What Defines Me?

Jan - Gaylord, Michigan
Entered on April 21, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

Many people whose ideas are much more profound than mine have submitted essays to the “This I Believe” series. Over the years, however, the following has inspired and amazed me—Those people who refuse to allow who they are be defined by tragic events that have occurred in their lives.

I have encountered people who wear the victim costume; sullen posture, turned down mouth, and, when talking, sharing the events of their lives that have caused them great sorrow and/or bitterness. At times, they attract others who have experienced similar or worse events. At those times, both parties feed off each other. Their attitudes push even the most empathetic away. I find it difficult to be around the darkness of their lives.

In John Irving’s book, “The hotel New Hampshire” when speaking of our humanity he cites “The under toad is around every corner”. With that in mind, I have come to believe we will all experience train wrecks in our lives. It is what we do with the remains that determine who we really are as well as who we can influence in positive ways.

When I observe the strength of the newly widowed mother of four young children face the daily struggles of her life with humor and resolve, giving example to her kids that life is worth living to its fullest, it is apparent the tragedy is not going to define her life and, hopefully, not her children’s lives with negativity. Seeing the couple who lost their only daughter in an automobile accident keep her memory alive through a fund raiser and memorial they sponsor every year, benefiting a non-profit hospice group, inspires me. They don’t hide the fact that they lost their daughter they just focus on the love they shared and the love they are still able to share with their sons. I believe thesqe people are able to embrace their experience, allow it to consume them and then tuck it in a special place in which they can grieve on their own terms and then go on with the good in their lives.

My life has been filled with much joy. The times of sorrow, anger and grief are in all of us, however. The examples both bad and good over the years that have helped shape how I want to live my life have pointed me in a direction that helps me be at peace. I take the memory of my niece out when I am still and picture her red boots and her amazing thick brown hair and remember the laughter in her eyes and yet I mourn the things she will never see or accomplish. I hold her parents in my heart and lift them up, praying they can continue to experience joy in their lives. Then, after I embrace her death and rejoice in her spirit, I tuck her away once again – gone but not forgotten.

Because of our humanness, things, good and bad, will happen to all of us. I hope my choices will help me meet similar challenges and be even half as good an example to others as those who have inspired me. Coping skills are not inherited. I believe they are a result of examples and learning through observing others.