Authenticity - Being a 1st Rate Version of Yourself Instead of a 2nd Rate Version of Someone Else
Hope Infusion May Newsletter, 2nd Edition
This week I’m talking AUTHENTICITY and sharing a book recommendation I’ve interwoven with reflections on the complex, tumultuous, and bittersweet relationship I shared with the woman who birthed me — my mother.
My husband had disappeared again. He’d been next to me in bed when I fell asleep, but when insomnia wrestled me from slumber at 2AM he was absent from both our bed and our home. Middle of the night disappearing acts had become common place by this time. So I knew immediately where he was.
In the waning weeks of my mother’s life, he developed an empathic sensitivity to her harrowing struggles with middle of the night bouts of pain. On those nights, he followed an intuitive lead to park himself in the Intensive Care Unit where she was hospitalized--sitting at the foot of her bed to pray, console, and channel loving energy.
He left our bed, to sit at hers as a physical and proximate embodiment of comfort — a presence so common that night shift nurses knew and welcomed him by name. He remained a recurrent early AM visitor to the ICU until my mother was transferred to hospice in her final days of life.
Years later my husband announced a decision to devote time on his off days to visiting the wife of a co-worker who was under hospice care with a terminal cancer diagnosis. When he shared his well intentioned plans, I shared my well intentioned objections.
He’d never met her.
He was just "work friends" with her husband.
He didn’t know if she wanted visitors.
He definitely didn’t know if she wanted strangers dropping by to make small talk, as the final grains of sand drained from the hourglass of her life.
I considered my introverted temperament and how mortified I’d be if one of his random co-workers dropped by to engage me in small talk as I languished in the throes of a terminal illness.
He listened, disagreed, followed his intuition — went anyway.
Turns out, I was wrong!
They were both witty extroverts with vibrant senses of humor and a number of shared interests. An immediate camaraderie developed between them and they became fast friends. My husband’s colleague was grateful for the willingness to keep his wife company during times when he and his sons were at work and school, a weekly practice that continued until death brought it to a close.
I recently reflected on both scenarios as I pondered how roles and duties are societally constructed and defined.
My husband is a sports loving, workout obsessed outdoorsman, with an athletic build, a vibrant sense of humor, a sensitive soul and a caregivers heart.
I’m an intuitive girly girl, who loves jewelry, and make up, and pink frilly things. I also rarely cry, am minimally emotional, am serious and introspective, have ZERO hospitality skills, and drew the short straw when God was dispensing the caregiving gene!
I share all of this to paint a verbal picture of the wisdom inherent in our refusal to be held hostage to what roles we should play, or what duties we should assume based on commonly accepted societal norms.
A genuine act of caregiving kindness can transform a moment of darkness with a blaze of light — caregivers often emanate that light. Their concern blooms from the sincere joy of offering care selflessly and without expectations.
How unfortunate it would've been had either of these terminally ill women been denied my husband's caregiving presence because it is not typically seen as a male role or duty.
And what a disaster it would've been for me to force myself into a role with which my heart and nature are NOT innately aligned because as a woman I’m expected to naturally be more nurturing, hospitable and inclined towards the giving of care.
During our child rearing years, it was my husband, not I, who went on field trips, volunteered in children’s church, and was King of extra curricular activities.
I taught two to read, remediated dyslexia for one, dealt with homework, teachers, tutors and all things academic.
The understanding in our home was that he was the recreation parent, and I was the education parent. It was also understood —and STILL is — that I don’t do hardwood floors, organize storage spaces, or undertake cumbersome house cleaning projects. Conversely, he doesn’t pay bills, file taxes, plan travel, find contractors or schedule repairs.
And our partnership, with it’s assignment of roles and duties based on a mutual recognition of who we are — NOT who we are expected to be — served us well once we leaned into it and embraced “doing us” to the exclusion of external opinions and expectations.
The lesson inherent in these recollections is this:
The world is more blessed by you being a first rate version of yourself, than being a second rate version of someone else.
Incessant striving to be someone you are NOT is a breeding ground for resentment — territory I know well, from first hand experience.
Ralph Waldo Emerson called being yourself, in a world that is constantly trying to get you to be something else, the GREATEST of accomplishments.
When you TRULY release what others think of you, and FULLY embrace being your most authentic self, you reach a new and amazing level of freedom!
About My Mother
As a little girl I adored my mother, in early adolescence I judged my mother, in late adolescence I despised my mother, as an adult I was at odds with my mother, over the last decade, I’ve grown to understand my mother.
My mom and I shared a complex, disjointed, and often volatile relationship. We loved each other deeply, but did not possess a close knit mother-daughter bond.
Like many aspects of my life, our interactions were bittersweet, a paradoxical blend of brutal and beautiful—but mostly brutal!
Years of therapy and inner work shined a spotlight of understanding on actions and attitudes that I once found heart crushing and cruel at worst, and inexplicably baffling at best. My bewilderment, stemmed in part from the fact that my younger, traumatized, more naive self perpetually asked the wrong question.
I looked with dismay at my mother’s explosive temper, entrenched bitterness and skillful ability to weaponize words for use as bludgeoning tools and whimpered in wounded exasperation: What is wrong with her?
I now look back through enlightened eyes and and see a multitude of clues I missed — her inner conflict, damaged self-esteem, unattended pain, and unresolved generational trauma. With this clarity of vision, I’m now tender in reflectively asking a different question: What happened to her?
My older, wiser self knows and understands that hurt people often hurt people. My older, wiser self possesses the life experience and emotional intelligence to understand WHY this reality is truth.
My mother’s last words to me from an ICU bed before slipping into an unconsciousness from which she never emerged were, “I’m sorry, really sorry. I did the best I could.”
I understand this apology in hindsight with a new found level of clarity.
My mother departed this earthly plane in 2011. Yet she finds innovative ways to connect from beyond the veil and serve as a spiritual compass guiding me to answers about what happened to her.
And because of her posthumous efforts to that effect, I have the unique experience of feeling far more connected to my mother in death than I ever did in life.
I believe maternal bonds are not broken by death, and I believe love is a transcendent force that defies limitations of time, space, and mortality.
I had pivoted to asking this question about people with whom I experienced a ruptured relationship years before reading this book. But What Happened To You enhanced the knowledge I gained from therapy and lived experience, and framed that understanding in a social-psychological context.
I own it in both Kindle and Audible versions. It’s design is uniquely formatted for a great listening experience. The speaking alternates between Oprah Winfrey and Dr Bruce Perry, so it sounds more like listening to a two way conversation than it does the reading of a book. It makes for highly engaging audio that I highly recommend!
I’ll conclude with the most pivotal lesson I learned about navigating complex and contentious relationships. To understand the reality articulated below, is to understand my mother.