Sometimes I have to laugh at myself, especially when I’m blindsided by a new insight into the way I function.
I have been keeping a journal since 1979. since giving birth to the child who changed my life. I was not only a young single mom, but also a motherless daughter. Each role made me acutely aware of the other. Becoming a mother made me long for my mother; I wanted to talk with her, ask her questions, be pampered a little, tell her I finally knew how much she loved me. Being a motherless daughter filled me with a desire to be known in ways I could never know my own mother, and so I wrote.
I wrote my way through college, where I was worn out by the juggling act it took to fulfill the responsibilities of classes, work and family. I wrote my way through a relationship that began with laughter and ended with a marriage undone by abuse less than a year after vows were exchanged. I wrote my way through therapy, where a gifted counselor helped me to unravel the Gordian knot of inner chaos resulting from the violence and losses which spilled across my life.
I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. When I shredded my journals — all of them except my spiritual journals and a few covering pivotal periods in my life — I had a trunk and four paper boxes (boxes in which reams of paper are shipped) filled with journals. Over the years, I have come to know myself quite well, to see the rhythms of my life — to understand my need to create; to understand that sometimes the most important work happens when i do nothing at all, when my subconscious is working diligently to incorporate new information or knowledge; to understand how I’ve been shaped by my life experiences and choices.
And yet, on occasion, a surprising new thought will emerge. This morning, as I was reflecting on this past week, I wrote, “I think something in me has unwittingly been embracing the Cinderella motif.” Unexpectedly, those few words unleashed a torrent of memories.
I suddenly remembered lying in my childhood bed, fantasizing about being rescued by a prince. In my dream, it was not my beauty that attracted him — i knew quite well that I was not an attractive child; I’d been told often enough to accept it as truth — but my hard work. I would imagine serving a beautiful woman and doing so with such diligence that the prince noticed me and elevated me to the position of his wife.
Later, at college, I also remembered, I sat in a class on human development watching a movie which reinforced this idea. In it, a bedraggled young aboriginal woman was sold by her father to a suitor for one cow because her father didn’t value her. She left with the young man, and returned later as a stunning beauty, transformed by the gift of being appreciated. Granted, today that kind of movie would be considered politically incorrect, but it communicated the message the instructor was attempting to make about self-fulfilling prophecy — that we tend to become what others see in us.
My mind skittered across jobs I’ve had over the years, and I thought, “Damn! That’s exactly what I’ve been doing!” (Yes, I do swear to myself, though I try not to litter conversation with that kind of language.) For years, I’ve been working for transformational recognition — working and working and working.
Not long before I left the Lake Preston Times, I was stunned by the blowback of what I believed to be an innocuous email message. I had written a local columnist to remind him that it was his turn in the rotation, something others in the rotation appreciated. Instead of the confirmation I expected, I received a rather abrasive reply in which he indicated he would no longer write a column for our paper.
I immediately sought to mend fences and sent him an email message apologizing for anything I might have done to offend him and to ask if we could talk about his decision. When he didn’t respond, I called and invited him to lunch so we could talk about what happened. I learned at lunch that he had decided to stop writing a column for the newspaper because I did not share his political opinions. As gently as possible, I reminded him that our political opinions had always been different and that our working relationship was based on other shared interests.
He then apologized for his written remarks and we went on to talk about other things — including my work situation. The newspaper’s publisher had been having financial difficulties and had cut my staff significantly, increasing my workload. I was upset because I felt the publisher’s cuts should have been divided between his newspapers, and that other cuts might have been more effective in the long run.
As the columnist listened, an expression of dawning understanding grew on his face. “He’s trying to get rid of you,” the columnist said. I could not believe it — would not believe it. I was working hard. I was hired to write stories and to take photographs for the paper; I was hired to edit submitted material and to choose which press releases to include in the paper; I was not hired to design ads, process photographs for publication, mop the floors or do any of the other tasks which had fallen to me. But, I was doing them.
The columnist, of course, was right. I was eventually replaced by an editor whose salary was significantly lower than mine, and job responsibilities which had fallen to me were redistributed to other employees. Until this morning, I remained baffled by my inability to see what was so clear to the columnist. It was unfathomable to me that an employer would even consider getting rid of an employee who worked as hard as I did, who was as conscientious about doing the work well.
Even hearing similar stories from others about employers replacing experienced staff with new hires to save money did little to help me understand my blindness. But this morning my perspective expanded; I discovered the myth which has unconsciously been affecting the way I have approached work environments. Somewhere, deep inside, the unattractive little girl who was repeatedly told, “You’ll never amount to anything,” has been trying and trying and trying to be transformed into the respected princess by doing work which would gain the recognition of someone who valued her efforts.
As sad as that is, and it is sad — how many times have I misread situations because of this unconscious influence? — something else struck me as I thought about this new insight. How many other individuals are walking around with similar unrecognized scripts influencing their lives and their decisions? How many others are wounded by an inability to realize their dreams because they are fettered in an ineffable way to past misconceptions? How do we help one another overcome these barriers?
I don’t have any answers for those questions. Instead, I find myself hoping this insight will lead me to think and act with more kindness and greater compassion toward others, especially when I don’t understand what is affecting my relationships with them. After all, that is the example that Christ set. From the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Can I strive for less?