When I was in my late teens my dad scolded me one day for what he said was my favorite expression, “It’s not worth the trouble.” I was distressed by his criticism. Was I really so lazy about life, so without fortitude, and so obvious about it?
I guarded my speech from there on out, but through the decades I noticed how warily I scrutinized life, its struggles versus its rewards. People’s glib, cheery reminders that the tough events in life were all “worth it” irritated me. Was there something wrong with me that the immensely hard work involved in being human continually shocked me and colored my universe with on-going bewilderment? Were others just naturally sanguine, philosophical or amnesiac?
One example of this was after an arduous natural childbirth with our first son, a birthing so painful and panic-ridden that I found myself inexplicably horrified afterward at a deep level of my being. My mother shook her head in disbelief when I tried to describe my trauma, saying, “I never remembered the labor pains once I had that beautiful baby in my arms!” I felt thoroughly chastised, somehow not up to the nobility standards of motherhood.( I did point out to her that she had received “twilight” drugs during the births of most of her ten children.) I wanted to protest that I was madly in love with my beautiful baby boy and I couldn’t get over the pain. One reality did not cancel out the other, and both settled consciously into my soul.
This past Monday, after weeks of wondering whether we dared risk it, we bought a used car for our younger son so he could get a real job. This loan was not an easy choice nor ostensibly the right one. He owes us a lot of money already, and our relationship has been marred by a lack of trust. To dig ourselves in deeper has felt too “enabling.”But like so many others, he has been really struggling without transportation. After leaving our home two years ago to go live near his biological family in the Youngstown area, he has worked stints with K-Mart and been dangerously exploited as a day-laborer. He has been stuck in a poverty cycle that we, his parents, are able to break.
My decision to help him crystallized while speaking with him on the phone one evening. Although asking for nothing, he was clearly destitute and losing hope. Compassion welled up from within me, that kind of clear-eyed compassion that calls for action. I asked him to imagine with me a way out of the morass of despair he was falling into. Would he commit himself to paying us back if we provided him a car? Tangled up in our ensuing dialogue were layers of hurt and shame from the past, but also the hope that we could start fresh.
Deep joy energized my whole being, and was confirmed by the matching shift in my husband’s stance. How delightful to move back finally into the energy of open-hearted risk-taking where I feel most alive as a mother and human being! That energy sustained me throughout roller-coaster experiences of being nearly duped by two devious Craigslist sellers, through endless researching and agonizing, through hours of standing in the dark holding a flashlight while Gerry tried to replace a door handle to no avail, through the crazy trip up the highway to our rendez-vous point trying to keep from losing sight of one another’s cars. But, for a change, never once did I ask myself, “Is this worth it?”
I’d been experiencing a growing epiphany. It had reached a head when I’d phoned my son to tell him we had bought a car that was “not pretty” but was reliable. Despite valiant attempts to convince himself that looks didn’t matter, he’d reacted badly. He is, after all, twenty-two years old, and had been stung by the two promising deals that had fallen through. His rudeness and lack of gratitude devastated me.
As I sat with my hurt at having my parental love and efforts go once again unappreciated, it suddenly occurred to me that all my hard work and sacrifice had already been balanced out by the universe. Nothing could negate the flood of joy, the “whoosh” of love, that had launched and sustained this project. The outcome really didn’t matter. If in the days to come I heard no new lilt in my son’s voice, no words of gratitude, and saw no look of joy on his face when we delivered his car to him; or the car proved to be a lemon, or there was no engendering of steady work, no satisfaction of monthly payments, no restoration of trust between us, so be it. What couldn’t be taken away from me, ever, was that fresh opening of my heart, the love bounding so palpably through my soul, the impetus toward loving action. This I could ponder, and treasure, and marvel at forever.
Upon delivery of the car, I am happy to say, our son was delighted and grateful and eager to “plunge the dents.” But this, I know, is only icing on the cake. Every moment of this adventure was shot full of love. Love is clearly its own reward. In my “cronehood” I hope I am ripe to discard any remnants of the mathematical equation with which I learned long ago to weigh reality. It is all worth the trouble.