Reflections That Matter

I had a long conversation with a friend of mine today about something that matters a lot to both of us. Evidently, it matters more to her than it does to me. And how do you quantify something like this? I used to think you couldn't. But I learned otherwise, and here's a story to tell you how I did so. For a long while I did not speak with my father - familial differences and those of perspective, too, no doubt. I never stopped loving him, though, and being a parent now, I know that I could never love him the way he loves me. But in his Shakespearean way, he often complained to my sisters, "You girls, you don't love me at all, and that eldest one doesn't even think of me." "No, no," my sisters would rally back. "She does, too, so, so much. She thinks of you all the time. And she writes about you constantly." "She doesn't write to me," he'd reply. "How am I to know how much someone loves me if I don't see it." After learning of such conversations I would fume for weeks. Trust my father to be very much the King Lear in our lives. "So young and so untender," Shakespeare whispered to me  with the inflection of my father's voice in moments of weakness and guilt. 

But I get it now. How am I to know how much someone cares for me if their feelings don't translate into action? This is the very line I employ when I nag my husband. "You say you're sorry about putting the wet towel on the bed again, but you're really not, or you would listen and stop doing it." Cue in the emotional blackmail, "You don't even love me enough to do this simple task that I have asked you to do a million times." It doesn't work on him anymore, but I have already milked it beyond its worth. Essentially, we need to see reminders of caring and love and friendship and feelings to know they exist. 

Circling back to my friend and the thing we both care about - something lifted today. I was able to not just see but also recognize that what she was telling me was absolutely correct and had merit. How can I claim to care about something if I don't show with my actions that I do? Flashback alert: When I was eight or nine years old, I asked my father for a new pencil case. Some girls in school had ones with magnetic clasps, and I desperately wanted one. To this day, my father has never let me ask for something twice. That day, too, my request was promptly granted. We went to a stationary shop and he bought me a beautiful pencil case. When we came home, I arranged my pencils and erasers in it. A few hours later, my father called me to the sitting room and showed me the new pencil case lying forlornly on the floor by the sofa. I had forgotten it there. He didn't say anything. Instead, he waited for me to be embarrassed of my carelessness. He didn't have to wait long. I tried to explain that I would have put it in my school bag before going to bed, but that was not the point. I had been given something I desired, and I had discarded it after the novelty wore off. I would like to think that I have not forgotten this message, but that would be a delusion. Such messages often times need reinforcement.

I used to invest my feelings in people and things and endeavors. I still do, because this is something I cannot help about myself. I am not happy unless I am dissolved in something: a project, a birthday party, a family member's health, et cetera. But I have also started to reign in my enthusiasm for getting carried away with my feelings when I encounter new interests. I depend on people's appreciation of my efforts for encouragement, even sustenance. When my effort and attention go unnoticed, I become angry. I build fortresses around myself. I turn away, turn against, turn around. It didn't used to be this way. I did things selflessly. I did things because I wanted to, because they made me happy. Somehow, over time, my happiness became associated with what people were thinking of my efforts rather than the effort or the act itself. This is a weakness, and I am lately stunned by the inroads it has made into my character. "You transplant yourself into every conversation," my husband told me the other day. "You make everything about yourself. You like to be the martyr." Others have called me a "drama queen," in jest, but probably with a degree of seriousness behind the assertion. 

I realize that they are right. They are all right - my friends, my father, my husband. And it's all connected, but there has to be a balance! I believe that credit must be given where it is due. The kindness and generosity of people must be acknowledged and praised. Similarly, care and love must be shown in actions and behavior for the things and people that you claim to love and care about. However, I must strike a balance in my personality. I need to be alright with what I see in the mirror without embellishments. I need to ground myself in the belief that I am fine with or without anyone's appreciation. I am still me. I cannot and must not expect that everyone will acknowledge all the good I have done. Indeed, I should not do good with the vain hope that someone will see it and appreciate it. I should simply do good. Do what matters to me. Do what matters. And trust that it is enough.

Photos by Rebecca McCue