Saturday, January 1, 2011

Circumstances, Choices, and Courage

"Endings" could be viewed the same way as one views the idea of "consequences." Whenever we're presented with a choice, each path has its own set of consequences and its own temporary destiny. I say temporary because I believe that destiny can always be changed in some way. Nothing is really permanent, even though we often equate certain things in life with the word's intended meaning.

One of my former college roommates, the close friend from high school who randomly resurfaced in 2010, used to constantly voice her opinion about my "choice" to work full-time while also attempting to tackle a full college course load. She thought that I should be like her and hardly work outside of class. Rather than see my strength and courage in attempting to do what was right for my circumstances, she chose to constantly label it as a weakness in the guise of "you'll have the rest of your life to work," "what's your gpa socially," and "it's not healthy to have me as your only friend." A false line she still tried to pull to "guilt" me into rescuing her twelve years later.

The problem was her circumstances were completely different and she chose not to understand the reality of mine. She had "mommy" and "daddy" supporting her and to fall back on if her "ending" didn't quite work out in her favor. They paid her tuition, they let her live rent free in our apartment that they owned, they rescued her financially any time she got herself in trouble.

My adoptive father was already retired when he married my mother, bringing in nothing but Social Security checks. My mother was ambitious, eventually earning her MSW and taking on positions with more responsibility. However, like most professions that actually give back to society rather than take from it, social work isn't exactly a lucrative line of work. My sister, brother and I have never went without enough because my mom worked hard to sacrifice her own needs for our own. She worked even harder at keeping a tight financial ship-a skill she had learned from my entrepreneurial grandfather. She did what she could to help me, but she also taught me the value of hard work and personal financial responsibility from the age of fifteen on.

I had to work as much as I did because I was the only safety net I had. Sure, my mom would never let me go homeless, but she wouldn't pay off my credit cards, give me one of her cars for free if mine suddenly became inoperable, or pay my educational and personal expenses in full. She taught me that decisions have consequences and while there are always a set of choices to choose from, each one has an "ending" that will end up affecting not only you, but those around you.

Granted she's been a little more lenient with my younger siblings, but now I'm glad she was so tough on her firstborn. Sometimes she tells me "you know, you've never really asked me for money." I always tell her "it's because you taught me not to." She smiles and says "yeah you're right. I wonder where I went so wrong with your sister." Then she'll go on to say "you know that's why you're in charge when I die. Your brother-you'll have to take care of him." I tell her "I know that Mom. Don't worry."

My nineteen year old brother is autistic. It's the high functioning form, but the reality is that he probably won't be able to fully support himself financially. He's able to do most basic things, he takes classes to help him expand his repertoire of "life skills," but he still needs support with many things that most of us take for granted.

Sometimes courage means more than a sense of reckless abandonment for how things might turn out. Sometimes you have to think about the ending. When embarking on one of life's decisions, you have to consider the potential consequences because they have the power to change you and those you're responsible for. It can be scary to know that if you fail, you could also fail someone else's destiny. Sometimes courage means sacrificing your own freedom so that someone else can have the outcome they need and deserve.

There's a saying about courage that I think is the same for everyone, no matter what their personal circumstances may be. It says that "courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear." It's what the individual decides is important enough to risk putting aside those fears that separates us.

Some of us don't have to worry as much about "bad endings" and can pursue our individual dreams, fancies and whims in an almost selfish manner because no one else is as important as their own existence. Someone else has taught us that they'll always be there to rescue us if things turn sour and we need a little help with that countless "second chance."

Then there are those of us who know quite well that no one else is going to be there to save us if we take a "wrong turn." We're aware that the "wrong turn" is really just a bend that we'll eventually go around. Still, we've been around enough of them that we know there are some bends that we don't want to have to travel around twice. This time there's someone else walking life's road beside us, who needs the guidance of our hand to steer them towards the sunset.

For us, not giving a thought to how that sunset might look is simply impossible. Our courage is the judgment that we have to make sure that it contains as much light as possible, even if that means somehow desiring less along the way.


  1. I know what it's like to be highly sensitive too. That book has helped me so much. This talks about my experience with it briefly...
    Thanks for sharing. I find your profile inspiring.