A presence of choice

I wonder what the children will remember . . . the children in the homeless shelter where I go to cook on Tuesday nights. It is a family shelter and there are ten children of all ages who live there.

I wonder what they will remember about this time. The older ones realize that they are homeless. The younger ones don’t quite know the implications. They all play and interact just like any other children I have known.

There is this underlying need to be normal. They play, they fight, they have fun just as they would in any other home. I don’t know their histories. It could be that being homeless is normal for them.

Children adjust so quickly to misfortune. It is like there is this inner guidance system that makes them gravitate toward joy and happiness despite their circumstances. As we become adults, though, we tend to lose that gravitational pull and instead let circumstances determine how we feel and how we shall be in the world.

I was never homeless as a child, yet I remember a constant drain on my energy that pulled me away from my normal gravitation toward joy and happiness. I grew up in an environment where to have any kind of thought, feeling, or action that was incongruent with my parents’ thoughts, feelings, or actions was considered improper, disrespectful, and punishable by having anything I enjoyed taken away from me. They were two of the most unhappy people I have ever encountered in my life, and my memories are full of a childhood spent learning how to be unhappy (about everything).

When the world became my parent, I had a real hard time keeping up with all the different responses I needed to accommodate. Everyone who I came into contact with who I imagined had any kind of control over my well-being (i.e., friends, teachers, employers) had control over my responses. As I gained physical and emotional distance from requiring any kind of parenting, I was able to see how I was allowing others to determine my way of being in the world.

Most of my adulthood has been spent learning how to be happy despite everything. For me, it is really a matter of choice. I can use my memories to recount my miseries and wallow in my woe-is-me fantasy. Or, I can watch these children play at the shelter and connect with the child within me who remembers how to be herself no matter what tune the world is dancing to.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

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10 Responses to “A presence of choice”

  1. holessence Says:

    “It is like there is this inner guidance system that makes them gravitate toward joy and happiness despite their circumstances.”

    This sentence says it all, Barbara. Wow!

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — I see it all the time in January. Every time she comes over she is looking for the next best thing to have fun with . . . even if it is only a cardboard box and crayons. She is all about “what will make me feel good?” “What will I enjoy doing?” and I see that same quality on those children at the shelter. I knew I would learn a lot from this experience.

  2. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    I resonate with your thoughts this morning on so many levels…

  3. jeffstroud Says:

    Barbara,

    Before this slips away from me I will respond. I see you taking the opportunity to observe the lessons around, the children are our teachers. All through the reading of this blog I kept hearing honor the child within, be pulled to the joy and happiness. Today you have the opportunity to be both parent and child to yourself. You lines at the end of the blog say it all: ” I can use my memories to recount my miseries and wallow in my woe-is-me fantasy. Or, I can watch these children play at the shelter and connect with the child within me who remembers how to be herself no matter what tune the world is dancing to.”

    I am Love, Jeff

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Jeff, you say it so well to “honor the child within” and I know that if I do this, I am one with that child and today, because I am all grown up, I can be myself. I am still all of those children I ever have been, and it is a very nice discovery to find that we have arrived intact and in a place where we can choose to be who we are.

  4. sandiwhite Says:

    Sometimes we just don’t have what takes to break out into Snoopy’s “Happy Dance”, that is when a waltz will do just fine.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      So true, Sandi — you remind me of Steve Martin’s “happy feet.” I think believing I have to be joyously happy all the time is setting me up for disappointment. God gave us all these emotions for a reason.

  5. Gil Says:

    So often I get trapped in striving towards another state of being from which I am, instead of just accepting and realising that “this too shall pass” .(the good and the bad}

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Gil — many of the passages in the Bible start out with the words “It came to pass . . .”. Nothing comes to stay, and we define good and bad from our own perspectives. The message we keep getting in America is that we “deserve” to be happy all the time and have to avoid feeling unhappy, which sets us up for all sorts of food, drug, sex, gambling (i.e., distraction) abuse. Accepting our feelings helps us stay present and if we do that, you are right, we realize everything passes.

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