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The Front Line

by Max Roytenberg, March 15, 2017

In recent days I have had occasion to gather with others to pay tribute and celebrate the life of a fallen comrade, a companion with us on the road of life. often these have been persons who have been with us on a long stretch of the road. Too often, however, our companions have departed far too soon. We barely had time to share the benefits of our experience, having learned a thing or two on the front line of life’s struggles.


So there it is. We, all of us, have our own battles, have had our own battles. For some of us, the more fortunate few, life has been a continuing series of events proceeding in what seemed an orderly progression. Growing up in an orderly home, patterning ourselves after parents who modelled behaviour that seemed always more or less appropriate, (we knew little of their internal struggles, they shielded us,) that we tended to follow. But, for many of us it was not at all like that. 


I always marvel at the process we face, as humans, emerging from childhood into an awareness of our surroundings. So much to learn, the difference between hot and cold, a smile or a frown, like and dislike. How quickly do we learn to arm ourselves, to build defences to protect ourselves against all the potential injuries we face in our lives? How do we learn who we can trust, and which individuals pose a danger to ourselves, or to our well-being? Isn’t it awful when we find it may be those we expect we should be able to trust? How do these experiences alter how we behave toward those who look to us as someone they can trust?


Growing up, we were quickly introduced to the trauma our parents faced in their lives. We soon perceived the damage wrought by external forces that had thrown their lives out of kilter. As we matured, we began to appreciate the immaturities of those people around us, most acutely, those of our parents. What had happened in their lives, we wondered, that had so twisted them out of a normal shape? Were we going to suffer the same fate? We could see these things being played out in the behaviours of some of our friends and acquaintances. Our contemporaries were not immune to the contagion wrought by aberrant acting out.


Then there was school, and the job. Of those in positions of authority, we remember the good ones. Why were there so few? And we remember the bad ones. Why were there so many? Of, course we were the only ones in our whole world who were sufficiently self-aware to be in a position to judge all these people and all these situations with a balanced objectivity. I wish it were so. How much of that was a consequence of our own ill-considered actions? We can fight that out with ourselves for a long time.


And what of the really important relationships in our lives, those with our partner, or partners? Those with our parents? Those with our siblings? Those with our children? Wow! How did we manage those? These should be the easiest stuff and they often turned out to be the hardest. When I think about all those, I find myself breaking into a cold sweat. How come I can see now so clearly how I could have managed some of those so much better and I was such a doofus at the time when a greater awareness would have stood me in good stead.


Some people are able to handle all this with a seeming ease. Don’t we envy them? For many of us, we stumble through these experiences, having to make errors over and over again before we can learn what we have to learn. That can be painful. That can be scarring. We may not think about them often, but when we recall them, we can remember them all, every last one.


So, what’s this all about? It’s about the life we have lived, the life we are living. It’s about showing up every day at the place we said, or decided, we were going to be at, at the time we said we were going to be there. It’s about for our partner, for our kids, for our siblings, for our parents, if we are lucky enough to still have them. And, yes, for the job we have chosen to do. 


But, why is that? Because we don’t like ourselves very much if we don’t. We have been thrust into this life without being asked, but being here on the front line of life, we find in ourselves the drive to make the best of it. Not only that! We find in ourselves the drive to make the MOST of it. It’s a matter of pride. Not just what other people think of us, but what we think of ourselves. I feel that way. I bet most of you out there feel the same.


Welcome to the battle, Buddy!

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