“Empathetic people–dreamers and idealists–have this sort of accidental power. Most spend their early years ridden with self-doubt, insecurity and people-pleasing habits. But their journey is inevitably derailed when this comfortable life gets uprooted by an unexpected darkness.” – Author Unknown
After my mother’s death in 2008, I found myself isolated with a lot of pills, too much time on my hands and feeling like my life had absolutely no purpose. For so many years, my main concerns had involved some form of consideration for my mother, whether I was a child keeping a watchful eye on her at a party after she had too much to drink (as she often did), or later in life, as a young adult, trying to make sure she did not lose her house (which she almost did). My mom, at times, could be a full-time job.
All of her personal issues aside, she did her best to raise me to be a compassionate person, and tried to instill in me what it truly meant to have empathy for other people. Admittedly, there have been times in my life when I have failed miserably–and still fail–when it comes to having compassion for the people I love. I have a tendency to be very judgmental, which was certainly not something I learned from my mother. She remains one of the most compassionate people I have ever known, and she taught me by her example that, above all, kindness goes the longest way. She believed that real character came from struggle and that being the underdog was a good thing. She always seemed to be drawn to the people that society deemed to be the “black sheep.”
Growing up, I had always been somewhat politically aware, as my mother fancied herself a rather progressive thinker with a lot of strong opinions. She did not identify herself as a “feminist” per se, and she would not have seen any reason to. She was a spirited woman who did not have to make any proclamations to the world about who or what she was. She was Liz, no explanations, no apologies.
As a kid, I remember the only thing my mother went out of her way to shield me against was violence. If there was any type of violence in a movie I was strictly prohibited from seeing it, no exceptions. On the other hand, sex or what would be considered foul language was okay with her–but never violence. I guess she did a good job, because even as a teen in high school, seeing a fight would make me feel sick to my stomach. In fact, it still does. One of the things I find most repulsive about our society is the willingness to go to war, and I rarely, if ever, choose to watch a movie or TV show that depicts it.
Because I was an only child and my mother had to leave for work early in the morning, I was always fairly independent. I got myself ready for school on my own and kept myself occupied after I got home. There came a point one day when I realized I was not particularly a fan of state-mandated education, so I did what any seven-year-old in my situation would do: I started skipping it. What started out as a day here and there turned into weeks at a time. We were too poor to have a phone, so my plan was almost infallible…until one day my mother came home sick from work to find me stretched out on the couch, watching old reruns of the Love Boat. Needless to say, after so many absences, the next year I was forced to “repeat” the second grade.
During my teens and early twenties I was probably a little more “worldly” than most of my other friends, due to the fact that we were always broke and life was often more of a struggle for us than for my friends. Growing up poor in a middle-class town will teach you invaluable lessons, and now that I am an adult, I am so thankful that I was not handed the things that most of my schoolmates seemed to receive from their parents with reckless abandon.
After my mom’s slow and heartbreaking death from lung cancer, I entered what I now call “the year of darkness.” I started watching every documentary I could find, began following the wars overseas extremely closely and became more politically active, attending marches, meeting new people and throwing myself into just about everything I could.
I am the first to admit that at times I was like a deranged crackhead, taking in any and all information I could get my hands on–information that I had not vetted in any way. While I made new friends, I felt myself alienating the old ones. I expected everyone to hop on the bus and ride along on my life’s journey, and if you didn’t, well I was fully prepared to leave you behind. I lacked any and all ability to be patient, compassionate or understanding. I was, in fact, a total asshole.
I had long-term friendships that suffered because I was unable to accept that maybe, just maybe, not everyone would be as passionate about certain issues as I was. In my quest to “evolve” into a new and “highly enlightened Cynthia,” I found myself despising the old one, even though she really wasn’t all that bad. Eventually, all the information I was taking in at a frenzied level began to bring me down and caused me to become extremely depressed. There came a point when I found it very tough to be in my own skin. I was despondent. I felt like there was absolutely no hope for the world, let alone humanity; and then one day, I became the two things that go against my very spirit: angry and cynical. Instead of trying to reach out to the people I loved with respect and kindness, as my mother had taught me, I used “my truth” to beat them over their heads.
Slowly, I felt myself being excluded from the girl’s weekends that I used to love so much–those long days in Saratoga when we would drink endlessly in my friend Mary’s kitchen, just shooting the shit, being silly and laughing so hard our stomachs ached. Somehow, I managed to convince myself that I didn’t care that I was no longer wanted. In my mind I was well beyond all that triviality, anyway. Life was too short and held way too many horrors for me to take a breather, even if it was just to laugh and relax with old friends. Jesus Christ, I had a world to save!
I don’t know how or why, but somewhere between then and now I started to gain equilibrium, realizing that all things need balance. I have since come to learn that you can be passionate about issues and make new friends while still enjoying a good laugh and loving your old ones. This last month has been spent mending broken fences and repairing the damage that was done to some life-long relationships; and I have to say, it’s felt really good to reconnect.
I have figured out that there is no new “highly-enlightened Cynthia.” There is only Cynthia. Our lives should not be compartmentalized into categories. There should be no separation between young-self, middle-self and old-self, but rather a celebration of our entire life’s journey. In the end, we’ll be remembered for the whole enchilada, and no matter how hard we try, we can never change who we were–even if we do hold the power to change what we become.
Being aware is a funny thing. I used to think it was about being “right”; but the truth is, it should NEVER be about that. Those are two diametrically opposed forces, if your genuine intention is long-term evolution. If you are truly seeking self-awareness, the key is to never be ashamed of admitting when you are wrong and to show humility. In the end, you will more than likely come to the realization that sometimes–most times, in fact–we are all, indeed, assholes.
Author: Cynthia Cone is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.
Contact Cynthia at firstname.lastname@example.org