Do you want to be right, or do you not want to get scalded by boiling oil?
Welp, There’s another year.
All in all, one of the best I have ever had. As of yesterday, I am 37. Happy. Content. Not complacent, content. And isn’t that basically the Holy Grail? It is for me, anyway. Peace. Loving my life without it having to be perfect. Accepting it exactly the way it is.
I have been thinking about responsibility lately. What it actually means. What it actually looks like. And I can recognize that my peace is a byproduct of my responsibility.
I used to do a lot of what you might call self-help-y kinds of things. I read books and went to seminars and courses of varying sorts. In general, I didn’t get staggering breakthroughs those years that I was reading and taking seminars. I would eventually learn very many of the things I had been taught. I even mean that I learned them from those very courses and books. But years later, after I got control of my eating. Many of those teachings swam around in my head for all those years in the interim. Occasionally peeking out and popping up. Until I was ready and clear enough to learn them. And then they were just there. Obvious.
I was in a seminar once, I don’t remember what the theme was. Maybe creativity. Maybe designing your life. It doesn’t matter. The woman leading the seminar was talking about responsibility. She said something like If you are standing on the sidewalk, and you look up and notice that somebody on the 8th floor directly above you (I lived in New York City at the time) is pouring a pot of boiling oil down on where you stand, it is your responsibility to at least TRY to jump out of the way. If you are scalded and grievously injured, you can blame the person who poured the oil. You can even sue them. And I’m not saying that you would not be entitled to compensation for that. But in the end, you will be one who has to live in that burned body. You will be the one who has to suffer the pain. So do you want to shake your fist at this person on the 8th floor, and be righteously angry, and yell at them for doing something so dangerous, while the oil comes down on your head? Or do you want to jump out of the way and try to save yourself?
Now perhaps this is obvious to you. But for me at 23 or whatever age I was, this was a little epiphany. I had spent my life up until then incredibly certain about the way things “should be.” And deeply interested in complaining about the things that “shouldn’t have” happened to me, that did. And instead of dealing with them the way they were, I wanted to be righteously indignant about the general unfairness of life. And continue to expect life to be the way it “should be” in the future. But even after this little epiphany, I still had a hard time applying this idea of responsibility to the specific situations in my life. Probably because I didn’t have any personal frame of reference.
The first real responsibility I ever took in my life was getting my eating under control at 28. It was actual responsibility. No, it wasn’t fair that I couldn’t eat sugar like a “normal” person, but there it was. It didn’t matter if I thought it “shouldn’t be” that way. That was the way it was. The boiling oil was falling out of the 8th story window directly over my head. So I made a commitment to jump out of the way. I chose to follow some specific rules about food.
I didn’t only do it when it was easy and convenient. I didn’t only do it when people approved and were supportive. I didn’t only do it when grocers and wait staff and family members did everything the way it “should be” done according to my new food boundaries. I did it all the time. No matter what.
If somebody made it more difficult to do what I needed to do, I did the more difficult thing to meet my own needs. If waiters gave me food prepared or served in a way I could not eat it, I sent it back. If food companies changed their recipes so that a food I loved was no longer within my food boundaries, I gave it up. If people insisted on either my eating something they offered, or their taking great offense, I let them be offended.
And since then, slowly over the years, I have learned to apply that same lesson to other aspects of my life. I have learned to look at decisions I’m making and actions I am taking. And to decide if I want to change those decisions and actions, or find peace with their outcomes.
See, now that my addiction is under control, I have big girl problems. Problems that don’t have obvious fixes or black and white solutions. Life is full of unfair circumstances and hard choices. It always has been. For everybody. You might even say that as a middle class woman in 2014 in the United States, I’m living cushier and easier than most people anywhere ever before. So who am I to curse the oil coming down if I am not even willing to jump aside?