THIS I BELIEVE: The Urge toward Balance
I’m the first-born of a man who believed in male supremacy. I think I embarrassed his masculinity by being a girl and weighing in at a whopping 5-and-a-half pounds. He used to tell me that he held me in one hand “like a sack o’ sugar.” He and my mom, the children of Polish immigrants, had six more children. All of them weighed more than me.
When I was growing up, we all lived in a 900-sq ft, 2-bedroom, 1-bath bungalow outside of Detroit. My dad worked as a letter carrier. He never finished high school because he had to help his family during the Depression. My devoutly Catholic mom stayed home to raise us kids and to be the second-class citizen demanded by male supremacy.
I, in turn, set my whole childhood effort toward being better than the boys—all boys—in school. I succeeded in being valedictorian. I got scholarships and worked my way through college, eventually earning a Ph.D. in science. Before college, I had wanted to be a nun; by graduation, I had become a feminist agnostic who condemned organized religion for its hierarchical practices. When I got married, I wanted a career in scientific research, not children. When we had earned almost enough, I convinced my husband that the two of us “needed” a 5,000 sq ft McMansion in the foothills of Colorado.
After feeling the bad effects of one extreme, I swung with great speed and agility to the other, in every aspect of my life. I believe my swings are the result of a natural striving to achieve balance. The more I disliked one extreme, the more easily I swung automatically toward the other. The urge toward balance drove my passion for revenge, just as much as it did my desire for fairness and love.
But there’s also a brighter side. I believe that I’ve become more generous toward the extremes of others as I’ve learned to laugh at my own excesses. When I react less, I believe my chances of finding a real balance become greater. As I’ve gotten older and grown tired of swinging, I’ve found that I can sometimes step back from the heated fray of a political or religious debate. When I have the presence of mind to ask my debaters why they think as they do, I usually learn something valuable that brings me, and sometimes them, more toward the middle.
As for my McMansion, the two of us eventually tired of bouncing around its big, empty space. We adopted two stray cats and moved to a more reasonably-sized house. As I become more aware, it seems that the swing I’ve swung since birth slows and the arc it makes narrows.
The pattern of my own life gives me hope for our presently polarized society. As we tire of the extremes, I believe that the urge toward balance will swing us back toward each other and a more compassionate middle ground.
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