I have this virusy thing these days. I caught a nasty, sneezy, runny kind of cold the day after I got back from the Capitol City, but it seemed to subside fairly quickly—I guess it ran its course in 3 or 4 days. I took zinc spray once or twice towards the beginning of it somewhere, but then after that forgot about it. My immune system seems to be stronger, and I am not sick for so long even though I get sick just as often. Then after maybe a day of enjoying wellness, I got this other thing that was less snotty and more achy and the first night it seemed I developed a fever. I’m on the mend now, but it doesn’t make for the most energetic days, even if I didn’t also feel totally exhausted trying to work through stuff.
I was thinking today some more about worth, and it seemed to me that there is this idea of potential involved. I was, for a while, really noticing how magical life is and how precious—just what a miracle all of it is. And that infers a degree of worth on every living creature.
But there is also this thing of potential. I may not be anything great now. I may not have accomplished that much. I may not be such a good or kind person. But I have this sense of myself of having a spark inside, as though there is always something I could be. There is some contribution I might make to the world—even if it is only a small one, orsome person I might help, some connection to others or to life I might make. Our worth is about that potential.
The past is over and done with, whether we did good things or bad things in it, but the future lies ahead of us, and it is that future and what could be in that is worth something. I think now it is not what the future can give us that might be so worthwhile, as what we might be able to give the future. My life, realistically speaking or maybe hopefully speaking, is about half over. Half of it lies ahead of me, and while I probably won’t discover a new element or broker peace between warring nations, there is perhaps something small but meaningful I might do in all that time ahead of me.
Our worth lies in that potential, in that hope that regardless of what we are now, we can become someone or do something better in the future.
I was also thinking about being “good.” As an adult, I have this idea that being good is basically about skills: if you can be considerate and think about others’ needs and point of you, if you can develop self-control, and regulate your emotions so that they don’t get out of hand, you can be good. I’m assuming here that you have a conscience, that you give a shit about other people and you know something of right and wrong. Really, most people do.
In other words, if you aren’t a good person now or if you weren’t one in the past, you can become one. Being good isn’t a fixed state. It isn’t a personality. It’s a set of skills that allows you to be in the world amongst other people. You have a whole life ahead of you. You can do it.
I was thinking about this because, as I come to grips with the trauma of my past, I know I’m also putting my personality together and I have no real idea what that personality will be like. Periodically, I pause to make guesses—it makes the whole thing less scary if I at least believe I have some clue about it—but that’s all they are: just guesses.
Will I be a good person? Will people like me? Will I even like myself?
I don’t know. But, like I said, if I am not a good person, I can become one. “Good” is not a fixed state.
As a child, though, I think good has a very different meaning. Good, for children, is synonymous with being wanted. When someone tells a child she is “good,” they are indicating approval. They mean, at this moment, “I want you. I want the way you are behaving right now.”
If I don’t feel like I good person now, or if I feel unworthy, I am not just remembering doing things that felt wrong in every way or being punished in inhumane ways—although those things happened too, and they also bring back memories of feeling “bad.” I am also remembering feeling unwanted.
When I was a child, my parents and maybe even my grandparents never gave me that feeling of being consistently wanted. I might have been wanted when I was able to maintain the appropriate mask. But no one took joy in my developing abilities or in my emerging personality. No one looked at me with wonder at the unfurling of life that was happening within me—the way it does in a child, and the way I see it unfurling in C. I was appreciated when I complied, but no one in my own household appreciated me for me. No one wanted me. Someone might have been “good” to my parents, but it was not me.
I think this feeling sometimes surfaces in vague ways throughout my day—it is, after all, a very young sense and not likely to be clearly articulated—this craving to be really wanted and to be welcomed into the world. For sure, someone wanted me. The girls wanted me. Why couldn’t my parents?
And I think that is one more piece of the grief. They could never want me. They could perhaps want my compliance or my admiration, but not me.