When I was a child, I was conditioned, like most Americans, to believe in the fairy tale ending. Walt Disney, Universal, and Paramount, among others, brainwashed me into thinking that a handsome prince would swoop into my life and fix everything. Or, no matter what obstacle stood before me, a swell of uplifting music would cue, a quick montage of my life would pass by, and suddenly, everything would work itself out. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a fairy tale ending where love conquers all. I guess that’s why it’s called “real” life.
I learned how “real” life could get at an early age, having grown up in an alcoholic household. Regrettably, because I was also conditioned to keep expecting a Hollywood ending, it was especially crushing when I didn’t get it and my heart was squashed again and again.
There have been a few key times I have wished that my life just stopped and the camera faded to black. Such as when after a Christmas week spent in a bar, during which my family had begun to believe my father might finally be dead somewhere, having drunk himself to death after years of trying, he came home alive to a family intervention. For the first time, my siblings and I, along with my mom, honestly communicated all the decades of built up hurt and love we had for him. He promised to get sober. I wish the camera just stopped rolling. Unfortunately, life went on and my father still continues his slow suicide while my mom and family watch helplessly. The movies are wrong – love does not conquer all.
I wish life faded to black after the first, second, or even third time my brother got off drugs. But instead, he is in prison for a second time and has lost custody of his three terrific kids, which means we, as their aunts, uncles, and grandparents, lost them, too. Love does not conquer all.
I wonder what keeps my mother going? She still lives her life and is able to hold on to her compassion and strength despite having a husband who is more of an absence than a presence for the past 40 years and a son who seems to find new ways to hurt her through his thoughtless and weak actions. Does she still believe in this Hollywood notion that love conquers all?
I could end with the uplifting notion that perhaps my love for my mom will conquer over all the heartache she has to endure, but that would be a lie. I still have a hole in my heart, which is probably just a fraction of the size of the hole in her’s.
I believe that love does not conquer all. It just allows us to get up each day and hope that it eventually will.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.