Friday, April 9, 2010

The effort of being good...

Being around my mom at a holiday would truly inspire Scrooge himself to believe in the power and beauty of the human spirit. Here she is—shrunken from the cancer, always feeling tired or sick or discouraged—and when the calendar heralds the approach of any holiday, no matter how minor, my mom begins to put together this barrage of gifts and cards and plans to ensure that everyone has a good day and feels appreciated.

This is one of many, many of my mother’s traits that I envy. I watched her pour over the aisles at Target Saturday for last minute Easter gifts. Her list of people she wanted to get “a little something” for was longer than my Christmas card list. Ironically, this came the night after Q and I had a conversation about how much it depresses me that I suddenly find it so hard to express that I care about what is going on in my friend’s lives.

And please read that carefully: it is so hard to express that I care, not to care. I do care. I have wonderful friends who have been absolute God-sends through all of the trials of the last few years. I used to be the kind of person that sent cards for no reason. I used to buy carefully planned birthday gifts and then wait like a kid at Christmas for the chance to give them to people. I used to know everyone’s birthdays without the help of Facebook. I used to remember to ask people how they were doing.

It bothers me more than I can say to precede each item on that list with “used to,” but it is sadly the truth. I have a job that puts me on the road and in airplanes a lot. The sterility of a hotel room is not conducive to fortifying my relationships. I am in school half time—I tell myself every damned day that I don’t really need a masters and I should just drop out, but I won’t. It’s important to me. I am working on promotions for the book, on finishing the manuscript for the next novel, cleaning the house, walking the dog, paying the bills. I need to get a passport photo, and pick up a few birthday presents when I have a moment, get my oil changed, send in my 401K rollover… and on… and on…

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first. I am officially a grown up, and right now, a pretty crappy one. Every time I see my mom at a holiday, I just feel guiltier and guiltier by my seeming inability to be as thoughtful as I truly want to be.

But, this has prompted a pretty intense self-reflection and questioning period.

A few months back, as the turmoil of divorce, family kidney and bone marrow transplants, and basically three years of sheer and utter hell began to subside, I realized something that scared the hell out of me. The realization: I wasn’t as nice as I used to be.

I said it jokingly to friends—“I think I killed Nice Shauna”—but the jokes were backed by abject terror. I genuinely like people, and when I found myself grumpy more often than not, snapping at strangers (h*ll, snapping at friends), and finding completely benign actions to be incredibly irritating, I was scared. Could I go through all that had happened and emerge as someone who at least resembled who I was before?

I have said before in this forum that I am proud of the person I’ve become through a lot of turmoil. Again, I didn’t grow up in Darfur, so I am not over-assessing the intensity of my experiences, but nonetheless, I handled more in three years than most people do in ten. It isn’t possible to deal with it all and come out unscathed, but is it possible, over time, to get over the bad impacts and maintain the good? Can I be less grumpy, but keep the super-human emotional fortitude I’ve gained? Can I be less skeptical of all things male, but maintain my ability to detect people’s bullsh*t?

If it wasn’t for my mom, I might say no and resign myself to being a little bit of a b*tch for the rest of my life. But I can’t do that. Half of the turmoil I went through was caused by watching her go through things that are infinitely worse. If she can do it, and she can manage to still want to play Easter bunny for every neighborhood kid simply because seeing them smile makes her day, then I can remember to send a birthday card…. After I finish school…

1 comment:

  1. Shauna, this is a very touching post. I can relate to it on many levels. My wife was just diagnosed with cancer last month. Now they are prepping her for chemo in about a month or so. It is a scary time for anyone to go through with a loved one. Thank you for checking out my blog. Best of luck to you.

    Robert B. Sullivan