REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish News
She sat there in a puddle of tears and justifiably so. She had had a very hard life, married to a man who mistreated her. Now, at last she was on the brink of freedom as he lay in the hospital in a coma from an unexpected and hard-hitting accident. One of her three small children clutched her knees and another had entangled her arm in her mother’s, clasping her hand tightly. The older one sullenly sat in a corner of the sofa, his arms tightly crossed while he stared out the window.
She was sick of the life she had been leading, and the frequent trips to the mall for the latest baubles for herself and the kids gave only temporary respite to her nearly-constant pain. Rosie was such a nice person; surely she deserved better. “Is it possible,” I asked her, “that your husband will come out of this?”
“The doctors say it’s 50-50.”
“Mmm,” I said. “That’s interesting. Maybe Nate is supposed to come out of this and maybe this brush with death is supposed to teach him how to put things—and people—into proper perspective. Maybe he will be able to grow from this experience.”
“Nah,” she replied firmly, “He’s not capable of learning anything.”
“Everyone is capable of learning from their mistakes,” I answered, with equal firmness.
“Not this man. I know him only too well, unfortunately. He thinks he knows everything. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever made him reflect on himself or his behavior.”
When Someone Will Not Look Inside Himself, God Ups The Ante
“That’s probably why God upped the ante this time,” I responded.
Rosie sighed. I knew what that sigh meant—I wasn’t going where she wanted. Usually, as a therapist, I’m with the person sitting in front of me all the way, but not always. Sometimes, I want to push the brambles aside and show my client another view, a prettier one. The current conversation was a case in point. I believe in change, and although I had not met Rosie’s husband, I’ve worked with many abusive people who’ve turned themselves around completely. Sometime the impetus was threat of divorce, sometimes simply learning that their behavior was abusive was sufficient. Occasionally, the motivation to enter therapy was God tinkering with their lives, maybe not so gently, in other ways.
“So what do you recommend?” she asked listlessly.
How To Take Care Of Yourself
“First, of course, pray for his complete healing, body and soul. Second, take care of yourself: Eat properly, exercise, sleep well, take pleasure in your children’s progress in school, give yourself some treats now and then and don’t feel guilty about them, and of course, pray for yourself as well. Finally, be a good mother; you can’t get so immersed in your pain that you neglect their emotional needs,” I answered.
Rosie thanked me and left. The children trooped out waving shyly. I wanted to see her alone on the next visit because I was worried about where her head was. Sure enough, she had a small smile on her face as we began our next visit. “What’s lighting up your life at this point in time?” I asked.
Entitlement Rears Its Ugly Head
“I met someone,” she revealed, looking me in the eye.
I tried not to let the sigh that escaped me be too audible. “Here we go again,” I thought. This is how it always goes: Someone feels hurt and entitled to more. Over time, they feel more hurt and more entitled. Eventually, “More” comes walking through the door. “More” is someone who makes them feel good about themselves, someone who makes them laugh, someone fun.
Rosie read my expression; I’m not good at dissembling. “Well,” she pouted, “I don’t want my whole life to wash away and find myself one day old and miserable with the same miserable person. Shouldn’t I be able to have some fun in my life?” Now it was Rosie’s turn for the deep breath. “I’ve decided I want a divorce. Now it’s my turn.”
Here are the things I can’t say to Rosie or the many Rosies and the Ronens who have their minds stubbornly made up, transfixed by the certainty that happiness is just around the corner if only they give up the dead weight they’ve been married to for so doggone long:
IMPORTANT: Happiness And Fun Are Two Different Things.
Fun is fleeting. It doesn’t stay with you. You can have a nice memory of fun times but that’s all you have. Happiness stays with you. It comes from a different place. It comes from knowing that you did something that elevated you—and maybe those around you. Sometimes, paradoxically, it comes from giving something, or even giving up something. You’d think that when you end up with less than you began, you wouldn’t be happy, but that’s not the way it works. When you care for a baby, you give and give and give with no thought of getting anything back for a long while, and yet you’re strangely enriched by the process. What you feel is deep, abiding happiness that just won’t let up no matter how rainy the day. When you walk the little lady with the groceries to her car, when you pick up the toy for the crying child, when you add the extra touch to dinner for your family, when you give the great surprise gift, all you’re doing is giving, yet you’re happy for it. Happiness comes from unselfish gestures that will make things right for others in the long run. Happiness comes from risking unhappiness to place bets on a soul that everyone wrote off—and being right in doing so.
What True Happiness Is
If only Rosie would listen, I would paint her this picture of true happiness: Nate comes home from the hospital with all his faculties, but strangely silent. Finally, he tells her, “You know, I never appreciated life. I almost died and right then I realized I didn’t want to die.” Rosie is silent. He continues, “And I realized, too, that I never appreciated you either. I didn’t talk to you right. I’m so sorry. I am so very, very sorry. Can you forgive me?” True happiness is not a quick fix. It is working on being better and making something better between two people. True happiness would have Nate learning how to talk so it doesn’t hurt but so that it does show appreciation and consideration. When Nate fully appreciates Rosie and she feels it—that’s happiness.
The guy she meets could be a pleasant fling. But happiness is made up of a history of shared moments, and becoming a better and better person for the difficult times. I say place the bets on the person with whom you made the long-term commitment, and when you see that person living up to life’s lessons and you feel that special twinge of pride because of it, that’s happiness.
Rosie, I wish you true happiness. I hope you take the step that gets you there. It might not be fun the whole time, but who cares? You’ll be happy in the long-run.