How Two Encounters Proved My Life Has Value
Do you believe your life has value, or do you feel like you don’t matter? Far too many of us feel like we don’t matter any longer, and I find that a tragic consequence of modern life.
Last week I listened to an audiobook recommended as a “Hello Sunshine Book Club” Pick.
From the very beginning of the book, I wanted more. It’s a story about a young girl living and surviving in the marshlands of the North Carolina Coast. The book is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
This post is not a book review. Quite the contrary, this is part of my story. It’s about how a book awakened those old feelings of not being important enough for anyone to care what happened to me when I was young.
Like the young girl in the story, I felt abandoned by everyone.
In the Beginning
I doubt my parents intended to ignore me when I was little.
When I was growing up, we had no idea my mother would receive a diagnosis of bipolar illness when I was in high school.
To me, she was always bigger than life. She was busy with everything but me.
Mom was an interior decorator. She owned her business and worked six days a week. The only times she stayed home with me was when I was sick. Oh, those days were beautiful. It didn’t matter how badly my stomach hurt or how itchy the measles became, she was there with me. That meant the world to me and gave me hope.
The rest of the time, a housekeeper oversaw my brother and me.
Our first housekeeper, Fannie Henderson, was like Mary Poppins. I’ve often laughed with my closest friends as I told the story of how I grew to know my mother during the week of the Miss Iowa Pageant. We were stuck in a room together, and for the first time in my life, we talked and got to know each other.
Fannie was my soul mother until she retired. She sang songs to me and played with me. She held me when I scrapped my knee and read me stories when it was naptime.
For a little kid, the feeling of not being important solidified the day she left.
Just like Kya in the book, no one ever stuck around to make sure I was safe. I didn’t blame Fannie. Two of her daughters moved to Colorado, and she missed them terribly. I was happy for her that she could finally go and be with my “big sisters” once again.
What I couldn’t predict was that she would die in a car accident after coming back to visit us the summer I was probably about ten.
Our next housekeeper didn’t see herself as a child caregiver. Oh, she was there every day, doing the chores and correcting me if she saw me doing something wrong. But, she didn’t hold me when I was hurt or read me stories on her lap.
And, that’s when the abuse started.
How many times have you watched someone walk away and felt devastated they didn’t value you enough to stay?
Why do some people seem to get all the breaks, but others silently nurse their wounds without sharing their torment with another?
Some of the readers of Kya’s story complained that a young girl left alone in the marsh wouldn’t survive. They complain that she never seemed to get sick, nor did the book give enough background on how she learned to read, write, and paint the world around her.
I read the story differently. Kya was devastated when her mother left. Why wouldn’t she? She was abused the same as her kids were by her husband. As the siblings left one at a time, I’m confident they knew they had a better chance of surviving if they didn’t drag along a little six-year-old girl. That would have made heads turn.
No, Kya was forced to learn to survive on her own. She found solutions to satisfy her hunger by her astute observations of how her elders bartered goods.
Each of us is different.
I found the role models I needed in books, in my grandparents who didn’t visit often enough, and in my mother’s best friend.
Where the Crawdads Sing forced me to look more closely at the abandonment, I felt throughout my childhood.
My brother received an easel, oil paints, brushes, and a protective smock for Christmas while I received a coloring book and crayons. Don’t get me wrong; my brother was always the only protector I felt I had back then. Unfortunately, like me, he kept mostly to himself. He locked the door to his two-way radio room and spent hours upon hours alone in there. It was a far better choice than being the subject of another back-handed blow from our father.
Mom’s best friend lived not far from our house.
I used to go to her house all the time when I was little. Like my grandparents, when I was in her presence, I could believe again that my life has value. She nurtured me and complimented me. I know she loved me.
That is perhaps the most significant difference between Kya’s life in the book and mine. I did have people in my life who offset the abuse and abandonment I felt at home.
At no time in my adult life have I come as close to those old feelings as I did while reading this book. Beyond those feelings, I had an opportunity to stand back and look at my life objectively. As bad as things were, I had so much to be thankful for in my life.
I was no different from Kya in that respect. She turned to the critters in the marsh to give her hope and solace, and I turned to the adults I didn’t trust enough to tell the truth, but who I knew loved me unconditionally.
Why was I so afraid to tell? I believed I was protecting those I loved from the big and dangerous man who hurt me. I could go to Mother’s friend’s house to escape the terror that lurked in my own home. His threats carried a tremendous amount of weight in my life.
Affirmation: Life Has Value
And so it was, on the heels of reading this book, I made one of my regular calls to Mom’s friend.
I was telling her about my newest project: dipping my hand into canvas and acrylics. Painting with acrylics on canvas is far removed from my beloved watercolors, but I’m trying to find a way to help raise money for our local art nonprofit.
As I was telling her about what I’m doing right now, I made the comment that my brother got the easel and oils while I received the crayons and coloring book. It’s a comment I make due to my feelings of inferiority when it comes to my accomplishments. I don’t consider myself an artist. I acknowledge to myself that I do an excellent job of staying inside the lines when I color.
That’s when she said it.
A statement that wholly and further solidified my old feelings of inadequacy. The fact that I felt like I didn’t matter wasn’t something that only affected me. Other people noticed
She stated that my brother always got everything he wanted while I received nothing.
It was that simple.
As a kid, I always felt my brother was important in our family. I wasn’t jealous, but I did wish I could do something – anything to make my parents believe I mattered.
Those old hurts will never totally leave us.
We continue to strive for perfection.
If we can do something quite well, perhaps then people will believe we matter.
What I came to understand at that exact moment was that my life has value.
It has never mattered what others think of me.
The thing that does matter is that I have treated everyone I’ve met in life as if their life has value to the world around them.
It’s such a small thing, but it makes all the difference in the world.
Your Life Has Value! And, so does mine.