Inside Looking Out: It was all supposed to be
When we’re young, we often don’t understand why bad things happen to us.
Time passes and aging provides us with a road map backward from where we are now to where we began life’s journey. We can trace back to all the difficult moments of our lives that have led us to our mental and emotional destination.
Looking at the past has the distinct possibility of clearly making much more sense than it did while it was happening so long ago. The person you or I am today is a compilation of ingredients put together by circumstance and by choice, many that led to experiences we’d rather forget than remember. Yet they were all necessary to mold our character, create our attitudes, and define the composition of who we are right now.
One might say I am a completely different person than I was back then. That can be true, but what changed my persona is a collection of experiences from my past.
I was not a planned baby. My mother told me I was an “oops” child, born five years after my one sister and 10 years after my other. Today, I think there is something special about the unplanned or the unwanted. I was not supposed come into this world, but after living seven decades of life, I have come to the understanding that I am supposed to be here.
In my childhood, I was shy and often afraid, largely because of family dysfunction of long unemployment, chronic illness, and angry alcoholism. I loved to play sports, but I lacked the courage to take advantage of my athletic ability in organized competitions. I was cut from my first Little League tryouts. I was devastated, but I didn’t know then what I know now that it was supposed to be.
My father died when I was 19. Being sick most of the time, he was never the dad I really needed. My mother was my mom until I was 12 and then she disappeared into the bottom of beer bottles. And yes, that was supposed to be.
I worked three jobs while I was a student at Rutgers University leaving me tired and with no social life. One year, I left my own Halloween party at 3 a.m. to deliver newspapers from my car while my friends stayed at my house and partied without me. It was supposed to happen that way, too.
With a bachelor’s degree in English that promised no career direction, I unwillingly became a teacher and stood in front of a class ninth grade students who didn’t like me at all. This too was supposed to be.
My 20-year long marriage appeared ready to go another two decades. We were friends, but not a husband and wife. With good careers, a nice house, and money to spend, we had it all but we had nothing at the same time. It ended in divorce. Never did I think that leaving a life I had been used to for so long was supposed to be no more.
We’ve all heard about a person who’s been knocked down by so many bad experiences in his life. “Well, all you have to do is look at his troublesome past and you’ll know why he has never made anything out of himself.”
Actor Morgan Freeman said, “Your life isn’t worth anything until you do something that does challenge your reality.” He also said, “The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit.”
Knowing I was an unwanted baby made me realize how much I needed to feel wanted in both my personal life and in my career. Coming from an unhappy family, I was glad when I closed that door, breathed the fresh air, and moved in a new direction.
After I was cut from the Little League, I made the all-star team the following year. But not being good enough on my first try was a godsend. I would become a baseball and football coach and inspire my players who had thought they too were not good enough. I coached three undefeated teams, but the team that stands above them all in my mind had no wins and had lost eight straight going into our final game, a rivalry match against a cross-town school with six wins and only two losses. That day, that game showed me what kids who weren’t good enough can do. They persevered and won 12-8 and after the glorious victory, we all cried tears of joy.
I have forgiven my father and my mother for whom they never could be to me. In fact, with a better understanding of their intolerable struggles, I love them in spirit now, relieving me from the emotional burdens I had carried for far too long.
Working three jobs to pay for my college education led me past that first class of teaching ninth graders to a wonderfully fulfilling 38-year career where I helped kids succeed and inspired them to reach for the stars no matter what their situation was at home.
My failed marriage led me to another marriage in which two beautiful children were gifted to me by my wife after medical science had “proof” that I could never biologically become a dad.
I write this column not to brag about myself, but to reveal a pathway to a destination to the person I now see in the mirror. The struggles for me were necessary and yours might have been necessary too. Your past was supposed to be the way it was so the person you have become is who you are supposed to be now.
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org