Have you ever watched Sex in the City? I'm not a avid fan, but I have seen enough to know the general plot from season to season. Free HBO month at my parent's house matched with being a church widow* made it possible.
*Church widow= your spouse is seeing someone else, and that someone takes the form of an organization, event, or ministry fundraiser that leaves you to fill your evenings with cereal dinners and all night viewings of sitcoms the rest of the world watches on a regular basis. Sometimes you cry and feel alone and vow to write an amazing novel that will sell many copies and allow you to fly to see your sister on a weekly basis.
Something that always bothered me about this show was the way that everything fell into place just in time for Sarah Jessica Parker's character to write about it. I know that in television land, everything does sort of fall into place. And on the rare occasion it doesn't, you are still given some lovely music while you see the characters look off into space with a meaningful expression that shows their resilience and you get the idea that all will be well.
It isn't the predictability of these shows that bothers me as much as the thematic element. SJP, while dressed oddly and yet alluringly in a boa, t-shirt, and underoos, would manage to weave all of the current events of her friends' lives into whatever piece she was writing. If it was time for her to write about infidelity, all of her friends would somehow find that their spouses were cheating on them. Or maybe they would cheat on their spouse. They would cheat on their housekeeper or hairdresser. Somehow, someway, she made it all fit in uniformity of topic. And I found that to be irritating, and just too perfect for believability.
Enter the lives of my own friends, clicking into once big piece of the same crazy puzzle.
It started a few weeks ago, when my friend had a medically necessary operation. She feels much better now, and is mending and adjusting to life after major surgery. The only down side (other than the big fat medical bills) is the result of this procedure. My friend, who is lovely and smart and giving and good, now cannot physically bear children. She wrote, in a poignantly gut-wrenching poem, about her feelings on the matter. Her grief, and the singularity of it, is what got my thoughts flowing.
If you had asked her ten years ago, she would have agreed that she would one day have children. We all kind of assume a 'normal' idea of what our lives will look like when we grow up. Marriage and job, home and family, wisdom and fulfillment. And then, as we grow older (but not always up), we change our ideas about what we want or what we need. In the last few years, as her thoughts turned to having children, she wasn't sure that having biological children was in the cards for her anymore. It just didn't have the same luster as it once did, and as a very responsible person, she was going to wait until her heart was settled on the matter.
She put it in on the backburner of her mind to simmer. Every once in awhile, she would return to stir the pot of ideas, and then walk away again, knowing that it wasn't yet time to commit to that particular dish. Maybe the day would come when she would just know what to do. But until then, time was on her side.
And then, one day, it all changed. Her decision was made without her consent or knowledge, without her approval or signature. A medical professional delivered the news that there would be no further wondering, no more stirring.
Though I knew her thoughts on having children...should I/shouldn't I...I knew that the finality of the news was a terribly bitter burden. The hardest part of the finality was that it didn't wait for her to call the shots.
She had no choice, she had no say, she had no option.
I started thinking about how much we depend on our ability to make choices. I might choose to have the same breakfast every day for 43 days straight simply because I want to. But if you tell me that I have to eat one more blasted bagel on day 44 and all of a sudden I'm unable to stomach the inhumanity of this cruel treatment.
Bagels and babies are not the same. But choice is important, perhaps even vital. If we can't be in charge of our choices, we become despondent and angry. If we can't steer in the direction we think best, we can lose our sense of self.
Not that long ago, marriages fell into this category. Sometimes, neither the bride nor the groom had a say in their matter of happily ever after. And it was expected that you would do your duty and live somewhat harmoniously with one another, fulfilling your end of the marriage bargain to either sire or bear children and try to pass on your name and wealth to the next generation.
Many studies have been conducted on arranged marriages, and whether or not the divorce rates or levels of happiness differ from non-arranged marriages. So much of the findings are inconclusive, though, because the cultures or historical periods that embrace such relationships make personal happiness a non-issue.
Are we entitled to pursue happiness? Are we entitled to choice? Can I choose how to be happy, if life is continually changing?
I never, ever in my life wanted to be a mother that stayed at home during the day. I didn't want to make a baby's nap schedule, use glue sticks, or be involved in the pick-up line after school. Hopefully I don't sound like an angry ogre, but it just wasn't my idea of a fulfilling way to pass through the day. I wanted to DO something and BE somebody All those mommies that told me I had to stay home so that my kid wouldn't grow up to be a crackwhore with no intelligence and fear of intimacy didn't help the issue. I would make My Choice. Don't fence me in.
And then, I found one day that I did want to stay home with my child. If I had a fulfilling career that brought me joy, it might not have been so. But leaving my sweet baby to trudge to a job that only paid some of my bills and sucked my soul from my very being wasn't a good trade-off. When the baby cried and held her fat little hands out towards me, well...I don't have a heart of stone. I would bathe in a glue stick and take a unicycle through the pick-up line in order to spend my day with the little cherub. All those mommies that told me I had to keep working so that my kids wouldn't perpetuate the myth that women are supposed to bake pies, have babies, and no education, didn't help the issue. I would now make My New Choice. Don't fence me in...in the other direction.
I wouldn't work anymore. Problem solved, right? Not so much.
While I was free to make a decision, I wasn't free to implement that choice in my life. The result is, quite frankly, maddening.
I know that I absolutely bristle when someone tells me what I will and will not do. Yes, this could be a potentially bad character trait. Gentle, guiding leadership is the more effective in my book. I would rather learn from my mistakes any day of the week instead of becoming a robot who is unable to discern delight from damage without being told. You can imagine how easy it was for my parents to raise me. However, the result is that when my parents say 'woah...watch it' I now believe that they might have a point. I've been kept from many pitfalls because they let me fall in the beginning.
If only we could have such gentle, gracious teachers for all of life's decisions.
When you are faced with whether or not you will stay in your marriage, when you are faced with paying $10,000 to just attempt to conceive a child of your own body, when you are faced with taking a loved one from life support...life is full of choices that are hard to wade through. We agonize over what to do, what we should do, and what we want to do.
I wish we all had someone who quietly gave wisdom and guidance but then let us stir our thoughts and decide what should happen. And then...if we could implement our choices and at least be in the driver's seat. I can't control the outcome, as only God can do that. But I don't want to just wait for the outcome either.
What has been fought for during all ages, in all countries, by all mankind, is freedom. We want to choose. We don't always think we are right, but we truly need the ability to decide what we think is right.
Prove me wrong, make me pay, laugh at my choices. But don't force my hand. Eventually I'll forget what my hands are for, and won't be able to stir on my own.
These hands, done writing for today, are happy. I may be wrong in all I've said, but I can say it. And for that I'm thankful.
I wish, like our dear friend Sarah Jessica Parker, I could look off into the distance and know that all will be well for my friends who bristle under the pain of someone else's decision. I wish their hands would not be forced.
In lieu, I can only promise to be sympathetic of their pain, and to never be seen in a boa and underoos.