there would be no available seating. I would have to sit or stand under a tree and wouldn’t be able to see my son march in with his class to take the oath. I didn’t care. It wasn’t important if it meant I would have to stake my claim by way of paper, tape, marker. Nevertheless, my inner trickster wanted to rip up the signs people had left taped to their chairs, throwing half away and moving the other half around, maybe adding a few signs that read, “This spot reserved for YOU!”

I felt embarrassed for these people who were, like me, merely guests of the USNA. Was it proper protocol to demand a front seat for oneself? I thought about the upcoming release of the new Harry Potter movie in a few weeks. If I taped signs with our last names in the hallways outside the theater, would that save the 11 places we’d need? Could I walk boldly into the theater itself, ahead of everyone else, and simply tape reserved seating signs on 11 seats? Would such behavior work in any other setting? I doubted it would.

What most surprised me, though, was my own emotional reaction. I didn’t care whether I had a seat or not. I didn’t care that I might have to miss the ceremony. I didn’t care that I would probably have to sit on the ground, far behind where the ceremony was being held. I didn’t care to ‘reserve’ my own seat. I would have felt ashamed to put my last name on one of those seats, ashamed to assume the right to stake a claim where no run on seating had been declared, ashamed to assume that I deserved a seat more than the person whose child had been commanded to report at 9:30 a.m. rather than 6:30 a.m., ashamed to be a person who thinks that getting there first means getting the best.

Noticing my judgments of these parents, I took the opposite perspective and played devil’s advocate, challenging myself to discover when in my own life I have been the one staking my claim with paper, tape, marker. I realized then that I have been that person too many times. I’ve pushed my way to the top in my youth. I’ve waited impatiently in lines. I’ve demanded my way politely but urgently. I’ve taped virtual signs everywhere with my name on them. I taped a claim on my own marriage that said, “Happy Golden Years” as if I deserved them because I thought I did. After my daughter died, I taped a claim on my life that said, “Has Already Suffered Great Grief,” perhaps believing that prior grief would provide some kind of insurance against the next blow. Such claims creep in so easily.

Loss has once again pushed me down under the margins of normal life, which is a life of denial and illusion, for the truth is that we’re blind to reality and it is usually blindness that gets us out of bed, not courage. My mantra these days is, “It’s not worth it.” It’s not worth it if I have to tape a claim on something. It’s not worth it if someone who needs it more than I do is deprived of it because I’m so piggish. It’s not worth fighting over it if the other person insists on his own way; soon enough, he’ll see that all the fighting in the world will not guarantee victory.

One of the definitions of God used most often by Carl Jung was, “the name by which I designate all things which cross my wilful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans, and intentions and change the course of my life for better or worse” (Letters, 2, p. 525); “. . . it is always the overwhelming psychic factor that is called ‘God'” (CW 11, para. 137).

God has violently crossed my wilful path and changed my life, reminding me for a time that no amount of paper, tape, marker will do for me what I, in my hubris, think they will. Strangely enough, there’s a grim satisfaction in knowing this.

14 responses

  1. It isn’t a wonder that we feel that that once we have suffered x-amount of grief that we will suffer no more…that now it’s somebody else’s turn. I have said this before but at the risk of being redundant I will say it again…we get that idea from other people starting with our parents. As a child when I was upset about something that my mother deemed trivial she would say to me, “In every life a “little” rain must fall.” This not only implies that I was upset over something insignificant but that all people suffer unbearably (which we know they do not) and that it is temporary and that the sun will come out and shine for years, if not forever, and all will be well. We are hard wired to “expect” things to get better and/or to never go through unbearable suffering once we already have. The storm is over…the sun will come out….we expect that “what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger”….and it is bullshit.

    Suffering doesn’t always make one stronger…many times it makes one weaker…..unable to trust (in people…in life or in hope)….perhaps wiser but wiser isn’t necessarily stronger and has the potential to make one paralyzed….either literally or figuratively or both. These things are not “stronger” but in essence ……devastating.

