My life has always felt more like chaos theory than organised geometry. I seem, far more often than I’d like, to be a pinball careening off of surfaces already constructed than an arrow unleashed by some omniscient archer . But that’s the inside of things — what I feel. A recent visit w/ my elder son reminded me that who we are often bears only a vaguely familial resemblance to what we seem.
Seeming digression: I have accidental graduate degrees. Truly. I ended up in one program because of a war, in another because I was riffed from a job. And both degrees were difficult — believe it or not, I’m not much of a school person . I love love love learning. But school is far too seldom about learning — it’s often much more about hoops. And I’m far too clumsy (and impatient) to be much good at hoop jumping.
In this conversation w/ my son, I had the rare opportunity to see myself as someone else might see me: great job (which even though university bureaucracy drives me crazy, I delight in most days ), graduate degrees, old passports filled w/ travel to exotic destinations. <Aside: exotic places often read better than they live — another post > Tea sets and ethnic jewelry and waaay too many books .
If I had to describe myself, I’d say ‘learner.’ And writer. And teacher. But I don’t think I ever identify by my degrees, or by my position — unless it’s in a professional context. When my sister occasionally introduces me as ‘my sister the X,’ I’m embarrassed to death. Because that isn’t what seems most important to me, although the achievement of that final degree disrupted our family life for years. Yes, I worked for it. But I’ve also worked (even harder) to be wife, mother, daughter and friend. You just don’t get certificates of accomplishment for any of those .
It can be a salutary experience, seeing yourself as someone you love & respect sees you. But it also reminds me of the catch to the Golden Rule (some form of which is common to most religions and ethical systems): if you don’t love yourself, loving others the same way isn’t worth much. I will treat you the same way I treat my own worthless self. Hmmm… Doesn’t have quite the same ring.
I don’t believe I’m harder on myself than others, but this whole inside/outside thing is complicated. Buddhism teaches that illusion — maya — is one of our deepest challenges as human beings. So I don’t want to delude myself that my material achievements are important. And to be honest, I’m more likely to focus on what I haven’t done yet than what I’ve accomplished. We’re all more like this than not, I suspect. But lovingkindness ~ metta — begins at home. Inside. With recognising how far the journey has brought us.
I’m glad my son is proud of me professionally. The work I do is important to me — and doing it well is a source of satisfaction, even joy. And it’s good to stop and take a moment to remember how far I have moved from then to now. But my work is not the only legacy I want to leave behind. I’m hoping that someday, the less obvious tasks I’ve set myself — to fill this beginner’s heart with peace and understanding and curiousity at our human foibles, to still the incessant cacaphony of my jumping bean mind, to read the language that birds write across the blue Oklahoma sky — will be as evident from the outside as the pieces of paper I’ve filed in a drawer by my desk. Actually, I’ll be happy if I just get to make the journey ~