In my late teens as I struggled with growing up I began asking myself, “What is real?” What is real, the question that has colored everything I believe about every single thing in this life — God, raising children, answering a simple question asked of me, sex, eating, kindness, cruelty, smiling, thinking…what is real when I am laughing, crying, feeling, reacting?
I’ve asked myself why the question defines me and guides my every decision. You see, I do not remember a time when my mother did not have multiple sclerosis. When I was young, she would hold on to my shoulder to shuffle from one room to the next until she succumbed to a wheelchair. Eventually the MS stilled all her musculature and she was unable to hold up her head or swallow. She died at 54.
And yet, I never remember feeling sorry for her. She was my mother, the boss. She made the rules. As a teenager I fought her hard throwing all my rebellion at her. I didn’t see any wheelchair when it came to a good fight and getting what I wanted. She was firm and always kind. And I can’t remember a time when she did not seem to delight in my existence.
Coming out of my teenage rebellion I found myself wondering why this good, good person, my mother, this woman I respected and admired so much, would have to endure so much physical suffering. (For the record, I admired her because she was a great mother not because she managed a wheelchair.) Living just didn’t seem to make sense. At seventeen I knew I had a long life in front of me and I wanted answers. Real answers. I asked what is real in this world?
I am fifty-one now. The asking has acted as a kind of clearinghouse for what I believe about life. If an idea could not hold up under my scrutiny — a scrutiny that twisted and turned it to see the idea from every side and in every light, — then the idea wasn’t real. It was quickly discarded no matter how much I thought I wanted something. I have discovered over the decades that the process works in very grandiose ways sometimes; other times very soft, subtle and sometimes humorous ways.
For example, in my twenties I interrogated myself about how I was creating an image I thought would be desirable to a potential husband and father of my children. I was appalled. I immediately declared to my psyche that I would have to be loved as I am. And if living as myself left me single and childless, I would have the most fulfilling, rich life imaginable because I wanted such a life. I no longer decided what fulfillment would look like. I would LIVE and experience it.
In a lighter moment, I remember being in a conversation with someone and saying to myself, “Theresa, you’re telling a white lie.” I followed that thought with, “Yes, I’m telling a white lie and I accept the consequences. Lie all you want just don’t pretend to yourself that you’re not.” What a good laugh. Later I started thinking about why humans lie which shed light on the human condition. What fun thinking could be!
After decades of asking what is real, I finally felt the answer. And it is this. Curiosity leads to intense curiosity. Intense curiosity leads to understanding. Intense understanding leads to compassion. Intense compassion leads to love. Not a sentimental, needing kind of love in popular culture. But a love that vibrates the atoms in everything that exits including us.
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