Saturday, April 7, 2012

Perspective and Sacrifice

This week has been terribly busy.  I traveled 849 miles to visit family in western New York.  On the road, I did a mental back-track, and realized I had not been back to New York in eight years. A lot changes in that much time--I was married and now divorced, graduated with two degrees, I accumulated two kidlets, and I have a different perspective on the world around me.

Every family has strange dynamics, or at least a crazy uncle hiding somewhere.  My family is incredibly fascinating, but we all have our quirks.  It's always interesting to sit back and observe at family events.  I can see genetic and learned likenesses, as well as some very drastic differences among close siblings.

I thought about perspective, and how a lot of our opinions about life come from our background knowledge on the subject.  This must be the obvious reason my father and I have a drastic difference in views on politics--he was born in a different era, and was one of six children that lived in poverty.  He worked to rise above his circumstance and create an extremely successful life.  I work hard to achieve my goals, and came from humble upbringing, but I am also one of two children that lived for the most part in the upper-middle class.  He is an engineer with an analytical mindset; I am a teacher with a very holistic and social perspective.  We see the world through two different lenses.  Thankfully we are well-adjusted enough to appreciate what the other has to say, so our discussions are usually productive and supportive.

I will say that through the interactions that I observed, there is a lot of love in a family that has struggled.  There is a lot of pain from a lot of different angles (again, that happens in most families).  Bad things happen in life, and people cope in different ways.  Some people make a productive comeback, and others curl up with their excuses.  For the most part, we don't worry about these interactions until we all come together.  It is at that point that I sat back, looked around, and saw who was thriving, and who was merely existing.

I am not up on a pedestal, and I don't claim to be healed from pain.  But I do realize that I hurt from many problems I caused myself, and know that I have to do something to fix my problems (or try better not to create pain).  I guess it's with that perspective that I can look at other people in the most objective fashion for being related to them.  I know what it's like to hurt, and what it's like to heal.  I have wept uncontrollably, and I have also had to suck it up and move on at times.

I will say that for these same people that all hurt from different wounds--there is a tremendous amount of sacrifice that happens.  It is almost as if everyone goes off to tend to their own pains, but come together to support (well, for the most part).  I will give you a fairly vivid example:

My grandfather is a hard man.  He lives with a rigid set of ideals, and honestly expects the world to conform to his opinions.  He has been married to my grandmother for 50 years, and between them they have had enough pain to create a Lifetime miniseries.  He detests Chinese food, because he believes domestic animals are the main meat source for all Chinese restaurants.  My grandmother has not been doing well, and we tried to perk her up by suggesting a gigantic family outing at the local restaurant.  My grandfather created a fuss, and at first refused to pay money to eat someone's pet.  We really believed he would put an end to this idea, and his firm grasp of control would eventually bend our food decision.

This seems like a trivial moment to mention sacrifice, but he did give in and accept we would be eating at a restaurant he couldn't stand.  Some people can sacrifice great things in their life, or even life itself.  For him, it was the risk of eating Fido.  That meant a lot, in a very twisted sort of way...

It did make me think about sacrifice, in all forms.  I know that Easter is tomorrow, and sacrificing food choice is not symbolic of some crucifixion, but I do think making sacrifices of some sort is therapeutic.  I think taking a moment (hopefully often) to step outside oneself and make a decision based on the welfare of another--that is where love happens.  And that is where real growth happens.

Which brings me to marriage... Yes, I went from eating dogs, to Jesus, to marriage... Go with me here...

Marriage is a blend of perspective and sacrifice.  We both come into the picture looking through two very different lenses.  We bring unique life experiences, ideas, tastes and opinions.  We hope that we have common hopes, goals, dreams, or at least respect the differences between us.  Over time, perspective changes, and we realize what is important and what is trivial.  That is when sacrifice becomes most important in a relationship--when we recognize that something is trivial, but we are willing to do it because it means the world to our partner.  Many marriages fail because relationships become very egocentric--we wonder what the other person can do to make us happy, content, successful, etc.  We don't stop to think what we could do to support, lift up, and help the other person achieve their dreams and goals.

I talked to someone yesterday about relationships, and he put it into great terminology.  He said he didn't want to simply share a house with someone.  He wanted to invest in his partner, and wanted the same in return.  Think about it: if you are looking at investing in a project or business, you will learn all about the idea. You will devote time and make sacrifices to make sure it succeeds (so you will reap the benefits). Relationships and marriage are both definitely investments, and ultimately sacrificing the idea of "me" for "we."

I do believe that people can come from drastically different worlds, but can appreciate their differences and learn to live together.  Not just in a marital sense, but in work, friendships, etc.  But it does take sacrifice, and it does take respecting differences.  Recognizing that you care for another person, and putting their welfare above your own for even a moment--it can do amazing things.

I have many great memories in my life, and many painful ones as well.  The wounds are deep, and will take plenty of time to heal.  I have all of the time in the world, and know this journey will not be complete overnight.  Luckily, through all of the grief I have endured, I have been given the ability to see life from different perspectives, and also to appreciate sacrifice.  I know I have made sacrifices, but I see clearly now that I have wonderful family and friends that have sacrificed greatly so I could succeed.  My success now has come from a joint effort over all of these years.  These words of love and support heal me more than anything I can do on my own.  And so, I move forward from here, traveling 849 miles to return home.  Coming home from this journey, I will hold dear to me the memories of my family, and how they have changed over all of these years.  

A lot has changed in eight years... There are new buildings in this old town.  There are family favorites that are closed down and up for sale.  In the past eight years, I have gained a life and lost one as well.  The world keeps changing, whether you actively participate or not.  I would love to take a moment to come up with an eloquent quote, but I am tired, and fairly content with what I have resolved  in my heart.  So we will leave it at that for now...

Tomorrow is another day.

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