    Again, and please forgive me Eve for the repeat, the “cheer up…things could be worse” not only invalidates one’s suffering (just because things could be “worse” doesn’t make what is happening “cheerful”) but in many people doesn’t tell them anything they don’t already know. As if an intelligent adult has to be TOLD….”things could be worse. I do believe that in all people it instils “guilt” (that they have the nerve to “feel bad” and it is sensed by others therefore making THEM uncomfortable) and whether wittingly or not…… guilt was the user’s, of this despicable phrase, intention. However, for the naieve, it does somewhat imply that things will not get worse. So…therefore they must “cheer up” indicating that this is as bad as it will get…so cheer up…..get through this “little rain” and the sun will come out and you will live happily ever after. Oh and be grateful for your suffering because it will “make you stronger”…you are oh so lucky for this wonderful oppertunity to get stronger. What bullshit.

    I liked myself more and I was happier when I was “weaker” and or not so “wise”. I enjoyed living in delusion…ignorance is bliss. Now there is phrase I can relate to. 🙂 However, in my present “wiser”… the potential for things to “get worse” is always there and is a real as the rain.

    Yes we attach the sign to ourselves when we are unaware of reality and what it really can do to us…because we have been taught to. I cannot imagine telling somebody to “cheer up…things could be worse” if they lost their job and as a consequence their house….because I am aware of the very real possibility that perhaps 2 days later they could lose a child. However, I am quite sure it happens. The next time they hear it, then it would become quite a omen to them…..because they are not only quite aware of the fact that “things could be worse”….but this is PART of their misery. They know it…they lived it…they are consumed and paralyzed with the very real knowledge of it. So what is outwardly meant as a well meaning “quote” (but inwardly meant as “your suffering is making me uncomfortable)…becomes a reminder to one that understands fully things can get worse and probably will. However, the demand to “cheer up” must be obliged…as one slaps on a fake smile….becomes embarrassed….lowers their head in shame and scuffles their feet…the deliverer of this phrase feels they have educated one to not be so self centered…however they love when u think about them and smile as they tell how great their life is….or perhaps they will tell stories of how somebody they know went through this and that and the other thing therefore minimizing your grief as….. if those stories should make one feel better…. but in reality they have just brought one down to unimaginable depths with more worry….because all of these “stories” remind one how not immune they are to the very same fate and on top of that… “guilt” for not being “cheerful” because it just has not happened……….. yet.

    We don’t have to attach signs to ourselves during unbearable grief and agony…others happily do it for us.

  2. Hello Eve, I’m Silver Fox and have a blog Secret Garden. Just wanted to thank you for your blog and to let you know that in my most recent posting I’ve quoted you. The Posting is ‘Waking to Life’.

    blessings :o)

  3. “After my daughter died, I taped a claim on my life that said, “Has Already Suffered Great Grief,” perhaps believing that prior grief would provide some kind of insurance against the next blow.”

    I’ve done that as well I can see now. I have a handicapped child, I shouldn’t have to deal with anything else. That should be the limit of my suffering. Except it doesn’t work like that and I see that everyday at work.

  4. Congratulations and good luck to your son as he embarks on this new journey in his life. Blessings to you as you watch from afar. I admire how you can turn a situation around in your mind like the paperweight I have on my desk and see so many different perspectives to it. I am not that evolved! 🙂

  5. Hi Eve. I very much like that definition of God. I shall make a point of reminding myself of just that, each time my wilful path is crossed. Which is often.

  6. Your perspective, your generosity of spirit that drives you to see all sides and play devil’s advocate in order to achieve a balanced view…is one of the many reasons I admire you, Eve. Big commendations to you and your son for an amazing achievement, and achievements to come. I have more than a few friends who have attended the USMA and/or have served in various branches of the military and I am proud of all of you.

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