I've Had A Hard Life
Copyright 2023 by Mort Morford
Photo by Luna Lovegood at Pexels.
a simple principle about understanding human beings; when someone
tells you about themselves – believe them.
might make the assumption that an older person might have had a
“harder life” than a younger person.
when someone tells me that they’ve had a “hard life”,
I have learned to believe them – even when their age or
appearance might suggest a very different story.
few years ago I was teaching an evening class. It was an extended GED
preparation class with an emphasis on the basic academic skills of
reading comprehension, writing and basic math.
session had a bathroom or snack break every hour or so.
noticed one young woman, certainly not much over 20, who didn’t
take breaks, or even chat, with the other young people in the class.
was a year or two older than most of the other students, but that is
not unusual in a community college.
of the time she stayed in the classroom during the breaks.
time I asked her why.
answer was very simple – “I’ve had a hard life“.
her age, and a high degree of apparent innocence, even though she did
look a bit more weary than most, I was not entirely convinced.
we were the only ones in the classroom, she filled in a few details.
asked me if I remembered a triple murder a few years earlier.
was only a few miles from my home, at an intersection I drive by
frequently - and the victims were young people, all in their 20s –
hadn’t followed the story closely, but I heard that it was some
kind of drug deal that didn’t work out.
young woman, a teen at the time, was the driver of the getaway car.
didn’t know, she told me, that revenge of the murderous kind
was on the agenda that evening.
drove, and, as she described it, she parked in front of the house,
her companions ran out of the car, caused a commotion in the house
and ran back to her car.
a panic, she took off and heard the story the next day in the local
police quickly found her and her friends.
were arrested and convicted.
served a couple years in youth prison. Her companions, the actual
murderers, served many more. And were still incarcerated.
then she was released, on a prison education program, alongside her
approximate age peers.
don’t know whether any of her classmates knew her story, but
she didn’t want to share it.
on the fringes of a small town, it’s likely that the other
students, and a few others, probably did know.
maybe it didn’t matter. She inhabited a world that they,
presumably, would never know or even begin to understand.
general guideline about people is that we are an average of the five
people we spend the most time with.
absorb, without thinking about it, their values, attitudes and
beliefs. We tend to share, echo and accelerate their behavior,
language, taste in music, activities and even their fashion choices.
tend to eat what they eat, go where they go and appreciate or disdain
whatever they appreciate or disdain.
football to shoes, to a drug of choice, we tend to reflect the
preferences and taboos of those around us.
woman, as a teenager, “fell in with the wrong crowd”.
had welcomed her and essentially “cultured” her to become
one of them.
young people, even a lot of not-so-young people, want more than
anything “to belong”.
find ourselves joining clubs, scout troops, fraternities, churches
and political parties, to name a few, to find people like ourselves.
of us do it almost accidently. We join groups that our friends or
family members are part of. Many of us just drift, taking the path of
least resistance into the company of others.
few of us are deliberate.
of us spend more time analyzing the pros and cons of buying an
appliance than we do deciding which group to identify with. Or who to
appliance may last a few years, but a pivotal friendship, or marriage
may last for years. Or longer. And recovering from a bad
relationship, or even a disastrous friendship could take much longer.
like this woman, the choices we make as young adults, tilts, limits,
and sometimes even forecloses our choices later.
a short time, I worked at my local rescue mission. While there I met
an articulate, charming man perhaps in his late 30s or early 40s.
was one of those people with many talents, skills and interests.
did not fit the profile of the usual resident of a rescue mission.
told me why he was there.
had a couple children and owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in
of paying it, either incrementally or in its entirety, he skipped out
paycheck or bank account would be garnished to make those payments,
so he avoided all standard employment or banking. He worked purely
“under the table” at odd jobs either for cash or, if
necessary, used one of the check cashing services.
other words, he “got by”. But he couldn’t get
anywhere in terms of a career or savings, or retirement, or equity in
a home. He couldn’t rent a place in his own name and certainly
could not buy a home or start a business. He couldn’t apply for
a loan, go through a credit check or officially work anywhere.
never had an official income, never paid income tax, didn’t use
credit cards, and couldn’t get a passport.
many ways, officially speaking, he was invisible. He brought a whole
new meaning to the term “off the grid”.
more he told me how he “got by”, the more I realized that
he didn’t. And couldn’t.
haven’t seen him since then, but I can’t help wondering
how it worked out for him.
had created his own destiny.
to a large degree, we all do.
of us pay a higher price. Some, like this man and young woman, make
choices as young people that frame and define our lives for decades
young woman probably had no idea what her friends would do that day,
but she probably did know that it would not be good.
man probably knew that skipping out on child support would cost him –
but he probably had no idea how much. Or for how long.
one of our choices have consequences. We go this way instead of that
way. We ignore or listen to advice or promises. We find ourselves in
the wake of our own decisions and choices.
create shadows and ripples, friendships, work histories, memories,
legacies and, for some, prison records or lasting regrets, and of
course, some of us bring children into the world, and they too look
at us and, to some degree, intentionally or not, find themselves
responding to, or trying to make sense of the world we have created
no matter what course we take, most of us only realize the full cost
when it is far too late.
when I see children laughing and leaping in the easy, natural and
spontaneous grip of delight, exuberating, belonging, even communion
and celebration of play, gathering and the ecstasy of shared purpose
and activity, I wonder how long it will be until each one, in their
own trajectory, takes on, often by their own choices, the burdens,
obligations and oceans of regret that, like some near Biblical flood
or unstoppable force, chokes the joy out of almost every one of us.
I see why classical paintings portray angels as children. It’s
as if this state of exuberance and innocence, trust and celebration
is our natural and intended state. I see children dance and sing as
if they could, and just might, dance and sing forever.
were made for this. The guilt and shame that so many of us carry –
that so many of us have so carefully, even meticulously, constructed
around our selves does its inevitable duty and, as scriptures put,
the burdens and cares of this world, accomplish their grim ends and
accumulate like an ever-darkening stain on our spirits and leave far
too many of us as hollowed out shells of the children – even
angels – we were meant to be.
any of us even begin to imagine a life, terrestrial or eternal,
without criticism or judgment, without shame or anxiety about the
past or fear and worry about the future, but like eternal children,
bask in the forever moment of incandescent exaltation of existence?
Heaven is anything, it is the restoration of the sheer and unbridled
sense of delight, freedom, innocence, inspiration, blessed, even
sacred vulnerability and adventure that once came so naturally and
easily to each one of us.
each anxious, weary and worried face lies a child longing to get out
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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