By Esther Mann, LCSW
I have a strange question that I’ve been struggling with for quite some time: Can a person ever outrun her destiny?
I’ll give you some background so that maybe you’ll understand what I mean with this question. I grew up in a crazy home. My father was not a straight man. Always up to some kind of sleazy business dealings. He got into trouble quite a few times. There was nothing impressive or dignified about this man. My mother always quietly supported him and told us children that we needed to be respectful toward him because, after all, he was our father. Nothing added up for me. Nothing made sense about the way my parents chose to live their lives, and I was determined from a young age to someday create a respectable life for myself.
Though I still speak to my parents, I’ve created a tremendous divide between myself and my parents emotionally. It’s just too painful for me to listen to their latest problems, whether it relates to their home being foreclosed on, or fights my father has gotten into at shul. I just don’t want to hear about any of their craziness anymore. So I keep my conversation light and tune out if they try to get personal.
For a while there, I felt as though my past was my past and that my present life really represented who I am and where I was headed. I was thrilled to feel as though I’d broken away from those people and a way of life that I detested.
I carefully chose a husband who seemed like the most honest and honorable person I had ever met. Jason was a man I could trust, and we married and began to live upstanding, dignified lives together. I really believed that I had outrun my destiny. Like some of my siblings, I could easily have slipped into a life that was as dysfunctional as my parents’. But I successfully detached and believed I was beginning anew.
Without going into the specifics about what Jason does for a living, which might give too much away, let me just say that he recently got caught doing something illegal. When all the hullabaloo began, I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea that anything illegal was going on. I was clueless. First Jason told me it was all a mistake and that I shouldn’t worry. I so much wanted to believe him, and I did. But it quickly became clear that he was in deep trouble and would be going to trial.
That’s where we are holding at the moment. I don’t know how this will play out. I feel betrayed, and am angry and frightened. But I keep feeling as though it is my destiny to be associated with losers. That I can run as fast as I can, but still never be able to get away from some kind of divine decree. That there is a bigger plan out there and it won’t matter what I do. I will always have to live a life of shame, never truly being able to walk with my head held high, feeling proud of myself and my family.
So I’m feeling depressed right now and thinking that everything is hopeless. Why work so hard? Why bother? Whatever is meant to be is meant to be, and I’m just swimming against the tide, getting nowhere fast.
I’m listless, going into my shell and lacking the energy to keep trying. After all, what difference does any of it make anyway?
The profound question you ask about destiny is something that has no doubt been discussed since the beginning of time. It is a spiritual question and a philosophical question, and a question that I prefer to stay far away from.
However, I do feel confident discussing other aspects of your letter, which ultimately will enable you to pull yourself out of your funk and continue to live your best life.
First, let me say kudos to you for raising yourself up from the dysfunction you grew up in and raising the bar for yourself so high. As you said, it would have been easy for you to take on your parents’ values (or lack thereof) and continue their less-than-impressive legacy. But from early on, you sought out a better and more meaningful life. You must have worked very hard to achieve everything that you have.
The fact that your husband messed up doesn’t mean that you messed up. Whatever he did and no matter how it ultimately plays out, intelligent people will not judge you on his mistakes. You may be married and you may even have an amazing marriage, but you are still two individuals who make certain choices of your own volition, and you cannot and should not be held responsible for one another’s bad choices. Just like you can’t be held responsible for your parents’ lifestyle. You are a person unto yourself. And I urge you not to give up on that. Do not throw in the towel! Continue being the impressive individual that you are, despite other people’s failings.
There’s always a lesson in every painful situation that life brings our way. Maybe the lesson here for you is to accept the fact that ultimately you cannot control anyone except yourself. And you cannot control life events. Life happens, even if we’re paying close attention and feel we’ve got it all under control. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue being the best we can be and shooting for the stars. Amidst all the insanity going on in your life right now, you are still the same person. Your heart and soul have not been compromised, and that is something you need to hold on to tightly, now more than ever.
It’s incumbent upon each of us to live our best lives. Sometimes we fall down, especially when life disappoints us or even overwhelms us. The key is to get back up, regroup, remember what those personal values are that we’ve always held dear, and get back into the game.
I’m sorry that your husband messed up. It doesn’t sound as though you have all the details just yet, or understand what motivated his lapse in judgment and honesty, but you are still you. And if the destiny that you’ve always fantasized about involves your living a life you can be proud of, believe me when I say that that has not changed. Ultimately, you are responsible for yourself and will be judged from above and among your peers on your own personal merits. And in that regard, not only can you outrun your destiny, but you can be the creator of it.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence.
Esther works with individuals
and couples. She can be reached