The World from the Morgan-Greer deck
What is the value of your life, Grace Mary? You don’t have any money and you live just on the edge of poverty. Without the help of your friends and family, you never would have survived. So how can you say that you are successful?
The fact is that material possessions and social status and salary have never been my chosen measuring sticks for determining success. I developed a different measuring stick at Rosary and Loyola. I mention the names of my schools because I believe that those two institutions had a profound influence on the measuring stick I developed for my life. My journey is not about acquiring stuff. It is about self-actualization and trying to find Truth and understanding it and trying to serve the Good as best I can and trying to enjoy myself in a deep and meaningful way.
I have gotten lost many times. The times when I have been most deeply lost have been when I have misplaced my measuring stick. Often I have accidentally picked up the measuring sticks of salary, material possessions and status. I used to move from house to house (and I moved a lot – sometimes twice a year) carrying truckloads of boxes of stuff. So many things I thought I would die without. Souvenirs of my life. Things that belonged to my mother. I clung to her things as if they still held her scent and I would somehow keep her if I just kept her stuff close. That, of course, was an illusion. Mom’s presence in my life was not and is not contingent upon holding on to that green bowl with a pear on it that she bought when she and my step-father went to Texas that one time. She is with me and I am with her. She is alive inside me and her voice comes out of my mouth all the time. With my voice she passes on her wisdom to my younger brothers and sisters and to my children. This is good because we all still need her wisdom.
I carried boxes of souvenirs from my childhood. Records I rarely listened to, books I enjoyed, but probably wouldn’t read again, knickknacks whose meaning I barely remembered. Jewelry, make-up and elegant dresses which no longer fit me. It was not just my body they didn’t fit anymore. They didn’t fit me anymore. They belonged to the teenaged Grace and the college girl Grace Mary. They were not the dresses of Mom. Nor were they dresses of Grace Mary Kathryn. But I couldn’t let them go. So I dragged them from place to place. Until Oshun reminded me to not make promises and forget them. She stripped me of most of my stuff and in doing so she showed me that I still had my mother, my family and my younger selves even without the tangible objects to which I had tried to anchor them. I have collected another houseful of stuff, but I hold it more loosely now. If all of it was taken from me tomorrow, I would not lose anything that matters.
I spent years ashamed of my failures. Ashamed of my poverty especially since so many of my peers made more money, had more stability and had more of the souvenirs of status than I had. I have yet to go to one of my class reunions even though I loved the women with whom I went to high school. I have been afraid of the looks in their eyes when they see my old clothes and my beater car. There are two problems with that. First, my high school sisters would see the true me immediately because they always did see her even if they didn’t understand her very well. I am, in fact, insulting my Rosary sisters, by believing them to be so shallow. The second problem with those fears is that I am only a failure when I measured my life by those foreign measuring sticks. In reality, I am as successful as any of them by my own standards.
Miserliness is always about fear.
The false measuring stick I pick up most frequently is the measuring stick of salary. I carried this one for years after I had children. I felt I had to focus on making X amount of money because I had kids to support. So I focused on finding jobs that would pay me X amount of money, which gave paychecks every two weeks because kids need stability, which were reliable and practical. The big joke, the cosmic joke, is that because I was pursuing the wrong kind of success those jobs never fit me and I never kept them. So we never had the income or security that I was trying to provide. I was so lost. I say that with a rueful chuckle. I was. That time wasn’t completely wasted. I learned a lot and tasted an array of flavors of life. My children never starved and we usually had a roof over our heads. Thanks in large part to the generosity of my friends and family and the tax payers of the state of Illinois. However, I was lost and miserable and stressed and angry and my children felt those things and it hurt them. They all bare the scars of those lost years.
It took me a long time to put down that false measuring stick. A large reason it took so long to put it down was fear. I was afraid that if I followed my own desires, that if I lived as I believed I should, that if I used my own measuring stick, my children would starve. That I would fail and I would face the judgment of all the people disapprove of or don’t even see my measuring stick. Some of these people where real people. Many of them were just in my head. The judge, jury and executioner named ‘What other people think.’ All my life I have denounced paying them any heed, but they are hard to exorcise from one’s own mind. Finally, in the end, I realized I was too unhappy for words in my latest ‘sensible’ job. I was angry, stressed and hateful both at work and at home. It was making my family miserable and it was a terrible example for my children.
I woke up and realized how wrong I had been. I realized that my failures were all coming from using these wrong measuring sticks and I realized that there would NEVER be any happiness for me working in the white collar sweatshop. I quit my job with nothing else lined up. I quit my job with only a vague promise of writing work from a friend. I told my family and they were thrilled. They knew we would be a lot poorer than we already were. They knew we might get evicted and terrible hardships might come, but they wanted me to be happy and they wanted to be happy. So all together we took this great leap out of this airplane of faux security hoping our parachutes would open.
Happily they have. We are still crazy poor. I make a hodge podge of a living as a freelance writer and massage therapist. I have needed a lot of help from friends and family. We are back in a communal living arrangement. None of that matters. We are all happy. We are all
When a person finds balance, she really does have a chance to achieve the World.
focusing on becoming our finest selves. My work feeds my soul and my happiness makes my family happy. Plus, I am a better mother. I am no longer angry all the time. I have the energy to help with lemonade stands and home work. I can spend an hour discussing which character in The Lord of The Ring each of us would be. I can watch Total Drama Action and care about whether Cody will win. (He didn’t and I was seriously bummed.)
So to answer the question from the top, a question which no one but the ghosts in my head has ever asked me, ‘What value is my life?’ It is of tremendous value. I live according to my principals the best I can. I search for Truth and try to understand it. I try to find Joy in life and drink deep from its cup. I am working on becoming the truest Self I can be and I try to serve the Good and teach my children to do the same. If, when I die, it can be said that I gave the world a little more Wisdom and I made the world a little Better, then I will count my Self successful.