I have philosophized about the meaning of life for a long time.
When I was younger I was sure it was about making sure everybody in the world heard the Good News so that Jesus would come back.
Then, as I got older, it became to do something great in God’s name. Maybe I’d write a life-changing book, or become a famous Christian speaker.
Still later, I just wanted to be happy for once.
Sometimes, even today, I just have to throw up my hands and say “42” and stop worrying about it.
If I went out and interviewed people on the street about what they thought the meaning, or the point, of life was, I imagine I’d get plenty of responses like, “graduate college, get a high-paying job, get my own place, fall in love, get married and settle down. May have some kids.”
Yet this never fooled me completely. That sounds a lot more like a plan than a meaning, if you ask me. By definition, it’s the American Dream. Arguably, however, were I to ask any number of people what the point of the American Dream is, I’d hear answers like “happiness”, “freedom” and perhaps “family.” I think family is pretty close. After all, we work to support our families, they’re who we come home to at night and spend our vacations with.
Funny how it seems so many families are train-wrecks. I spent a great deal of time in counseling due to the things my family did to me. I spent an even greater amount of time trying to move out. Nowadays I just accept that I can’t afford that, so I spend most of my time away. Ironically, this is one of the reasons why I enjoy working so much.
Still, I ache for companionship. My heart always blooms on the days I see my boyfriend, Jake, or when I visit friends. Those are the times I’m truly happiest. Often, the days in between my socially-active weekends I spend in Emotional Limbo just waiting to bloom again, determined not to wilt in the meantime. Over the past few months it’s become very clear to me that—regardless of what the official meaning of life, the universe and everything may be—what means the most to me is companionship.
Family tends to be a very limiting term, but I like to include my close friends in that circle, because my own immediate family just isn’t working for me and I hate to feel excluded. (Here’s something pathetic: sometimes I even want to call Jake’s parents Mom and Dad.)
Young people are dreamers. We naturally have more hope than the average adult, I think because adult life has already boxed them into their un-hopeful, priority-filled life-plans. We tend to look at adulthood and say “Yuck! What the hell did they do wrong? I’m never doing that.” I’m an adult myself now, albeit a young one, and I’m still hopeful, but I got a regular job against my better judgment, and just like my peers, I’ve registered for community college.
I was shocked the other day to look at my parents and realize that they used to be me. They used to have unrealistic dreams and hopes that they pushed for until they finally gave way, just like their parents before them, and like I very well may too. And this is their destination. This is it—this is the family they get: their American Dream.
I ask myself a lot if I will be happy if I end up just like them. To be perfectly honest, I’ve spent my share of time trying hard not to become like them, so my answer is never very heartening. But hey, it could happen.
Here’s the rundown on my family.
My mom thinks she knows more than anybody else in my family. She reads the news and internet a lot to get all the answers. Whenever she hears of any new crazy Government Conspiracy, she hops on the computer and reads and reads and reads until she thinks she understands how the end of the world is going to play out. Most of the time, this makes her even less happy, which is the biggest reason why I don’t get why she keeps on reading…
If you ask her about the droughts in America, she’ll tell you the Government cut off our water supply on purpose to make us more dependent on them, and that they don’t care if it makes people sick or that it harms our environment. If I bring up how I’m so happy my part-time job only taxes me at 9-something percent, she’ll tell me “Yeah, just wait until you become our age. Then it becomes 40 percent.” If I so much as bring up vaccines or the election or the End Times she’ll tell anybody who’ll listen about how we’re all going to be poisoned, thrown into a socialist One-World Government, and that somewhere following mass-martyrdom, we’re all going to suffer through the Tribulation.
Just this morning, mom told me she emailed me an article, to which I replied, “Is it good news or bad?” She paused, then said, “Susan, if you only ever let yourself hear good news then you’re going to be ignorant just like the rest of our country.”
Yes, maybe a little ignorant. But will I be happier? Absolutely. This may shock a few people, but after knowing my mom, I’m actually incredibly willing to live ignorant and happy instead of informed and death-sentenced. Sure, maybe America will become Socialist. Yes, maybe the Antichrist will come while I’m alive and then we’ll all be killed. But my knowing it was coming won’t change that. What will change is that rather than living with hope and excitement and healthy determination while getting married, finding a job I like, and raising my kids as well as I can, I’ll do those same things while fearfully dreading the day they’ll be decimated.
