How do we define happiness? I used to be afraid that I might make decisions in my life that would lead to unhappiness… loneliness…isolation. Yet at that time, I always prided myself in believing that so long as I was able to lay my head down at night with the ability to sleep with a clean conscious…not being afraid that someone could ever catch me performing a dishonest deed, then I was being a good person. That made me happy…knowing I was being a good person.
I was young and naive at that time though. I believed then that everyone in my world was following the rules pertaining to their lives and positions in other people’s lives. Parents were being selfless, caring, supportive because that was their job and they were doing their jobs the way the Universe had intended them to be. I believed that all teachers were most concerned with the education and maturity of their students and that all bosses were being supportive of the advancement of their employees and their families…all husbands were essentially good men and wives were always loyal. NO ONE ever had ulterior motives, not in my world.
For a minute, I did an internship, while in college, at a halfway house for juveniles who were the ages of 12-17 years old, many of whom were just bad dudes. They were what the courts had labeled to be juvenile delinquents but they were in this residence for 6-8 weeks to determine if they were really just criminals or if there was something psychologically “off” about them. I was 20…so I found myself befriending these kids who were years beyond their ages and they would open up to me. These kids lived in areas of Brooklyn called Bedford Stuyvesant, Brownsville, East New York…areas that white girls like me did not visit. There areas were bad areas and these kids, who had been put into the “system” of the State of New York, were each from one of these horrific areas.
These kids did not come from “families” like mine…mom, dad, brother, dog, grandfather, aunt with a car (or cars) and a house. These kids came from drug houses, where they had mothers who were drug addicts or prostitutes, fathers in jail or dead, siblings from several different fathers…no one there to help them with their homework when they got home from school, no one to pack them a lunch to take to school in the morning, to make sure they took a bath every night or finished their dinner…much less someone to even make them a dinner. I was 20 and I was amazed that this was even possible to happen in real life.
These kids were angry…all the time! While I used to leave them most days in tears as I drove home in my Nissan Maxima to my own apartment where I ate a meal and took off my clothes to lay down in my bed…I became so appreciative of what so many people not only did not have but the long road ahead of them before they would ever have anything even close to it. These kids, clearly, were on their own…needing to find the path that might lead them towards the world that I considered to be normal…something I believed would buy me happiness.
Appreciation…thankfulness…honesty…vs. betrayal, taking advantage of those around you while believing that the world owes you…why should I, personally, have been fortunate enough to be born into a family where I was put onto the “right” path towards achieving the type of security only a supportive family could provide?
And is that what I got? I never judged my family…I mean after having met these inner-city kids, I believed that my family was PERFECT! These kids knew, from when they were born, that they were on their own. Never having had a mother who took vitamins to ensure their health and strength at birth (vs. having given birth to a crack baby) or who washed fruits and vegetables daily to ensure that they ate well in place of a bag of chips or soda for dinner every night. But I can tell you that I became ultra cautious of the rest of the world after this. Analyzing who was a good mother/father…would I ever be able to handle that responsibility? Was I a good sister, supporting the crazy antics of my brother throughout our 20’s. I had always believed that while legal vs. illegal may have been a gray area where we grew up, I still always knew the difference between being honest and dishonest with people…regardless of what the law books said was right.
A minor example was how I always saw my older, guy friends cheating on their girlfriends and then living in torment to make sure the girlfriends never found out. I made a promise to myself way back then to never cheat on a man…regardless of how “serious” either of us may have considered the relationship to be, to me, if there was a “man” in my life (even if back then it was only to take me out for pizza or ice cream), then there was only one man in my life to whom I would devote all my energies toward…whether that be to create an amazing relationship someday or towards my getting to know him well enough to determine that he was not for me and would then just move on. That was my vow to myself as well as to the rest of the world, whether it knew it or not.
But relationships with men, as we’ve all learned over time, are replaced by more mature or deeper relationships with other men where we use what we learned from prior relationships to ensure the same mistakes don’t happen again, leaving us hurt, heartbroken and feeling unloved. But relationships in families, are not replaced. We are all given one mother and one father. And I get that we’re all human, but who defines for us what our duties and responsibilities are while performing those jobs? Do we rely on our ability to lay our heads down at night to get a good night’s sleep? And hope that when we’ve performed a horrible act against our child then it will be our conscious that will keep us up at night? That our sick, demented minds won’t justify the actions enough times to allow us to get a good night’s sleep eventually? Or is that the route cause of the chemical dependencies we all suffer from?
I have to say that what I’ve discovered most recently is the type of people we are at birth…making no difference what we see or witness as children or young adults to determine the type of person we become. And I have to say that this premise makes me so upset! And while my teachers in college used to try to teach this exact premise, I would argue and debate the idea…wanting to believe back when I was 20 that I was in charge of the person I was going to become. (I mean didn’t it matter that I made a wish while blowing out my birthday candles each year that I wanted a devoted husband and a family and house? Shouldn’t that mean that no matter what happened to me, that’s what I would get and that I would start to feel like it was “right” for me?)
Well, I gotta say, the person we become is determined by the person we were meant to be. So yes, we can teach our children how to judge their own actions to determine if what they are doing is good or bad, but as for it making a difference to them, that can not be taught. As I said, from a young age, I decided to make sure that I would never do anything to ever make someone else feel bad…feel betrayed or left out…not in my world. And I am so happy…everyday, not to ever find myself in a position where that might be possible. But it was my genes that allowed me to have the empathy to care about how others felt while in my world more than about just me getting caught…that comes from a different kind of gene that I am happy to say I never got.