We need to find within ourselves the space where we truly reside, where our essence is located, that which is immutable and unforsakeable.
Why do I start with this esoteric, philosophical statement?
I think that too often we let ourselves be dragged by our lives through the days and weeks, barely perceiving the truths that are so obvious.
We don’t dare think too much lest we awaken to the reality that we know so very little and what’s more, that we have little interest in testing our capacity to learn.
We don’t dare feel too much because it hurts. Just the possibility of being hurt scares us.
We don’t dare take the first step forward because we might fall flat on our faces and fail. It doesn’t matter that our most cherished dreams are within reach. It doesn’t matter that we know we’ll never respect ourselves if we don’t try. We’d much rather be safe than sorry.
We don’t dare step away from what hurts us, diminishes us, demolishes our spirit. We think that perhaps we’re not entitled to it. We should just bear it. Everything seems to conspire to make us believe that we are selfish for wanting to go beyond our limits, but in truth if we don’t strive for our goals, we are depriving ourselves and humanity of our unique inspiration.
I know too well what it means to live for others. I am no example of perfection, just someone who had a chance that few have.
I learned the most important lesson of my life, so far, from a woman who I consider my second mother.
She was the most selfless person I have ever met, caring and compassionate, wise and hardworking. Her only flaw was that she never thought herself important enough to put on her list of people to care for. Everyone was on that list. Husband, son, grandchildren… but not her.
From a very early age, she had to work hard. She was born in a rural village in northern Spain in 1940, in a humble family. Her older brother became ill in his teens and from then on the little respite she had being the younger child disappeared.
She had to work on the farm like an adult to help her family pay the cost of the medicines that kept her brother relatively well. At that time there was no public health service in Spain.
She made all her most important decisions bearing everyone’s well being in mind. She decided not to marry the love of her life because she was worried that they might not manage to earn enough money to help her family and his. This was also a time when old people had tiny pensions, so it was reasonable to ponder these circumstances.
She married her husband because he was a good man and offered her the possibility of living close to her family so she could help them work. She accepted all the inconveniences of a hard life on a farm with a smile. She sacrificed her interests for the greater good. Just to illustrate my affirmation, I’ll give you an example: Her husband needed to go on a diet, so she put herself on a diet (though she didn’t need it) to make him feel he was not alone. It was useless. He died relatively young because he did not do anything to help himself. After that, she changed. She became more detached, more withdrawn. Still, the smile never left her face. I have come to believe she was angry with life because she had thought that she’d get the chance to live ‘later’ and when ‘later’ came, she was alone. Her son and her family loved her and respected her, but she was indeed alone in the profundity of her heart. She hadn’t enjoyed any of the things other people had. Not the joy of marrying her first love. Not the joy of motherhood, because she had to obey the rules of the house, imposed by her in laws, whereby her only son’s name was chosen by the grandparents, as was the way he was brought up. Not the joy of respect and admiration for her qualities in and of themselves, but the burden of endless responsibilities.
In the end, she cracked. Not her head, for she had an exceptional clarity of thought. Her spirit and her body decided she’d had enough, or more precisely that she hadn’t. As generous as she’d always been to everyone around her, in every way, she hadn’t been generous to herself. She’d deprived herself of care, of time, of importance. She had lived for everyone but for herself. The seemingly bottomless well of patience and care and love had dried up because she hadn’t nurtured it.
I will never forget the last days of her life. About a week before she died, just after she’d had lunch, she let herself fall back against the cushions on her bed and let out a deep sigh. Her face reflected the pain she was in. I gave her a dose of painkillers. After swallowing them, she closed her eyes for a moment and I decided to let her rest. As I was reaching the door, she called me and said something that is burned into my mind.
‘Never do what I did. I took care of everyone but myself and now I am paying for it. Take care of others, but take care of yourself first.’
Her pale, bony face, with sunken eyes glazed over by pain , had a fierce look, the look of desperation, lost hope and regrets. It shook me to the core.
Five days later, I had to increase the dose of painkillers. She was delirious. Two days after that, she died at dawn, holding my hand.
That was what triggered me to rethink my life. I was going down the same road. I was living only for others.
My conclusion is simple. Put yourself on the list. On your list of people to care for. If you don’t, you may live -or not- to regret it.
You cannot renounce your self. Search for the way back to who you were before they taught you who they thought you should be. Plunge into the deep end of life.
Go on, try. You may even live to prove that you could be you and be profoundly loved.