Gifts

It’s all coming so easily: singing and dancing together in the kitchen, clearing the dinner dishes, playing Scrabble with dessert, and singing some more. Wondrous moments occur week after week, buoying me until I feel like I’ll never stop floating. I feel like a big sap just writing about them. How did these moments, these feelings, get here? Can I trust that they are real? Why the sudden bestowment of good fortune?

I pose these unanswerable questions not just because they surround one of life’s more pleasant mysteries, but due to a long-standing disbelief that I deserve good things. I have always managed to obstruct my own path in the pursuit of happiness. As the right hand reaches toward a prize, the left one swats it away. Friendships, love, and other achievements are suspect when attained too easily. I want to stash them all in a closet where they will gather dust until the day I decide I’ve finally been good enough, or worked hard enough, to have them. I don’t know what “enough” means, and that’s the problem. Simply being myself will never suffice as long as I maintain such a vague standard.

As I grow into adulthood I’m able to more fully recognize my accomplishments, the love I get from my family, and the strong friendships I have kept. But the notion persists that I can’t fully claim all of it. I so admire the people I’ve surrounded myself with that I can’t help wondering how I measure up. When self-critcism is at its peak, I believe my friends can’t possibly enjoy my company as much as I like theirs; they mustn’t regard me as highly as I regard them. And this measuring stick applies to nearly everybody I interact with. For a few months I’ve been acquainted with a group of trivia buffs who meet for a weekly quiz. As I mentioned in a previous post, I didn’t know any of them before I joined the group; and I still know little about them. We have no contact with each other outside that dark, sticky bar. I had hoped to make some friends out of the arrangement, but after a few weeks—when it appeared that wasn’t going to happen—I grew self-conscious. I felt myself becoming awkwardly quiet after an initial burst of sociability. I thought they wouldn’t tolerate me much longer in this state of introversion, even though I was quite good at trivia.

Then, on a recent Monday night, I got an exuberant high-five from one of my teammates as I departed. It came from a woman who had talked to me as she might chat with a friend, but had had trouble remembering my name. I figured that she, like the others, was unimpressed with my personality. I’d always listened closely to conversations at the table but rarely spoke more than a few words. My behavior follows a similar pattern in most social situations. It’s nice to be reminded, with an occasional high-five or kind word, that my quiet contributions are appreciated and that I make for decent company.

People with whom I have real friendships tend to remind me of those things more frequently. Something is funny, though: While I believe you can tell a lot about someone by who their friends are, I don’t think that all of my friends’ amazing qualities reflect upon me. At weak moments, I start to wonder if their affections may falter or if they were never genuine to begin with. Do they continue keeping in touch with me only because I pursue contact with them? Do they really enjoy our conversations and shared activities as much as I do? I know how ridiculous these insecurities are. However, they verge on being dangerous when they start to resemble fears. Fear engenders depression. It can kidnap my mind, blindfold it, and take it for a drive to the bad side of town. Luckily I am getting better at controlling the wheel.

It’s a moot question, whether or not I deserve a good life. People who love me would argue that I do deserve it, because they want me to be happy. I’ll go ahead and let them be the judges. Joy should be embraced wherever it can be found. Here, at the joyful beginning of a relationship, it’s imperative that I remain in the present to accept whatever comes to me. The good things won’t always come so easily. If I don’t welcome them now, I will look back one day and realize that I haven’t truly lived.

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