Saturday, January 24, 2009

The best revenge is living well

"Ability is what you are capable of doing.
Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it
- Lou Holtz

I first read Jeannette Walls's memoir, The Glass Castle, a couple of years ago and then was lucky enough to have a sister-in-law meet the author and bring back an autographed copy of the book. Since then, I've practically forced this story upon everyone I know: Carla,  Rachel,  Victoria ... and of course everyone in the Golden Girls Book Club.

The GG Book Club was formed last fall among myself and four friends, and at my strong insistance, this is our book du jour.

I think the reason I love it so much is because it's so inspiring. At it's most basic, it's the fascinating story of a brilliant yet dysfunctional family living in extreme poverty.

But the underlying message I take from it is something I've been preaching to others in a tyrrant-like manner adamant about for years: What happened to you growing up is now irrelevant. What really matters is how you've picked yourself up and what you're now doing with the rest of your life.

To be frank, everyone's childhood was miserable. Everyone has a story. Some are tragic, sad, unfortunate.... and they're often seemingly never-ending.

I'm not trying to be cruel; I really am sympathetic to the misfortunes of others.

But as adults we have a choice: We can either wallow in self pity and blame everything that's wrong in our lives on whatever hell we went through as kids... or we can grow up and live better lives in spite of whoever we think wronged us. (Read: Quit using your childhood disappointments as a crutch for your modern-day failures!)

There is an excerpt on pg. 144 of the book's edition I have that states it best. Jeannette was recalling a discussion she had with her mother about Erma, her paternal grandmother:

"I hate Erma,"
I told Mom.

"You have to show compassion for her," Mom said. Erma's parents died when she was young, Mom explained, and she had been shipped off to one relative after another who had treated her like a servant. Scrubbing clothes on a washboard until her knuckles bled -- that was the preeminent memory of Erma's childhood. The best thing Grandpa did for her when they got married was buy her an electric washing machine, but whatever joy it had once given her was long gone.

"Erma can't let go of her misery," Mom said. "It's all she knows."

This, I believe, is what holds too many of us back.

And it's why I find this book so uplifting -- despite everything Jeannette and her siblings endured growing up, they always looked forward and eventually overcame their setbacks. They became productive, contributing members of society. They made it.

As she says at the end of this interview, "The shame is not in falling. The shame is in staying down."

Jo's Note: To view another uplifting segment on Jeannette Walls and her mother, click here.

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