The later part of an interview two weeks back at our office with a customer service candidate went something like this.
I: “Please tell me, what do you want to achieve with your career?”
Candidate: “I want to work for the sake of my daughter.”
I: “Wonderful! But, you surely have a career plan?”
Candidate: “My career plan is to give the best education possible for my daughter.”
I: “This is your career and life, so don’t you want to personally reach somewhere in your career and life?”
Candidate: “Sir, I told you, my personal wish is to live for my daughter. I want to be able to provide the best in life for her.”
Very naively, I tried to reason with the thirty-two year old lady that if she planned her career imaginatively, she could go places. And, that route would make it easier for her to achieve her dreams for her daughter. She only persisted with her world view centred around her daughter. That part of our conversation led nowhere.
The young lady’s attitude and her words did not take me by surprise. Most mothers in my part of the world think and act similarly. My mother was a well known icon of sacrifice for the sake of her ten children. My siblings and I adored her for the sacrifices she personally bore for our sake.
It was therefore no wonder that I fell in love with the key passage from the delightful novel, The Thorn Birds by Collen McCullough.
“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain… Or so says the legend.”
For a very, very long time, I romanced the idea of creating the most beautiful outcomes for others, giving up a lot of wonderful things in life personally. Did my mother’s life cast its shadow upon mine, I wonder!
Perhaps, my desire early in life to be an altruist was an escape route from accepting responsibility for moulding my own life. I didn’t even know that I could create my life. Destiny, luck and karma were what I thought would shape my life.
Nowadays, as I take hold of my life, I realize it is a folly to think that I can create wonderful outcomes for people I care for, by sacrificing or giving up. The signal I provide them then is, life is not worth or beautiful enough to savour for its own sake.
All I have power over is to create the greatest possibilities in my life and bloom. I can create happiness in others only by being happy myself. By denying myself, I degenerate into deadwood, devoid of the thirst and zest for life. That would be the greatest disservice I would do to myself and to those that I care for.
The reason for almost every life of sacrifice is laid at the alter of a higher cause, a greater love. Usually, the greater the sacrifice, the more the pressure on the recepients to live up to expectations and deliver.
When I look around and see children living from their sacrificing parents’ maps and dreams I wonder to myself, is this what is love? And I ask, do I love less, for not burning with the same vigorous desires for my own?
I learned a few lessons after my daughter decided to cut short her MS studies in a US university within two weeks of reaching there. One is that I cannot decide or live her life for her. (I remember vividly, my fury over what then seemed to be her impulsive, foolish decision). What the society or family thinks is irrelevant. And, it is okay to let children go through a process of chaos and questioning. My daughter is now a sought after writer and she is happy that it is giving her financial security and a vent for expressing herself creatively. And, just as my daughter found her calling and her brilliance, I delve into mine without having to vacate my space and happiness.
I am beginning to understand love is not to confine, but to let go in faith. It is to love the world as I love myself. Yes, love has to start with and for myself.
I do not feel adequate enough to be critical of those who turn martyrs for various causes. Many a martyrdom has borne abundant fruits. Unfortunately, many have spawned bitter sponge-like beings – squeezed off juice – in the givers and beneficiaries alike.
Another short passage from The Thorn Birds sums up how people convince themselves about the haunting melodies wafting from their tortured souls for the sake of their world:
“Everyone is singing his own little song, convinced it’s the most wonderful song the world has ever heard… We create our own thorns, and never stop to count the cost. All we can do is suffer the pain, and tell ourselves it was well worth it.”
It is a coincidence this post is getting published on Father’s Day. I tell myself, it is well worth singing my heart out today in happiness rather than in pain.