Self Consumed - July 7, 2021
I’ve spent my life self-consumed, I’m sad to say. I never was very interested in service or volunteer work. In the 1970s a friend said to me that the ‘yoke’ had walked away. She was referring to the women who had gone to work and no longer volunteered their services. These women had been the yoke that held society together through their volunteer service. After that conversation I frowned upon offering work for free, even though I seldom volunteered prior to that conversation. I wanted to be valued as men were valued and paid for their work. It made me suspicious of organizations that expected volunteerism. Most were run by men who benefited financially and emotionally from the care of their volunteers who were, indeed, mostly women.
Now, late in life, I’ve begun to value service. As I look back on my life, I’m seeing a selfish self-absorbed individual. I’m part amused and part ashamed of the values I carried in my younger years. I was fully enmeshed in the consumer culture and bought into the ideas of winning by making a lot of money. From the part of me that felt inferior I had an “I’ll show them” attitude. I never did. I thought I was definitely out to win and at the same time I was a lazy maverick, quite comfortable with B and C grades. It was more important for me to have fun then to study and work hard. I have a big lazy streak along with a deep desire for pleasure. Food and sex rank high on my list but above all friendship and good conversation.
I was raised by a proper Southern woman. You were to dress and act in a polite socially acceptable manner. Wearing overalls and no bra in front of my grandparents was not acceptable but, of course, in the 70s I did. Part of me has totally accepted the cultural conditioning I was raised in. I have a very functional super ego. The other part of me, the maverick, disdains my conditioning. My super ego wasn't embedded with much drive for volunteerism, however. I don’t remember my parents encouraging me to volunteer other than once or twice for our Quaker Meeting’s yard sale. Maybe it just fell on deaf ears.
Now, at this late age, I hope to be of better service and be less self-absorbed. As always, I’m a work in progress. It’s not that I haven’t offered support and assistance of some kind over the years. I just wish I had been more aware of what I could have offered and had not been so busy trying to mimicking Martha Stewart. For example, in the early 1990s I had a beautiful wedding and have the pictures to prove it. I loved being fussed over by my bridesmaids before the service. It may have been my favorite part of the wedding. I did my best to make Martha Stewart proud that day. During the event my father had to wear a wool tuxedo. He did so even though he was terribly allergic to wool. I glimpsed the suffering on his face when he asked to change before the pictures were taken. Add to that my mother’s Alzheimer’s kept my family on high alert, making sure she was okay. I look back at the selfishness of that day now and sometimes weep. “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”
It’s as if I have lived many lives and most of the time I’ve sung the “me me me” song. Sometime in the early 80s I wrote this little poem that I recite to myself on occasion:
I’m stuck on a self-possessed trolley.
I’d get off the train,
but it feels such a strain,
and leaving seems such a great folly.
I think I’m ready to get off the train! Please let me know if you see me taking another ride. I'm sure I will.