Life is rarely simple for humans. Sometimes the most horrific moments when we are at our lowest emotionally lead us to the changes that make us better people. When I think of myself before my father died versus the person that I eventually became I wonder If I would have been as compassionate if I had continued to behave as I had before his death. I suppose that I will never know for certain what might have been but I am convinced that the loss of my father resulted in my becoming far more focused on the value of life.
At the age of eight I was rocking along in a rather self centered bubble which is rather normal. I was quite aware that my father was better educated than my uncles and that as a result our family lived and moved in a higher socio-economic world than the rest of the extended clan. Our house was newer and larger than theirs were and we travelled around in more luxurious autos. I saw those differences even as a child and felt a sense of pride even though I had done nothing personally to earn such perks. It would not be much of a stretch to guess that I was somewhat spoiled, taking my good fortune for granted.
I learned somewhat easily but never really pushed myself to improve academically. Just before my father’s tragic accident he openly worried that I did not seem to care about learning the way he had hoped I would. I was somewhat silly, even lazy, and used only a small portion of my abilities. He worried that I was more focused on being a social butterfly and that I was stereotyping myself as a giddy girlie girl. Of course I was still quite young and in the process of finding myself but I also had little concern for anything beyond my own perceived needs.
On the day of my father’s death something snapped inside my juvenile brain. I literally felt a strong sense of obligation to be an example for my little brothers and to ease the burdens that I believed my mother was feeling. I found myself noticing people other than myself and considering the impact of my actions. It was as though I had taken a quantum leap into maturity that had not existed before. As I grieved I had a strong desire to better appreciate every aspect of my existence because I had suddenly seen how much I had taken for granted and how much I had lost in an instant.
I began to look outward and realize the fragility of everything and everyone. The ruins of our family car and the loss of my father were eternal reminders that I must cherish each moment and fulfill the purposes for which I was placed on this earth. I floundered a bit as I attempted to be a better person in my childlike way. It would take years for me to become more adept in my attempts to lead a good life, but I embraced my new role with gusto.
I saw with clarity how wonderful every single person is, even those who seemed lost and confused. I somehow realized that the human potential is only constrained by our own fears and unwillingness to work hard. I often heard my father’s voice in my head reminding me to rise to the challenges of responsibility that I would most assuredly face. I saw that the marks of a person do not lie in educational level or economic status but in the heart. I remembered my father’s lessons and the frustration that he had felt when I seemed not to care about them.
My mother was an enigma much like the bipolar disorder that lurked inside her brain. She was a tower of strength who nonetheless seemed on the verge of falling apart at any moment. I did not want her to endure any more burdens than necessary so I was very conscious of staying out of trouble and helping her in any way possible. My motives were not born because I was some sort of angelic person, but because I did not want to see her hurt more than she already was. I shunned the risky behaviors of adolescents so that she would have one less thing about which to worry. I earned the reputation of a very good girl only because I was keenly aware of the impact that my actions might have on my mom.
In honor of my father I took my studies seriously and found that I actually enjoyed reading and writing and learning about new ideas. Whenever possible I pushed myself to do just a bit more than I believed was possible. My efforts soon became a kind of routine way of living for me and would ultimately help me through the difficult days of caring for my mother whenever her mental illness overtook her ability to be the rock of the family. It also allowed me to see the hurt and pain of the people around me. I developed a sixth sense for knowing when someone was hurting, a skill that guided me to the teaching profession. I wanted to share both my joys and sorrows so that I might help those struggling to find themselves.
I still miss my father and wish that he had never died. I suppose that I might have eventually developed into a better person without having to endure the tragedy of such great loss but it may have taken me longer to come to the same conclusions inside the bubble of privilege that shielded me when he was alive. When my world burst so suddenly I was forced to face realities that I had never before even noticed. Something quite extraordinary clicked in my mind that changed everything and I suppose that this is so for many who endure the pain of loss. After the sorrow there is a glorious moment of clarity that illuminates the pathway to a purpose filled and happy life. All any of us need do is find the courage to follow it. Therein lies the glorious difference that creates great good from something so profoundly bad.