There’s a scene at the end of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade where Indy is attempting to save his way-too-skinny-Nazi girlfriend from certain death, holding her by one sweaty hand as she dangles above a seemingly bottomless crevice that has opened in the floor of the tomb from where they have discovered Chirst’s Holy Grail. The fabled cup is sitting on a ledge within her grasp. As she fearlessly reaches for it – and the immortality it’s told to bring – our hero can, alas, no longer hold on.
She falls to her death, kicking and screaming as her dreams die with her. The movie almost instantly forgets her.
I think of her sometimes as I struggle to live a truly Catholic life. Her story, albeit sans the blonde-hair-blue-eyes and romance with Harrison Ford, seems familiar to me.
I grew up on the ’70s and ’80s, when the women’s movement was at its peak (IMHO), giving us the “see, we told you you could have it all!” Few women had climbed high enough to fall yet. I still remember my favorite advertising for Enjoili perfume. “I can bring home the bacon, ba-da-da, fry it up n a pan…..” And so forth.
In so many ways, my friends and I were the promise of the future. The young ladies who would finally have the great education, the great job, the perfect husband, family. The life every woman wanted to live, complete with the availability of abortion should we find ourselves slowed on the path to greatness as CEOs, entrepreneurs, presidents, heads of state, etc.
It was discovered that I was smarter than the average bear somehow, and I was encouraged to be anything I wanted career wise. I spent grade school and high school thinking I was going to be a psychiatrist. Now, I need one. You see, the world led me on. Not one specific person; my parents pushed only gently. Teachers gave me grades I earned. Friends achieved and achieved alongside of me. It was how you did things.
There were awards. I found writing was my talent, and I pushed out of pre-med and never looked back. There was the college newspaper, a free-ride to grad school I earned on my own. Internships, accolades, and the job that would lead me anywhere I wanted to go. It should have, according to some.
I fell in love, got married. I had worked hard, stayed out of trouble for the most part. I earned the privlege to have children, earn a lucrative living and grab the golden ring. “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Right?
I didn’t land where I expected to. And I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. The cheerleaders had been quieted. Life had become more like a trapeze act, where the artist accidentally looked down, saw everyone gaping at her feats, and realized she was scared. Maybe I really wasn’t as great as people told me I was going to be someday.
I should have started “dying to self” as Jesus asks us to a long time ago. Nothing comes easy in this life, but when your on a roll, with so little in your way, nothing comes too hard either. Sometimes, you start to believe your own hype. And then, if you’re lucky, God steps in and starts working in your life.
I got that great little family I wanted. I also got post-partum depression, lots of therapy, and for the first time ever, hit what could be called a glass ceiling. The work-life balance thing wasn’t popular with my co-workers when I tried working again. I tried consulting from home. I used technology to my best advantage. But God was trying to show me something I wasn’t seeing.
For other people my kids weren’t the number one priority. My work wasn’t the issue – my schedule was. Eventually, employers lost interest in me. I cared more about what was really important and less about the machinations of the system. I silently implore the young “I-can-have-it-all” women I see. Don’t let the world tell you what femininity is. You can’t have it all – not because you aren’t able, but because real living gets in the way.
Being a stay-at-home mom has taught me a lot about myself. And about my own self-centeredness. “Dying to self” to one steep hill to climb. Transitioning to domesticity and parenthood has been difficult for me, the girl who almost always succeeded. Who was sure to set the world on fire with something. It’s hard to let that go – that “I could have been a contender” feeling.
Lately, I’m struggling with the lack of motivation in my two daughters. They’re in the 5th and 4th grades – that’s 11 and 9 years old. They aren’t bad students, but they have little desire to be the very best. They study, they do homework, and there are topics they excel at. But they aren’t about getting an A every time. This is hard for me to understand. Yet again, my children are my true teachers.
They know me only as mommy, home doing laundry, picking them up at school to take them to their activities. The lady who has a mental breakdown over uncleaned rooms, too much screen time and unfinished spelling homework. Not as the me who planned public relations programs and smoothed public crises for a living. They aren’t real sure why excelling is so important to me, and why I stand by biting my tongue as they learn the right way – at their own pace, as the individuals they are, not as MY daughters.
Our conventional wisdom about what makes a person – particularly a woman – successful is horribly wrong. I find that brilliance everyone is looking for in parenting. I never once found it in a board room. I’ve found life is better when you live for others. But that “me, me, me” is still out there, making me feel like my life will never mean much if I don’t achieve what society says I should. Wrestling with ME makes for stress, bitterness and distraction. She makes me wonder if I would have kept reaching for the Grail even in the sight of the Angel of death.
I pray God will let me finally out grow her.