“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved
There was a poem framed in my childhood home. That same poem has been on the walls of every house I have lived in since and now resides in our bookstore. I’m not sure who wrote this beautiful poem/lesson so if anyone can enlighten me, please do. The sentiment was drummed into my brother and me since we were children and helped create the fiber of our being. The words being the staple of a good person. If we followed the creed, which we usually did, we were happy. If we fell short, we were guilt ridden like the Catholics we are not. I’d like to share it here as we close the door on 2017 and try to do better, be better in the year to come:
“I would not teach that boy of mine that only victory is fine
Nor teach material success as valuable to him unless
He gains it with his head erect, his honor and his self-respect
I just would teach my boy that he of self must always victor be
That failure is not a thing to fear if he retains a conscience clear
I will always teach my boy to choose the path of honor, though he lose
I’d rather him come home at night and say to me, I lost the fight
But I stood up and let it go and I never struck one unfair blow.”
I woke up with the words, “Of self must always victor be” in my head. That has been my Achilles heel. The other lessons, like false Gods of materialism, have never been too hard a pill to swallow and honor and a clear conscience are both things I can happily say have come naturally. But, “of self must always victor be” has proven the hardest concept for both my brother and for me to follow with anything resembling perfection. The knowing we could do better, endless struggles to curb our wild appetites, center our minds and calm our senses has been difficult. Gandhi, I believe, was a victor of himself. Eckhart Tolle mastered the victory over himself as evidenced in The Power of Now and other teachings. Oprah’s done a pretty good job too.
There is an awareness deep inside my being that it is possible to change and not need the quick-fix pacifiers. The truth is I was born with a pacifier in my mouth and carried one on each finger for fear I would run out of comfort. Finally, my mom convinced me to give my pacifiers to Santa Clause. I was free from age three until I reached fifteen when I discovered adult pacifiers, wine, cigarettes, relationships and all manner of things that distract us from truly being a victor of self. My brother never let go of those adult pacifiers and I’m sorry to say, my father didn’t either. Until the day he died, he enjoyed a giant cigar hanging from his mouth along with a glass of Scotch. He was forever a giant baby with his blankets. My mother in turn can drown in chocolate. One of the funniest things my father ever said was during a discussion about an old girlfriend of his who tried to OD on pills in Las Vegas in the 70’s, I said can you imagine Mamma every doing something like that? To which he replied, “No, the only thing Mamma would OD on is the Good Humor Truck!”
We all have things we think we need to make us feel better and we all know we would be healthier without them. I have recently given up bread for the moment, in an attempt to drop weight I gained during hip surgery. That has been easier than giving up other things I put in this precious body that has carried me so far and faithfully. I want to be a victor of self. That is my goal and wish for 2018. To see everything in the world, as a meditation teacher explained, as if seeing it for the first time, void of judgement. To observe the grey sky and bare trees and not attach meaning to it. To hear the sirens and talking heads on the TV, the fires and the maniacs hanging out windows with machine guns and not have to reach for something to quell the rising anxiety caused by a confusing world.
One thing I know for sure is that love is the answer. Love of life, love of all living things and love of self. We can do everything within our power to better the world but it has to start with a healthy respect for ourselves and the recognition of the awesome gift and responsibility we have been given in being here on this earth at this time, in this place. So, if you see me not washed over with calm but washed over with something else, you can assume I have not quite mastered the concept “of self must always victor be” just yet. Although I can assure you I will one day, or die trying.