Monday, December 01, 2008

What is worth fighting for?

Some days I feel like I have been fighting all my life. I grew up in an era in which unjust treatment of women and girls was the norm. “That’s not fair!” is an echoing refrain of my childhood.

I have spent most of my life precariously clinging to the bottom rung of the middle class ladder, sometimes falling into poverty and then desperately clawing my way back up onto that slippery place again.

I have fought the demons of depression and hopelessness, abusive parent and partner, mindless, enraged backlash, and have surrendered to bleak despair. I have been hungry, homeless, jobless, penniless, and without prospects, spurned and despoiled by my own family members and left to live or die by my own hook, no help offered, no help forthcoming.

I know what it is to struggle and to fight for survival, both physical and emotional. It’s hard. It’s wearying. It is exhausting to both body and soul.

Some of us enter into the habit of fighting for everything. Even when life lightens up and we find some abundance and ease in our lives, some of us don’t know how to accept the boon without creating a bit of struggle first. Perhaps we have a deep need to feel we have earned the gain or perhaps we simply feel invisible in the face of greater ease. If you self-identify, after all, as a warrior and a strong person who cannot be overcome, where goes your identity when then war is won and there is no adversity to stand steadfast against?

Others…people like me…become wearied by the seeming endlessness of the struggle to survive. We ultimately learn to conserve our energy and pick our battles carefully. We learn to evaluate situations and scenarios for their importance: will this mean I have no shelter? No food? No medical care? Then for (or against) this I will fight. Does it mean that others will be similarly deprived…which sets a precedent for depriving me and mine? Then I must commit myself to this struggle as well. Not very altruistic, but altruism is a luxury for those whose lives are not consumed by the struggle to ensure continued survival.

A few of the lucky ones…like me…manage to claw their way out of the pit. But survival struggles leave wounds…some which heal over into scars, some of which simply remain raw reminders of the perils of complacency, the energy drain of fighting battles that are too high up the pyramid. We learn to conserve because we know that today’s affluence, abundance and comfort can melt away in horrifyingly short order: one pink slip, one shattering accident, one devastating illness, one untimely death can spell a headlong plunge back into the pit. At some level our psyches never stop weighing, evaluating, calculating, hedging…always on the lookout for peril, always watching for escape routes, second chances, backup plans.

And so we learn to make choices and trade-offs, weigh our chances of success and refrain from investing our energies…and hopes…in those non-survival activities that have a low chance of success. And so we limit ourselves in much the same way outside forces imposed limitations on us, clipping our own wings in order to retain the resources that may be needed tomorrow for survival.

I am habituated to a life of avoiding futility, hedging my bets, having a back up, casting likely scenarios and being prepared for them. To others I appear decisive, but it’s really just my “old self” following its protective program to scout out possible dangers and make preparation. When a danger pops up, I am then prepared and ready to deal with it before my emotions can take control and leave me helpless.

And so I avoid things that have a low probability of coming to fruition, or things that take a degree of passion and dedication that could deplete my resources and leave me vulnerable in a time of need, Beating my head against brick walls affects only me: the brick wall doesn’t even know I was there.

So, I’ll admit it…I have given up on a lot of my dreams. Turns out they were incompatible with my reality and places I needed to channel my resources to ensure survival. Now that the struggle for survival is resolved…at least for now…I find myself in the habit of limiting my efforts and simply refusing to give myself headaches by pursuing dreams that are now past their sell-by date. Rejection is no easier to withstand when you are 60 than it was when you were 20, perhaps it is even more difficult after a lifetime of collecting pain. There comes a time, I think, when you just have to quit fighting and accept the bitterness of life beside the sweet.

But some days I think and I reflect and I wonder…and I regret.

Man, being sick just takes the starch out of me!

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