Sunday, January 2, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 236: Biomythography - Note 13

A Biomythography - Note 13
by Secret Hippie


Deciding To Be The One

The decision to have a purpose in life is not the same as a decision to take responsibility for others. When I made the latter choice, it was about becoming 'the one' in my own internal terminology. It was a determination about family, at first. Then it became more.

Family History

The decision started out with my awareness that I had to become a wage slave for the family. It wasn't an instant realization. I was reluctant to admit it. But the choice to go along with the concept seemed inevitable and it gained strength from my awareness of family history.

On my mother's side, three sons of the Stocketts sailed over to America in 1658 to claim their land grant from King Charles II. Two of those brothers died. One lived on with some success. In the next generation, three sons grew to adulthood. Two soon died. That again left one to carry on. The Stocketts kept dying, as a lot of American colonizers did, but they also kept having enough children to maintain themselves and spread out. In the line I'm descended from, however, they lost their family farm to taxes.

That meant my great-grandfather and grandfather spent their generations getting by with less. My grandfather had things especially tough, since he had epilepsy. At the time, epilepsy was treated like a contagious disease, so he found himself often shunned. And he went 4F in the draft. But that was okay. It meant that he could work in the shipyards during the war. For a while, he could afford a family. When the war ended, though, the Navy let go of their 4F men (along with the shipyard women) and my grandfather immediately became desperate for work.

He had never been able to afford a house or land. He had moved onto a patch of his uncle's property that no one was using. It was separate from the rest, which was good because this was the uncle who was cruel to everyone. He killed kittens, apparently just to put children in their place about their pets, and he killed his eldest son by pushing him off the roof during an argument. He had influence in town, too. Taking his land by simply squatting on it, even when it was left unused, was a risk.

My grandfather felt he had no choice. He built a house on the vacant lot by raiding the town dump for lumber and parts. Then, for years, he flattered the rest of the family as much as he could. He named his eldest son after the murderous uncle to whom he was indebted. Eventually, he got a grudging approval to live there. He continued to raise his family and farmed the neighbors' land because they weren't using it.

For a while, he got a job with the phone company. That was great but they kept sending him to work during storms. He followed orders because he was epileptic and everyone was sure he couldn't get another job. As a result, he repeatedly got hit by lightning while up on the poles. The first three times, he got away with it. Finally, he took a bolt so strong that it knocked him off the pole. The company retired him. My grandfather supported eight people in his house living on one disability income. Naturally, he kept farming. It was the source of most of their food.

So my mother grew up in decent circumstances. She had a home, enough to eat, and a large family. True, her father opposed her going to college. He said he couldn't afford it for a girl and that seemed likely enough. My mother's parents had also arranged a marriage for her when she was a child. To their surprise, she refused the marriage. She applied for scholarships, instead, and managed to get so many that she could return the ones she didn't need and still go to college. So she left Annapolis for good. When she graduated from University of Maryland and got a job as a teacher, she attained a genuinely middle class life for herself.

That was a significant achievement. Her siblings followed, too. Her entire generation took the family in a positive direction. They got back to an ordinary level of prosperity.

On my father's side, we never learned much about the history. We know that his Irish grandfather, George Earl Gallagher, came to America near the end of the famines in Ireland. He had an American child, my father's father, and then died at the age of forty-three. His son remarried late, fathered two more children, my Aunt Jenny and my father, and died at the age of forty-two.

June Pond Light, my paternal grandmother, grew up in an orphanage before her marriage. When she left, she lived in Philadelphia for a while. Then she married and became a Gallagher. She discovered that her husband had divorced his first wife. Since he was Catholic, his church didn't recognize the divorce. That meant Robert Gallagher, my father, and his sister Jenny, weren't recognized by the Irish side of the family. They refused to talk with June or her children, so our Irish history was lost. In addition, my father's younger brother Jack, always their mother's favorite, inherited everything from her - the English money, such as it was. Other relatives mentioned it to me on a few occasions, always bitterly, and that's how I knew. In their ways, both of my parents had descended from several generations of not inheriting anything, often because there was nothing to be had. They were the people who did not get the house. In some cases, they did not even get the tea set.

Why the One

It was in that context that I read books about how successful people achieved their status. In nearly all of them, they started from stable, upper middle class or wealthy, owning-class families. Those families provided the springboards for their dive into success.

When the time came to make my decision, I understood that I probably couldn't achieve a high level of material success. But maybe, just maybe, I could still be 'the one,' that is, I could become the somewhat anonymous and dependable provider for a family. I could accumulate enough advantages for the household that someone in the next generation might succeed better in material ways.

At first, I thought this meant I had to,
  • grow the clan
  • watch over it
  • protect it
Soon I saw that it meant accepting I would be a person who gets taken for granted, who is a wage slave, dependable and thoughtful of others. The 'one' may number more than one, of course, since there could easily be a handful in a family - really, there should be - but each one of them is someone to whom a grandmother can go for help, to whom cousins and nieces and nephews can get guidance, and to whom caretaker chores may be given, whether for child care or elder care.

It is an ordinary decision.  Many people make it.  But I felt it was lacking in my immediate family.  And every tribe needs members who take on responsibility for others.  Maybe, in fact, it is the sort of ordinary decision that separates long-lasting families from broken homes.  It is a decision that extends into professional life because it can lead into a career.  The consequences can spill over into hobbies because, apparently, taking responsibility is a habit.  You can find yourself banging a gavel for the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos one day, wondering why it happened. 

Taking responsibility will, likely enough, affect your group of friends.  After all, sometimes even among casual acquaintances it's necessary to make the decision to be responsible, to gather people together, to feed them, to look out for the weak, to assist the strong, and to make the group a success.

The group's success might not belong to 'the one.'  It won't be seen as yours.  You might not get credit at all.  That's what happens in groups.  Sometimes the youngest grandchild goes out to take the bows as a famous artist even though most of her success is due to her grandmother.  It happens.  But her grandma is not a child.  She does not demand attention.  She made her decision to be 'the one' long ago.  She can bask in the success of others, nowadays.  And sometimes those others will understand, just a little, that they have depended on people who decided to be responsible for them and their welfare.

Those people made the decision to care and to act on their caring. For an entire lifetime, everyone around them feels the benefit.

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