Long, long ago in what seems sometimes like a galaxy far, far away—the 1950s—I became aware, as kids do eventually, of the concept of mortality. I don’t say that I entirely believed in it, but if I’d asked myself what was most important to me back then, I might have skipped over the things that really mattered—family, community, social justice (not that I’d heard such a term yet) and said that if you only had one finite life to live, as apparently we did, the most important thing to do with it was to make a difference, be noticed, have a lasting effect, and best of all, be remembered. There was also, of course, an element of “showing them!” with “them” being my supposed peers who despised geeks (although they didn’t have that word back then) and had even less respect for unattractive girls. I was both, as well as awkward, which definitely put me on the outside of the “in crowds.” Not that I even wanted to be “in”, which was part of the problem.
The above is how I planned to begin my musings on what’s the most important, but recent events are nudging me toward going off briefly on a tangent. Making a difference, being noticed, being remembered, “showing them!” How many millions of us have thought that way, especially in adolescence? Very few of us go over the edge of sanity and choose one brutal moment of violence over a life of perceived failure, but any are too many, and all the media coverage and online interaction among others with similarly warped minds seems to be making things worse and worse. I don’t have any answers, just observations, one of which is that more is still expected of males in our culture than of females, so it’s not surprising that young males are more likely to feel that being important, no matter how, is the most important thing. Females aren’t supposed to be important, or noticed for anything beyond their sexual appeal to men. (This is an overstatement, I hope, but not that far off in much of our society.)
Getting back to my own situation, I wanted to some day be important in some way, and I wanted that way to be writing. Books were a huge part of my world, and taught me a great deal about the world, much of it wrong, of course, and some of it even harmful—no, life doesn’t always follow a rational plot or have happy endings--but that’s beside the point. I wanted to be immortal like—well, I didn’t aspire to rival Shakespeare, but how about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Or an updated Louisa May Alcott? Or Agatha Christie?
My role-models changed over the years, of course, and so did my personal roles. I had a family to raise, and even more responsibilities as my parents aged. I eventually got serious about writing, but not about serious writing, and I enjoy it that way.
Family is definitely the most important thing now, from my granddaughter to my elderly father. What I want now is to do everything I possibly can, meet the challenges, be there when I’m needed no matter what. I can’t help wondering whether I could have done more to help my son with Asperger’s syndrome adjust to life, if more had been known about that sort of thing when he was younger; should I have pushed him more? Could either of us have survived that? I’ll never know, and we get by now. Sometimes you just can’t tell what are the best, the kindest, things to do. As my father slows more and more in his mid-nineties, is it kinder to do whatever I can, traveling back and forth, to let him stay in the home he shared with my mother for so many years before her death three years ago, or to insist that he come to live with me, or near me in assisted living? We’re teetering on an edge, all the more so as we approach more tests to see whether the lung cancer he probably has is progressing much.
I don’t say that I’m entirely resigned to my limitations, but I have a different perspective on mortality now. Everything we do has some effect, for better or worse. We all make a difference. I think of all the good things my father did in his life, people he helped. Some of these things he doesn’t remember himself, which is sad, but he’ s still pretty sharp for his age. It’s impossible to know how we may have affected other people, or our corners of the world.
I don’t deny, though, that the transitory place I’ve made in my very small corner of the writing world is important to me, especially because of the friends I’ve made. Not THE most important thing, but really, why rank the importance of things? Maybe it’s just as well not to get too obsessed with the importance of being important.