You have heard this before I am sure. There is your side, my side and then the real story. The problem is we only believe our side. And we stick by it through thick and thin. It doesn’t matter what is happening around us. What we are going through. What we read in the news or scroll by on our social media. We take bits and pieces from our daily lives and we gradually add them to our story. “Our truth”. Everything passes through all sorts of self imposed filters and in time we build scenarios. Pretty much all of it is made up. It is all in our heads. Bullshit really. But what are ya gonna do. Well, perhaps we could open our eyes and admit the truth for a change. We live life all alone in our minds in a fantasy world and we fill our physical worlds with people who support our make believe world. They fit in. Not entirely but close enough. The rest? We toss out. They don’t make us happy. They make life a struggle. In this day and age there is a common mantra that if people don’t add value to our life, we detach. Life is too short to waste on people we can’t rely on to build us up. Be our champions. And if they hurt our feelings? They are bannished. To be shunned forever. That’ll show ’em. Well I am here to tell you a really big secret. All the bullshit ruining your life? It’s all in your head.
For four days last week I stayed with my daughters four children while my Drew and her hubby were away. Let me just say there is a reason people have kids when they are young. I am so tired. Grandma June took her turn for three days but she cheated and brought her sister along. Or maybe she was actually thinking ahead. But I digress. My daughter lives in a lake community. A little more upscale than where I live. But like any community high or low, there is a mixture of socio-economic backgrounds as well as a vast range in house size. The community is a bit of a drive to the city core whereas my community is inner city. Smaller and older homes. There is greater diversity in my communities demographics. I have lived here for 39 years and I love my neighbourhood. As I sat on my daughters front deck one evening watching the kids play, her young neighbour came over to chat. We have said hello many times over the past few years but that is all. As the conversation progressed she asked many questions about my background, career and residence. At one point she said she had looked at our neighbourhood at one time and thought it would be good for a young couple but it was too “sketchy” to raise children in so they chose their first home in a community closer into the city centre. Just a bridge walk across the river from downtown. (And the homeless centre by the way.) She acknowledges there may be issues now but there no homeless people there when they lived there. What did I say about filters in our minds. Anyways, she praised the community where she lived now. Next door to my daughter. The opportunities. The exclusive lake. As I listened I started to feel icky inside. I understood she was trying to impress me and chat up her life and family. Yet she also used the age old art of putting me down to feel better about herself. I walked away thinking I don’t really want to chat with her ever again. She probably went home to tell her husband how nice I was. Because I didn’t say much. My feelings were hurt. My side and her side. Neither real.
You see, quite quickly I stopped really listening to her. I just wanted to jump in and defend myself. Talk up myself. Brag I guess. Let her know she was wrong in all of her assumptions about me. Her entire perception was based on where I lived. At least that’s where my brain went. You know why? Because I didn’t share her “values”. We lived our lives saving for retirement. Being careful. We weren’t going to buy a big house. Initially we couldn’t afford it. Then we really couldn’t agree where we wanted to live. So we stayed put. In time we adopted the attitude that we weren’t going to chase material goods. We both grew up poor so we were careful. Our early years together were hard and we really didn’t want to go back there. But eventually things got better but we were still careful. Frankly I am glad we did what we did. My husband died young but he had almost 8 years of retirement. Which he took to quite well. So I may get another twenty or thirty years or I might get a day. But he got some good times at a young age with lots of Grandkids, a strong body to do the things he loved and money to do them. The reality is over time we continued to be careful even when we really didn’t need to be. But we justified it all. Because it fit with this idea of who we were. The made up fairy tale of us. Who we were. But it was all a story. All in our heads. And we incorporated ideas and events around us that fit the narrative.
When I worked downtown I rode my bike to work. I liked to run at lunchtime and sometimes my oldest daughter Britt would come and meet me for a run. We often finished the run on the other side of the river at a trendy coffee shop where we bought our drinks and then walked the few blocks back to my office. One day my daughters friend Heidi met us at the shop. She was another one of those “impress you” types and it was the first time I had met her although i had heard lots about her from my daughter. Heidi was a teacher and had a couple of degrees and was a few years older than my daughter. They met when they both worked at a restaurant as servers. The conversation was awkward just from the self praise but she was also quite condescending towards me. It seemed like Heidi was trying to use as many big words as she could and frankly I found myself wondering what my daughter saw in her. Anyways. the visit ended and we were on our way. A few weeks later we met up with Heidi again. After a run. She was like a different person. Kind. Sweet. Adoring almost. Again, in my own head I wondered what rabbit hole I had fallen into. I brought this up to Britt on our walk back to the office. She cleared up the confusion quite quickly. After the first encounter Britt met with Heidi alone and Heidi asked why we ran in that community when it was so far from where we both lived. Britt explained that it was close to my office and as a Marketing Consultant I was able to meet Britt for runs whenever she asked because my time was my own. Heid thought I was a housewife. That is why she talked down to me. Having a “career” brought me up in her eyes. Britt was quick to point out I didn’t have a career. I had jobs. And I did it for the money. I felt a little sorry for Heidi because the whole story kinda made her look bad in my eyes.
My sister came up from the States for the first time in three years and we went out for lunch with two of my brothers. After a long four hour get together we went our separate ways and I drove the younger brother back to his house. Quite randomly he remarked about how different my husband and I lived compared to him and his wife. We were savers and they bought stuff. And then he said “Neither is right or wrong. Just different.” And that my friends is the crux of the matter right there. There are billions of people in this world and no two are the same. My Mom used to say life would be pretty boring if we were all the same. Frankly why should we even care about other peoples stories. Well, we become fond of people and we care what happens to them. We care about the story they are writing for themselves because we hope the journey and the ending are all good. We don’t want bad things to happen to them. But what about the people we don’t know or love. What about their story? Why is it we want them to “get” us but it’s so hard to figure them out. Why can’t we just nod our heads and truthfully say, and feel… “I hope it all goes well for you.” Like the neighbour girl. Why can’t I just listen without comparing her words to my story? Sometimes we learn when we listen. The problem is we don’t normally listen. I spent most of the conversation with my daughters neighbour telling myself she was wrong. Thinking of things to say to smack her down. Berating myself for thinking bad thoughts. Feeling sorry for myself that I even cared what she thought. Feeling sad that she didn’t love where I lived. Wanting to tell her about all the people in my neighbourhood who did the rags to riches thing and DIDN’T move out of my neighbourhood. But then what? This is all just the made up story in my head. And why do I even need to one up her? I don’t. It’s my story. I can make it anything I want. Because I learned a long time ago. It’s all in my head. Nothing is real. None of it really matters. Make it a happy story. You have the tools. And Heidi? We crossed paths again once or twice. Not enough to add her to my story.