despairoftranslators: The older I get, the more I acknowledge…

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014


The older I get, the more I acknowledge the role chance plays — and has always played — in the events of my life. Even leaving aside the accidents of birth and privilege (which I’m sure John has in mind here, since the video is in preparation for his book-club discussion of Behind the Beautiful Forevers), my life has been transformed many times by accidents: illness, job loss, plummeting economies, pregnancy loss, death. [Having children vastly expands the number of possible accidents that can completely change your life. :-)] It’s humbling to accept the many, many ways in which what happens to us is outside our control.

And I’ve struggled fiercely with this question of “deserving.” I think it’s a VERY deeply held cultural belief for Americans that hard work pays off — financially, socially, professionally. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Earn your way to a better life! As a younger person, I wanted to believe that if I worked hard, made good choices, was smart enough and “good” enough, I’d achieve my dreams. That’s a helpful thing for a young person to believe. But it often comes bundled with this reverse notion: that if you don’t achieve a major goal, or if your life is transformed or derailed in painful ways, that you’ve done something wrong. Made some mistake along the way. Didn’t believe hard enough; didn’t work hard enough. Weren’t “good” enough. Didn’t deserve it. I mean, if you ASKED me if I thought that, I’d say no, that’s ridiculous. But in my heart of hearts, that voice remained.

I think our insistence on “deserving” is also a shield — a way of protecting ourselves from the fearful reality of how little control we have. When I was working on a production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s amazing play Good People, I read Michael Patrick MacDonald’s memoir All Souls: A Family Story from Southie. He says: 

My sister’s boyfriend was murdered in the hallway of our housing project. The neighborhood attitude when something like that would happen — the neighborhood attitude would be: “Good riddance, because he was no good anyway.” That kind of attitude about a lot of the deaths in the neighborhood was a way for people who hadn’t been through those things to feel safe. Like, “That kind of thing isn’t going to happen to me. That only happens to bad people.”

I’m trying hard to let down my shield. To let go of “deserving.” To accept the painful accidents, chance events, and unforseen failures in my own life. To see them not as an excuse to stop working hard, fighting to change the world, or struggling to make my dreams a reality, but instead as a reminder that I have no excuse to be smug. That I have a human responsibility to open my heart to fear, to be kind, to fight for others as well as myself. To see myself as a part of a larger world of human beings. And to see all of those human beings, as JG says, ”no matter [their] circumstances, are valuable and rare and deserving of love.”

Reposted from