I’m just not about that life. Besides, doesn’t Jesus say something about living by faith? Won’t it be enough if I just trust that He’s in control and I’m not? That sounds much pleasanter and more assuring anyway.
But that’s my mom’s world. There’s that and her bitter oldest son who moved out of the house because he had enough of her bullshit, and her two younger sons who won’t listen to her because rather than teach them to respect her for her adulthood, she went the route of blind obedience “because she said so.” It worked at five, but they’re smarter than that now.
And then there’s my dad, who mom’s been married to for 30 years. Sometimes I think she loves him. Other times it’s so obvious she wishes she’d never married him in the first place that I want to throw up. She picks fights just because she’s angry, she tells him he’s just trying to get attention when he acts sick (which, if he is, it’s her job by definition to give him that) and she talks smack behind his back. I hear, “He’s obsessed with his job”, “all he cares about is food” and “what a baaaabyyyy” when he’s not in the room. Out of nowhere she’ll give him sharp answers, and my dad will look at me like “What did I do NOW?”
In addition to this, my parents are not financially stable. They’re applying for credit cards to pay medical bills after my dad received a 50 percent cut in pay a couple months back. They’re looking for more work, but they’re still spending on things. My mom keeps insisting that she redesign the entire house one room at a time, buying decorations and paint consistently. I figure this is a coping mechanism for her, but it’s also financially irresponsible given the time.
My mom researches health food a lot. She buys a lot of it too. She nearly guilt-trips us into refusing to eat unhealthy foods lest we all eventually die, and yet—what? There she is, snacking on Cheetos. There she is, skipping meals, even though her doctor says she’s starving herself. There she is with her daily four cups of coffee and bowl of honey-nut Cheerios (I’m not exaggerating).
…It’s an understatement to say I do not understand my mom…
But my point here. What I’ve come to realize is that the majority of my family-dynamics honestly revolve around my mom. She determines everyone’s moods but mine. I have a car and responsibilities and my own room. I’m paying for gasoline and school myself. I’ve processed enough of my upbringing that she very rarely sets me off anymore. I am free.
But this is her family. She has children who have openly rejected her, daily fight her over the smallest things, and one who sneaks around her trigger points. She has a husband who she is terribly unhappy with and wishes would work harder so that her family wouldn’t be dirt poor, and she has herself, who she is not treating very well. This is her meaning in life.
Can you believe that? This is it. Who on earth would fight their entire life just to wind up here?
This is it, and she either has given up, or she’s still dreaming for a different meaning where she hopes she’ll bloom, just like I do in Jake’s arms every Saturday.
I realize even I am hypocritical in this situation, because this is my family, and I tiptoe around them, do the dishes sometimes when the kitchen is dirty, and then leave for 10 hours most days. The only difference is that this is not my only family. My family is Jake, and his mom and dad, and his brothers, and my older brother, who’s moved out, and his lovely girlfriend, and my friends at church, and my peers at school. My family is my mom and dad and younger brothers and extended relatives too, but they don’t represent my meaning in life.
My meaning in life is first of all faith in Jesus. He’ll show me where He wants my life to go. He’ll show me who He wants me to marry, and once married, that’s forever. I also find meaning in life in family—the family I choose to surround myself with and love. God forbid that I ever find myself having sunk so low that I spend my time berating and neglecting my husband, or treating him like he is only as valuable as his paycheck—because that’s not true of anyone. I hope I never hurt my children to the point that they shut me out, or that they must figure out my trigger points in order to have a non-destructive conversation with me. I hope I always value myself enough as a person, not to mention as God’s Child, that I will take care of my health and well-being. I hope that when I move on from the family I live with now to the family I make my own, that I will always keep in mind that that will be it; that will be my meaning in life, my destination. I hope that I will make it my most-valued possession, and I hope that I will never give up on it.
I hope a lot; I know that. I think it’s my right as a young person to be a hoper, a dreamer. But I do hope I always will be.