Friday, June 5, 2009

I Didn't Ask To Be Born

"I didn't ask to be born!" I don't think I ever said that to my parents, but I KNOW I thought it, and I know I've heard it from my progeny. Kids get away with a lot more disrespect than that these days, but that's not really my point.

Last Sunday's Wall Street Journal page in the now combined Beaufort Gazette Island Packet carried an intergenerational article about personal finance that is one of a series written by a father and son, the Yoders. Often I don't read them, but this one interested me. Isaac, the son, is musing about how he should deal with the good fortune of having successful, hard-working parents. He is wondering about what moral obligations might attach. He says that there are "two basic ways to approach this issue".

"The first way to look at it is that we kids have an obligation to take full advantage of the opportunities given to us because of our parents' hard work. This would mean immersing ourselves in the education provided, going on to get a good job and living life in a way our parents find acceptable. This choice seems like the natural answer, but it also seems to mean that privileged children have to live indebted to our parents, always with something to pay them back for. In other words, we'll always live our lives according to their standards. That doesn't feel quite right.

"The second approach would be to say we kids have the right to basically ignore our parents' expectations. It wasn't our choice to be born. If we follow this argument, we could claim full moral freedom to go in any direction in our lives without feeling like we had to make decisions that our parents would be happy with. There would be no shackles and no indebtedness. This approach feels even further from the truth."

No one has ever asked me for advice on this question, but if they had, I think I might have said something like what Isaac's father, Steve, said, which was maybe not so much about obligation but more about recognition of how his son's good fortune was achieved. He said, "Your debt, like my debt and your mother's, is to the generation before us who passed blessings down to us. And it's to the countless others in the world today who are not as blessed."

I say "recognition" rather than "obligation" because the former sits lighter with me. Obligation is constant and feels less free to me than recognition, which I may choose or not. But with that small distinction and not much difference, Steve Yoder is describing what is for me a way of life. Long ago I was taught about the "haves" and the "have-nots" with a sense that I should always care about social justice. But as an adult, I have chosen to live intentionally, every day, with gratitude. It's true that there are days when what I am grateful for is that things are not worse, but even on those days, I am aware of the blessings in my life, and I thank God for His company.

So whether I asked to be born is irrelevant. I'm here and I live in a world with billions of other souls. I don't feel guilt for my comforts, but I DO appreciate them, and I DO wonder why I have them. And I wish for others every measure of peace and ease that has been given to me and more. I wish for young people who are just starting out the wisdom to see their own way, to not be burdened by unfair expectations, but also to be free to make use of their own special gifts. This is not a particularly easy time to be young. The pace of living is fast and the choices are many as are the temptations to waste precious time. But life goes so quickly. You wake up and you're nearly seventy years old. If you're so blessed as to get that far.

"For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." Luke 12:48

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you have some points but my feeling is that if parents REALLY loved their children their greatest wish would be that their children embark on a mission of self discovery and go about the very important business of finding out what their calling is and pursue that relentlessly! AND also doing this with NO expectations from the child. After all, WHY did they have kids in the first place? To play out their fantasies, to live vicariously through them? THAT seems selfish to me. If I had kids I would want them to be happy first off in all areas of their life because seeing them happy would bring me the most joy. Having children for any other reason is narcissistic.