One of my favorite poems of all time is "Myself" by Edgar Guest –
I have to live with myself, and so,
I want to be fit for myself to know.
I want to be able, as days go by,
Always to look myself straight in the eye.
I don't want to stand in the setting sun
And hate myself for the things I've done.
A copy of that poem has been near at hand for more than 40 years. It reminds me of the kind of person I want to be.
It is easy to forget that our actions and words have consequences. When we are young, we can delude ourselves into thinking that our needs are more important than the needs of others. But, as we age, we ought to be able to identify areas of selfishness and pettiness that come out of our daily living.
When we make a mistake and hurt someone, the best thing to do is apologize and then never make the same error again. Confronting our faults, correcting them, and promising ourselves to live a better life are all critical to living a good existence.
Kurt Vonnegut gave a commencement speech in 1997. One of the best lines from that speech was: "Don't be reckless with other people's hearts and don't put up with people who are reckless with yours." That quote brings me to the real topic of this column – families.
Having just finished reading a book about families – "Why Do I Love These People?" by Po Bronson – I thought long and hard about the ways in which families interact. Over the years, I have received many letters about family problems. People want me to help them solve their difficulties.
It's very presumptuous of me to think for even one minute that I can give advice about family. Sure, I worked for years with children of all ages and found that family interactions dictated the health and happiness of those children. However, part of my own family is not a shining example of happiness.
When my Mom was dying of cancer, she said to me, "You're the oldest. Keep the family together." Little did she know that I would be living 700 miles away from most of my family, that jealousy, envy and pettiness would surface amidst our relatives, that people who were supposed to love you made your life miserable, and that 'keeping the family together' would end up being an impossible task.
I can live with myself and look at myself in the mirror and say "Well done," only because I convince myself that even Sigmund Freud himself couldn't fix my family. It is what it is. You can't change people. You can only change your own expectations of people.
I believe that my Mom watches and sees how our lives have evolved. I know in my heart that she would say to me, "Honey, you've tried your best. Don't worry about things you can't fix."
So, all of you readers who write to me and ask my advice about a family problem – know that I am a flawed human and may not have all the right answers. But, also know that I will try to help any way I can. If I can't fix my own family, maybe I can help you to fix yours.
(IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTACT DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS: JSMITH1313@CFL.RR.COM OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.)