I learned this afternoon, just as I was preparing for a run, that one of my favorite authors, Gabriel García Márquez, had died. It filled me with all sorts of emotions and thoughts. I suppose it’s good that I had ~8 miles to burn through in order to untangle everything I was thinking about.
For those of you who haven’t followed along on Twitter, last Thanksgiving Dr. Rubidium came and stayed with my family. In addition to many, many hijinks, Dr. Rubidium also agreed to participate in an annual Isis family tradition – the Thanksgiving Day running of a local 5K to benefit technology in the classroom. Later that day, as we were a smidge sore and a smidge drunk, Dr. Rubidium suggested that we train for a marathon. With a belly full of wine and the promise of spurs at the finish line, I gleefully agreed.We dubbed ourselves #TeamMajesty and recruited some additional membership. Now that I am in the thick of actually training for this beast, I am still committed but less gleeful. I am also much more frequently covered in Bengay.
Also, blistered. This is interfering with my shoe wearing.
But, I digress from the things I was thinking about while out for my run…
I first encountered Gabriel García Márquez while I was in high school. Like most children, I had to choose a language to study. I thought it would be sophisticated and romantic to study French. My mother told me, “Don’t be a dumbass. Take Spanish and just get through it.” She had a point and I ended up in four years of Spanish. I took Spanish literature my senior year, figuring it would be another year of coasting by. It was anything but that. We read La Casa De Bernarda Alba, Borges y yo, and Balada de los dos abuelo. My favorites, though, were by García Márquez. I remember reading El amor en los tiempos del cólera ( Love in the time of cholera) and Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a death foretold) and being overwhelmed by how much I under-appreciated the depth of Spanish literature, which in retrospect seems silly.
Gabriel García Márquez wrote some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. He wrote of a love anyone would envy in Cien años de soledad:
Locamente enamorados al cabo de tantos años de complicidad estéril, gozaban con el milagro de quererse tanto en la mesa como en la cama, y llegaron a ser tan felices, que todavía cuando eran dos ancianos agotados seguían retozando como conejitos peleándose como perros
(Madly in love after so many years of complicit sterility, they enjoyed the miracle of loving both at table as in bed, and they became so happy that, even as two exhausted elders, they continued frolicking like bunnies and fighting like dogs)
He also spoke of how we should treat each other, saying:
Un hombre solo tiene derecho a mirar a otro hacia abajo cuando ha de ayudarle a levantarse
(A man only has the right to look down at another when he’s helping him up)
I’ve kept that little quote scrawled on a piece of paper in my wallet for years. A sort of reminder of the philosophy I would like to live my life by. It been a philosophy that’s been challenged lately, leaving me to question my beloved García Márquez’s wisdom. At work, this quote as a primary motivation, coupled with a little scientific acumen, has been successful. When people come for help, they are often responsive to how I suggest they approach their problem. They want the solution, surely, but the are also interested in the process of solving the problem.
With my family, it’s different and I realized today that they very frequently want my help, but they also want my help provided on their terms. They can’t see that the behaviors they engage in and nature of our interactions keep them in the position they’re in. It helps them in the short term, but leaves them unhelped in the long term. They ask for money, but expect me to agree to using Western Union because they don’t understand the bank and can’t see beyond the current “emergency.” I swear that 10% of the income of people in the barrio goes to Western Union. Everything is an emergency, but they can’t see that these emergencies are created because they refuse to stay in their lane.
I wondered earlier today whether my frustration was a sign that I was looking down on the people that look to me for help, but I realized that the beauty of García Márquez’s wisdom comes in his flawlessly elegant and simple choice of words. He didn’t say “when you’re watching him grab you by the ankle and try to use you as a flotation device” or “when you’re watching him use your body as a ladder to climb up on.” He said simply, “when you’re helping him up” and that seems imply that you recognize the type of help the person needs to get up. It implies that you’re providing what they need, not just what feels good to them. That’s where I’ve been going wrong with people lately. While I’ve gotten better, I still frequent help the people in my life on their terms even though I know it’s not in their long-term best interest. Or mine.
My friend DNLee helped me to articulate that pattern of behavior earlier today. She called what people were expecting the “self-sacrificing matron (SSM).” This is the woman in the family who, because she has her act together, is seemingly in a position to take care of everyone and because she should feel maternal, she should want to. When the SSM moves up in the world, everyone comes along. It’s a dangerous role to end up in because it allows people to question your loyalty to your family. If people around you are losing their cars because they didn’t plan well enough to pay the note, but you are secure in your life and not urgently throwing cash at their problem, it’s a sign that you’re not loyal and you don’t love them enough to help. If there’s some scrap of yourself that you’re keeping, and haven’t poured out for others, it means that you’re selfish.
It’s a hurtful pattern of behavior because it makes the SSM the sole bearing of the responsibility for everyone’s outcome, but also powerless at the expense of those who demand of her to determine her own destiny and happiness. It’s a banishment to the duty and soledad that García Márquez wrote so much about.
But, I don’t think he thought that it’s supposed to be that way…