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Full of innocence, I lay in my bed on a Saturday morning, relaxing after a difficult week at school. Suddenly I was awakened as the intercom in my room crackled to life. My parents often used the intercom, but calls this early in the morning were unusual. Something was not right. I heard my mother’s voice. “Come downstairs, we need to talk about something very important.” I hoped she just wanted me to finish raking the yard. I tried to relax as I walked down the stairs. Surely this wasn’t anything to fear.
As I walked into the living room I saw my father sitting on the sofa, eyes downcast, his face frozen in an expression of shame. My mom began to explain the situation, “Your father…” But he interrupted her. “I’m having an affair.” My mind flashed back to the previous year, when my family had traveled to Germany. My father had sent me out into the hotel hallway every night so he could make calls that he said were “for work.” I believed him the first time, but later in the trip I began to suspect that he was cheating on my mother. I told my older brother, but we quickly dismissed the idea. “He would never do that,” we assured each other. Telling no one else, we put the notion out of our minds. Months later, when we discovered that I had been right, the horrible reality crashed over us like a tidal wave.
Over the following months, I watched as my parents went to counseling and my father tried to regain the respect that he had lost. I watched my mother fall to pieces before my eyes. I saw the pain that my brothers were feeling. Throughout the ordeal, my father professed his love for the “other woman” and ultimately refused to end the relationship with her. After 24 years with my mother, moved out of our home.
Divorce is common. Half of all American marriages end in divorce. Many American teenagers could make the above story apply to them simply by replacing names and dates. What made this divorce particularly abominable, however, is that my mother is blind. She relied on my father to assist her in many ways. Anywhere we walked, my father would hold my mother’s arm and help her find her way. He warned her of any approaching obstacles and protected her from danger. My mother cannot drive, so my father took her anywhere she needed to go. With my father out of the picture and my older brother away at college, enormous responsibilities were placed on my 16-year-old shoulders. I had become the “man of the house.” In many ways, I had become responsible for my mother and my 12-year-old brother.
I was faced with the responsibility of providing transportation for my entire family. In addition, I had to help my mom deal with the worst crisis of her life while managing all the upheaval in my own life, as well. As a high school student, my days were filled with schoolwork, extra-curriculars, and my girlfriend. I had to work even harder to provide my family with everything they needed. I had to take my mother to buy groceries. I had to take my brother to his doctor appointments and pick him up after his extra-curriculars. I had to take my mother to work. In addition, I had to live my own life, deal with my feelings about my father, and begin to think about my future. What would happen to my mother and younger brother if I left our home in College Station to attend a faraway university?
At first, the demands seemed impossible. I felt like I would never be able to adjust to my new life. My junior year grades speak to the pressure I was experiencing. I constantly wished that life could return to the way it had been. I just wanted to be a carefree teen living in a happy family again. In response to the stress, I threw blame in every direction. I blamed myself. I blamed my mother. I blamed my father. I blamed his lover. I had to find a way to move forward. “Bitterness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” By allowing depression, anger, and blame to consume me, I gained nothing.
I finally decided to put my self-pity behind me and confront my problems. First, I turned to my friends. They helped me immensely, just by listening. I asked my mother how she dealt with the situation. I will never forget her response, “One day at a time.” Any life-changing crisis will seem insurmountable if you think too far into the future or try to solve all the problems in a single day. To get through a crisis, live life one day at a time. With this new perspective, changes that had seemed problematic eventually become familiar, and finally become just a part of the normal routine. My mother also said that if I looked inside, I would find the strength I need to overcome anything. She was right.
Through this experience I realized that life is not fair. As a young boy in preschool I remember our teacher telling us to share our crayons. She told us to take turns on the slide. She made sure each of us got to ride the tire swing. This principle of fairness does not, however, apply to many aspects of life. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Those acting selfishly or out of malice are often the ones who benefit at the expense of the innocent.
I also learned that our connections to the people we love can be transient. There are myriad bumps on the road of life. Events occur outside the boundaries of our control. At any time, we may lose someone we love. Understanding this allowed me to grasp the true meaning of the phrase “carpe diem.” We need to cherish the time that we spend with loved ones.
I now know that crises can have unexpectedly positive consequences. The breakup of my family severely damaged my relationship with my father. Sadly, I have lost much of my respect for him. Although my relationship with my father is forever changed, my relationships with my mother and brothers have flourished. We got through the situation together. I supported and helped them, and they did the same for me.
“There was a man who complained because he had no shoes until he met a man who had no feet.” When my mother shared that quotation with me, I was hit with a profound feeling of regret. The message is clear. Appreciate what you have. I had felt sorry for myself because I had extra stress in my life, but millions of people were enduring hardships far worse than mine. I have learned a precious lesson: I should appreciate what I have, rather than feel sorry for myself.
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