QUESTIONS OF LEGACIES HAUNT
I won’t go into detail here, but on June 17th, after we were exhausted from the first Open House (we weren’t there, but we had to get the house into tiptop form), we heard of the sad death of a young woman we had hoped would turn her life around. And the fact that she didn’t or couldn’t has haunted me for the time since.
I ask myself whether I could have done anything, and the real answer is no. Which doesn’t keep me from being sad.
And it is a useless question in a particular case, because it is so final to not be here any more.
Questions of privilege
I will never find out the details, nor does it matter that I do, not even to me. But it made me think about the privilege of being me, even as a woman who has been ill for 28+ years with a still-unknown-etiology disease. The resources I have are not useful to me – but are available to help with symptoms.
But I grew up in a two-parent family, with an education available to me, even to the PhD level. My childhood was no more mildly traumatic than any other – no child gets whatever she really wants or needs, and it wouldn’t be good for her little developing character if she did.
I was surrounded by love, and had extracurriculars such as Girl Guides and piano lessons. I have never been hungry because of the unavailability of food. I have always had medical and dental care. My problems in life are minor and common (other than the omnipresent CFS, and that didn’t happen until I was 40ish).
I have an addictive personality, so I’ve always avoided most alcohol, and all recreational drugs (Note: may be taking medical marijuana in the future for pain; makes me chuckle). Mostly, I don’t like the stupid feeling that comes with stimulants and such, and it’s that feeling that I’m avoiding. I did my small share of experimenting once or twice back in college, found that I hated the sensation in my gut and head, and didn’t repeat. No particular virtue there.
What if you have problems – and NO resources?
What if you have resources you can’t get to? Or they are expensive somehow? Or you perceive them as losing face so severely you reserve them for a ‘last resort’ – and never feel it is last resort time? We all try to protect our futures, and people may not get help because they know how bad it might look later on a resume.
I knew I was privileged – and thought I had earned it. I worked very hard in grad school, never took stupid chances (okay, once or twice). I thought you earned privilege by behaving correctly after you got it. Not messing up. But even as I was not messing up, I was surrounded by a safety net of people and institutions I didn’t want to disappoint – how much of ‘doing the right thing’ is simply that small deviations from the norm are immediately corrected?
My sisters and I always agreed we had the best parents around (by comparison with some of our friends’ parents). No, they weren’t perfect – no parents are – but we won the lottery there, and didn’t realize it.
I did my part, but everything went my way. There was always a path.
I have never been poor or homeless or infected with AIDS or Ebola or TB. I never had an abusive boyfriend. I’ve always had ‘people’ – lots of people. The few times I’ve sought counseling for something, I usually found someone reasonably competent, on my schedule, quickly enough. And it more or less worked, until I’d solved whatever it was, and returned to functionality.
I have, since birth, been solidly middle class.
Oh, and look ‘white’ enough (I am proud of my Mexican heritage – which I didn’t choose or earn, but it doesn’t ‘show’) so no one pays any attention.
Like a nice liberal Catholic, I want everyone to have the basics I take for granted. And that’s nowhere near what happens.
The ‘liberal’ part knows that, if there were no corruption and greed (ha!), there would be a lot more money for needed services.
Well, this administration has brought so many inequalities to light, it is hard to know where to start. Along with compelling pictures of rampant privilege, nepotism, greed, and the Gospel of Prosperity.
But I’ve spent the past couple of weeks wondering what I would have done in the same situation, and whether there is anything (other than voting the right people into office) I can do now. Other than comforting and supporting the living, where possible.
It isn’t enough for me to confront my prejudices and correct them when they’re wrong. And I don’t know what I can do, what with being sick and mostly house-bound. I’ve always known this – and never done anything about it except in trying to behave right in my personal life. Within reason.
The legacy part?
I’ve had the privilege of thinking about my writing, and the books I want to leave behind me. I have the legacy of my family and my children. I hope to be remembered for a while by friends.
And I have promised myself never to forget her. She had both potential and problems, and overcame many things, with much more limited resources than I. Just not all.
