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Whose Life Is It Anyway?

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When my son, Joe, was born, I imagined that he might grow up to be a lawyer. When he was nine, we had a family portrait taken—newly launched into my life as a single mother, the portrait, I believed, confirmed my suspicions. “Doesn’t he just ‘look’ like a lawyer?” I said to my sister hopefully.

As she studied the image of ‘our little man’ dressed in his miniature double-breasted, navy blue suit coat and coordinating red tie, hair trimmed neatly around his ears, gaze serious and confident, she had to agree.

Being a lawyer had long been a dream of mine, though in truth, I think I was drawn to the image of what being a lawyer meant more than I was to the actual work of being a lawyer. Throughout college and even into my early thirties, I equated lawyers with adjectives like intelligent, wealthy, successful—all things I imagined would make for a happy life. (Something I now know is not necessarily true.) But, as it turned out, I wasn’t destined to become a lawyer and, neither was my son.

During their elementary and high school years, I drilled the idea into both of my kids that college was non-negotiable. Not attending or graduating from University simply wasn’t an option. Always exceptionally good in school, in spite of not always applying himself, Joe received a full presidential scholastic scholarship. And, as I insisted, he entered college immediately following high school graduation.

But, almost from the start, Joe was miserable in college. Keeping his spirits up and keeping him enrolled became a full time job that I took very seriously. For three and half long years, I struggled to keep Joe following the path I had set forth. And Joe, being a wonderful son who wanted so much to ‘do what was right’, suffered through the process. While my encouragement and insistence was well-intentioned—I really believed I was doing what was best for Joe—in hindsight, I can see now that I’m fortunate I didn’t lose him in the process.

Shortly after Christmas, prior to returning to complete his last semester, Joe came to me in tears. He begged me not to make him go back. He told me how pointless his classes felt. How wasted he thought his time was. At twenty-one, Joe was completely within his rights and fully capable of making his own decisions. We both knew that he didn’t need my permission to drop out. He was asking for my blessings and my understanding. And, while I was devastated to imagine that he wouldn’t continue, I was even more distressed that I could play a part in my son’s spirit being so broken.

As we talked through the whats, ifs, whys, and hows, of his taking what we called, ‘a break,’ the unexpected death of my parents from a car crash that left my beautiful forty-six-year-old sister in a persistent vegetative state (coma) less than six years earlier, were foremost on my mind. The tragedy we all, including Joe, experienced, taught us well the lessons that each day is a gift and our time on this earth is limited.

So, with Joe’s promise that he’d somehow, someday, earn his degree, I gave him my blessings and, in the process, the authority—which had really been his all along—to determine his own path in life. And, true to his wise old soul, Joe wasted no time in following his heart. Today, nearly five years to the day, Joe’s ‘path’ has led him to China, Thailand, England and finally, to his new home with a beautiful, intelligent and loving wife and baby, in Sydney, Australia where he is building a rich and satisfying life as a personal fitness trainer; a career he is pursuing with passion and enthusiasm.

Over the past five years, Joe has certainly learned and lived some lessons in life but the lesson I’m most appreciative for is the lesson that he gave to me. His lesson served to remind me that each of us has our own life path and purpose we’re here to live out. And the way in which Joe is following his path continues to be a source of inspiration as I stumble along my own way as a writer. Lesson learned. Degree in hand. I take it one day at a time with overwhelming gratitude to my son, Joe.


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