Reflections: Let them live

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A parent tells a child, "You can't take swimming lessons, you might drown." So the child never learns to swim. He fails to enjoy the sport and he is unable to save himself if the need arises.

Disallowing someone the opportunity to learn to swim is merely one example of how people keep others from genuinely living. Many never allowed their children to ride a bicycle. They were afraid the children would fall and hurt themselves, be hit by a vehicle or encounter some other accident. Once again, part of the child's life experience was taken away, all because his parent or guardian feared for his life if he rode a bicycle. When he matured he felt it was too late to learn and he lacked the courage to try.

People are often kept in cocoons to provide safety from the world. An acquaintance of mine died at an early age, and she had seldom truly lived. Her parents guarded her. She never dated a man who was good enough for her, according to her parents. She found one or two men whom she fell in love with, but, being the dutiful daughter, she turned them away -- all because her mother and father disapproved of them. She never truly lived the way she would have liked.

We must protect children, the elderly and the weak to a point, but it's like keeping a wild animal as a pet or because it might not make it in the wild. You might keep someone physically well by trying to shield them from life's pain, but at what price? Perhaps he would rather feel the pain -- but also touch the joy of fulfilling his destiny.

Years ago people were expected to follow in the footsteps of their parents. The shoemaker's son made shoes like his dad. The daughter became a homemaker like her mom, and the businessman's son took over the family company. Following in the footsteps of relatives in professions, crafts or other work can be considered "safe" and make good sense. Parents are overjoyed things are staying the same. But often sons and daughters express bitterness later on in life because of what they thought was forced on them by family traditions. They felt they had never genuinely lived.

An elderly woman was ready to marry someone she felt would add to her happiness during her later years. She was in failing health, but her gentleman suitor loved her and didn't mind the frailty. Her adult children were overwrought with fear for her welfare. Was the man marrying her for her money, would he take care of her, would she take her medicine like she was supposed to? All those concerns entered into their acceptance of the marriage. They fought it from all angles.

Regardless, the woman refused to budge from her decision. She cared deeply for her children and didn't want to hurt them, but she felt she must follow her heart. Lovingly she said, "I know why you're against my marriage so late in life, but my husband will add joy to my life. You're worried about my health, that I won't take care of myself, but please understand -- you can't keep me from dying by stopping me from living."

Isn't stopping someone from living what we do when we refuse to allow others to follow their heart or their dreams, even when it means taking a chance?

"Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (James 4:14)

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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