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I'M ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN...I THINK...

2 January 2002

There are times I almost think
I am not sure of what I absolutely know.
Very often find confusion
In conclusion I concluded long ago
In my head are many facts
That, as a student, I have studied to procure,
In my head are many facts..
Of which I wish I was more certain I was sure!

--"The King and I"
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

The January topic for the On Display collaboration is "What are you sure of?" The topic was suggested by an Oprah Winfrey show, presented after the 9/11 disaster, an event that made everyone in this country begin to question what there was in life that they really could cling to. Where would stability come in a world which suddenly seems to have no foundation any more. We Americans have always watched disasters around the world, smug in our own knowledge that "it could never happen here." But now it has happened here and what are we sure of any more?

Anyone who has experienced a major tragedy knows that it causes you to rethink the preconceived notions you've always held.

As a child, I was certain of the stability of my parents' marriage. In the 40s you didn't see that many divorces, especially among Catholic families, and despite the tension in the house, it never occurred to me that there was any other way to live. My sister and I would grow up, watch our parents grow old, and we would always have that family unit to be a part of. My "bestest" friends would always be there and life would go on pretty much the way it always had.

As a young girl, I was absolutely certain that I would grow up, marry, raise a family, watch them marry and raise children of their own, and that by the time I was my current age, I would spend my time baking cookies with my grandchildren and enjoying retirement.

I was certain that I lived in a country which could always protect me and that disasters happened to "other people."

I believed in a happily ever after.

I don't know what I believe any more.

My carefully constructed mental scenario began to disintegrate fairly early, just out of high school when my best friend Judy Lucchesi dropped me like a hot potato without ever giving me a reason why. We had spent the better part of our later grammar school years together, had fought over Stephen Calegari together, snapped each other's bra strap when we were big enough to get bras. I knew we'd be friends forever. But I haven't seen her in over 40 years. I occasionally wonder whatever happened to her--and whatever happend to us.

The sister I knew I'd have forever was murdered in 1971. The scenario had already shifted a bit. We wouldn't raise our children together, but we liked her partner and never questioned her sexual orientation. It never occurred to me that an argument between the two women would result in several bullets to Karen's head, ending her life 7 weeks later, without her ever regaining consciousness.

Life sorta fell apart after that. My mother told me later that she read that when parents don't grieve the death of a chid together, it eventually pulls the marriage apart. Karen's death was certainly the straw that broke the back of my parents' long-troubled marriage. Though I fully supported my mother's decision to leave, my foundation was shaken. I had my own family by then, but the lifeline I had to stability was gone.

Over the years there have been periods of certainty and periods of uncertainty. Other friends have walked out of my life, sometimes giving a reason, sometimes not. And then, of course, there were those two high-magnitude events in 1996 and 1999 with the death of David and Paul. Not only was I not bouncing grandchildren on my knee, we didn't even have two of our own children any more.

And in between those two events came the loss of a job I loved for 10 years, which I thought I would stay with forever. Who knew what an HMO takeover could cause?

I don't meant to paint my life in greys and blacks. There are definitely more yellows and reds in this life than there are blacks. But the point of all this is that the only thing I am truly sure of any more is change. You can't hang on to things forever. People die, relationships change, jobs come and go, nations attack nations. There is nothing in one's life that is guaranteed to remain safe and consistent. Sometimes we kid ourselves into seeing life the way we wish it were, which often leads to pain and sadness.

The best chance anyone has for a happy life is to accept that change is inevitable, and to learn to look to yourself, not to others, to provide your "center," your peace, your happiness, your stability. If there are others who contribute to it, for a time, as there have been so many in mine, consider yourself blessed indeed. But if you can find peace within yourself, you can weather the storms of change without and it won't matter if there is nothing else in life that you are absolutely sure of.

Here's a quote I picked up on Wilma's Word which seems appropriate to this entry:

Thought for today:
No matter what has happened in the past, that is over. No matter how much you wish the past had been different, you cannot change what has already happened. Don't mourn over what is done; rejoice that there is still a future!"
from A Soft Pillow for a Tired Heart by Barbara Johnson


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