Reaching for greatness

by tamarjacobson

Quotes of the day:

I worshipped dead men for their strength, forgetting I was strong. Vita Sackville-West

The places, events and people in this book are all real … The names are real also. In writing this book I could not endure the thought of inventing anything, and therefore I could not alter the actual names, which I felt were an inseparable part of actual persons. Some may possibly not be pleased to find themselves described under their own names. To them I have nothing to say. Natalia Ginzburg from Author's Preface in Family Sayings.

One thing I learned growing up was that great people are great. They are admired, worthy, and important. If I wanted any attention, I thought, I had better strive towards greatness. "Oh my God … so and so … or … such and such … is/was … The most marvelous …" was an expression I heard daily – about everything: books, movies, shows, gardens, plants, animals, clothes, cars, artworks, music, plays, and, of course … people. I must admit it wasn't a conscious decision, but somewhere along the way growing up, in order to be noticed, I felt the need to be "the most marvelous," in some way. 

So, first I tried to be the most marvelous child. But, that didn't work out very well. Because, as a child I had needs and feelings like any typical child. And if I expressed those … oh dear! all hell broke loose. And so, I quickly learned (because if there is something I am most marvelous at – it is fast learning …) that having feelings or needs were very dangerous indeed. In fact, I learned to doubt the validity of anything that happened to me. Recently, in therapy, I realized that it's not that I have been told I am mistaken because I write what I write about my life experiences – in point of fact, I have been called a liar since I was a very young child when I expressed my feelings. For, when I was angry, lonely or afraid I was told that I was wrong to feel those things, because, in fact, my life was marvelous, and I was just making all those emotions up. And so I learned not to trust any feelings I had. Worse still, somehow when I was very young, I learned that I "invented" those feelings on purpose in order to destroy the adults who cared for me! What awesome powers were ascribed to such a small child!

Well, even after I failed so abysmally at being the most marvelous child, and still always hoping that someone might notice me, I continued to strive to be the most marvelous everything else: daughter, dancer, singer, tennis player, yoga instructor, sister, friend, student, mother, wife, scholar, gardener, teacher, lover, and, of course … person. And, oh dear … I failed at all those too!

For, honestly? What are the criteria for being the most marvelous?

There's the rub

There is no one truth in being the most marvelous anything. For it is in the eye of the beholder. And I think that perhaps – just maybe – the person, or people, who are so caught up with the marvelosity of things, probably, unconsciously, really struggle with their own fear of being ordinary. That, somehow, in being ordinary therein lies their worthiness, because perhaps their own parents had not found them very worthy when they were children?

And so, I have decided to stop striving for greatness, or in being the most marvelous anything. Instead, I want to become content at being an ordinary, complex, human being with all kinds of emotions. 

I marvel at an early morning walk on a beautiful beach, or swimming in a glorious, calm ocean. I wonder at friends who love and support each other, and am amazed with gratitude when my son remembers me on Mother's day. I feel joy in discovering a newly opened flower in my garden, or when little Ada calls me downstairs to the basement when she has completed her motions in her litter box!

I especially love it when I look across the room when I am teaching or presenting, and see bright eyes shining toward me from one or two people who really appreciate and learn something from what I am saying … something that might be helpful to their personal or professional growth … something that might change the life of one of the children in their care in the future. 

For, in the end, I want all young children to feel worthy because they are who they are: complex human creatures with all kinds of feelings, and ever so needy of our loving and undivided attention. And when they cry in rage or fear I want people to sit close by with tenderness and compassion, and allow them to feel safe and accepted for all those, oh so very uncomfortable and scary emotions. 

Seven years ago at Tamarika: Blog longing