gratitude-a-thon day 417: it’s what you do with the mess that interests me

“Father Knows Best” perfect was what I looked for my whole stupid life, until I realized it was just a tv show.

It used to be that i was enamored of anyone whose life looked easy. If you could tell their story in two pages of Cosmo with glossy photos, you had me. I was a member of the small church called “What You See, Is What You Get,” really believing that people were as they looked. It was a non-denominational place of worship, where we souls who grew up in families of dysfunction went to get what we needed for ourselves: the belief that there was a normal. See, for me, growing up with an alcoholic, with a bad temper and a sharp dagger like vocabulary, who never admitted his alcoholism, forced me to hunt for “normal” my whole life. So I grew up wandering through the world making people into one dimensional cut outs that appeared to be the normal I sought. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have deep friendships, because I did, and all of those people were (and are) people of great dimension, character, hardship. But they were the “us,” not the “them.”

I used to have my “family of the year” game. I would meet a family who seemed from the outside the very letter of perfection. I would compare them to my family of origin, and think how it could have been, if only. I would marvel at the ways in which they appeared to have it all going on, like a picture in a frame you buy. And then one day, they would dimensionalize, and reveal their real life problems. The dad had another family in another country, the mother had substance abuse issues, the child was being treated for an eating disorder. Take your pick. At the first sign of them being real, I would demote them and look for another family. And so it went. I believed there was a normal. I needed there to be.

Two things happened as I got older. One thing, was, I demolished the family of the year program, because it got harder and harder to find applicants (on account of THERE ARE NO PERFECT FUCKING FAMILIES). The second was, that the people I  became enamored with were the people who had shit storms and ran obstacle courses, the ones who had terrible stories and pain that barely fit inside their bodies, BUT WHO KEPT GOING, GOT UP AND MADE EVERY DAY A GOOD ONE. It’s taken me a lifetime to understand “normal” is a relative term. It was sad at first, and I had to mourn it. But then, it was better. It’s the way we react to the things that fall into our paths that make us who we are. It’s what we do with what we’re given, how we overcome, accept and move through. It’s the people who are most challenged, but undaunted who are heroes to me these days. They’re the ones I use as my models, the picture frame-worthy, battered and bruised, who pop up after a cataclysmic fall, yelling, “I’m ok!” Those are the people behind the real “families of the year.” After a damn lifetime of searching for it, needing it, longing for its existence, I finally found it where I least expected, there in the underbelly, the parts that aren’t always visible, and right there inside myself, there it was, finally: normal.

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