Being happy was all that I ever wished to be. As a child, I was happiest when hanging out with our dogs, or tagging along with my dad out on the ranch. I was in a learning mode, although I was not conscious of it. I did not know I was supposed to be making decisions for my future as an adult based on what I was learning as a child. I was simply doing what I loved.
One really hot evening, when I was ten, my dad told me to doctor our family dog’s paws which were infested with worms. The tropical sun was so intense that our husky/chow mix, Diana, had developed cracked pads just by walking about on the scorched ground. He instructed me how to go about removing the worms from her infected pads, to disinfect the wounds, and then bind her feet with gauze strips and tape. I did it all, intently aware of Diana’s pained patience with my efforts to help her. My dad watched over my shoulder, not breathing down my neck, but standing a couple of feet away from me, talking me through the process. When I finished, Diana got up to walk. A new sensation, having her feet bound, she stepped uncertainly, comically, making me laugh. My dad was pleased with my work and said, “So, what would you like to be when you grow up? Maybe you should be a veterinarian.” I said, “I think I would like to be a nurse.” His response of “Well, if you’re going to be a nurse, you should be a doctor” killed, then and there, my desire “to be” anything. The result of our exchange was my feeling that I would never be able to meet his expectations. At the time, I could not think about years down the road. I was a happy child, but those few words shared between us put a damper on me, not realizing it until years later.
Once away from home, off at school, I barely functioned, as that dark cloud of parental expectation was always with me. I developed a deep fear of failure, and consequently, I failed a lot. I received letters from my dad in which he said things like, “Get mad!” and “Get your fanny in the saddle!” and “Work hard!” It was not helpful, just reinforcement for my sense of inadequacy. Sometimes that horrible feeling of not being good enough would subside for a bit whenever I participated in an activity that was purely physical, such as swimming, dancing, or playing soccer. Later on, discovering that boys liked me positively influenced how I felt about myself. How typical is that, and how off the mark?
I grew up to be a physically developed young woman, yet, as it turns out, underdeveloped intellectually and emotionally. Now, as an older, singly alone woman, I look back and see what a struggle it has been to keep sight of my very true and simple goal: that of being happy. I met life’s challenges as best I could, although were I to be judged, some might say, “Right. You really did your best?”
Somewhere along the line, when I thought about my ultimate goal in life, it changed to my bringing in and raising a couple of happy children. It was a good dream. However, when one does not truly know oneself, a life well lived is tenuous and goals forgotten. If my children experienced happy childhoods, only they can say. Truth be told, I was the example of what they would not wish for themselves. As a single parent I always worked and rarely took time to enjoy life, especially with my children. Inadvertently, I gave my children a level of self-awareness, of their own natural talents. Both creative, uniquely expressive people, they are responsible for the choices they make. I have to trust that they are happy, in spite of the challenges they face in this day and age.
Ah, all is not lost. A few years back, I stopped working at a job that no longer satisfied my need to be of use, of service to others. I burned out. By quitting work, I discovered that staying home is more challenging than going to a job. On my own, I cannot blame anyone or any circumstance for whether or not I am happy. I accept myself, with all my foibles, as I alone make my choices. I find it possible to know peace in my solitude. I can let go the fear of failure. I assume nothing about today or tomorrow, yet I trust my instincts. It turns out I need never take anything personally. As I write, and sometimes speak to others, I better understand how my use of words colors my experience. At times I am aware of how I affect another; if it is in a negative way, I grapple with my lack of love and guilt. I forgive myself for my shortcomings. Whether or not another forgives me is entirely up to him or her. Through kindness, patience, acceptance, forgiveness, and love, here and now, I, and each one of us may experience being happy, a good goal.