Pray for her, and her family and friends. And for the rest of us.
Hard to blog when real life happens.
And it isn’t a request for sympathy for me. Just that you think.
Wow, that’s such a sad end to her life. But as for you — You certainly seem to have a great handle on yours! I wish you all the best and know you are leaving more of a (sweet) legacy than you realize. 🙂
I missed having the chance to possibly make a difference in her life.
I’m good at pretending, and I’m old enough to be careful. My legacy is my fiction. I need to get resettled in the new place to get back to my writing – my energy now is consumed by the trivia of the move.
I know what I want; if this is what the good Lord wants for me, it will happen. Eventually, I’ll get it right.
Check out reviews of Pride’s Children on Amazon if you’re curious; I’m deadly serious.
If you have the time and patience to be politically active, I know your local democratic office would welcome a volunteer who could call people or do data entry. I coordinate one branch of the data entry for a local democratic candidate; it’s all done from home, on my laptop.
Sorry. No. I have pretty severe ME/CFS, and very limited mobility (with no energy). My advocacy days are long gone. We’re moving to somewhere because I can’t handle this house.
I pass things on on Facebook (after checking their claims) a bit; that’s about it – and I spend as little time there as possible.
I always tell people to vote, and we always do. I can occasionally sign an online petition – but then you get inundated, and they want much more than I can give, and it gets wearying shutting the torrent off.
We contribute to charities and a few political groups, but only money.
You have no idea how low my energy is; it’s laughable.
We each find our level of what we can and cannot do. This is a lovely testament to yours. 🙂
Sometimes pushing just pushes people farther away, so it isn’t helpful. We all like to think we’re adults, in control of our own lives. It’s a pleasant fiction. I know how little in control of mine I am.
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Telling questions, those. I agree with you that most people are trying to do their best. Sometimes their best isn’t very good. Sometimes it is quite poor. Sometimes it is amazing. But so much of what each one of us has in this life is gift. I didn’t chose my physical body and the abilities it gives me. I didn’t chose my parents, my culture, my place of birth, my early and formative experiences, even my personality. Yes, I’ve made choices. But there is far more that I simply received, that I was given. Gratitude and compassion seem appropriate responses to me.
Gratitude, prayer, and a rigorous examination of future choices. Just in case we can learn something and do better next time. There is always a next time. Compassion always.
I loooove this post.
It is crucial to character to recognize privilege. Just as crucial as having a childhood that builds character, as you wrote.
I didn’t know struggle financially until I was 28 and seriously, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, those who haven’t do not know, and it changed me I’m SURE for the better. Quite a wallop to assumptions, that. Certain experiences change us, and for me, that was a big eye-opener to what so many people feel like all the time, their entire lives.
What I did have during that time — PEOPLE! Everything is people.
I truly believe most people are trying to do the best they can. I’m sure you do what you think is right, even with, or especially with this young woman you lost. It’s such a loss and a waste of what the living see as potential.
I have lost a few loved ones to addiction. It’s honestly one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s more complicated than greed, but toxic on a much smaller scale, a closed group, per se.
Those of us who have addictive personalities, but who might be saved by our sensitivities to anything and everything we ingest, hm?
Anyway, thinking about these things is good, and writing about them so others will think of them is good. You honor her with this post. ❤
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Thanks, Joey. That was part of what I was trying to do.
She had people; some of them were not helpful. I’m trying also to respect her privacy, and her family’s privacy, not adjudicate blame anywhere.
I wish I had known her better. I wish it had been possible to help more than the tiny bit of support I provided. I wish the outcome had been very different.
I truly believe she is safe now, at home – if you are a believer, this is when faith should kick in.
But that still leaves the rest of us, and how we live, and I want it to have value because she was here.
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Solidly middle class here too, also thanks to parents and yes, that spells privilege. We are priviledged to have the time and personal safety to think about right and wrong, and to live by our choices. I guess the important part is the ‘live by’. Kindness and tolerance are the glue that holds any society together. That’s not a bad legacy to leave behind. -hugs-