O God, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the one from the other. – Reinhold Niebuhr
Fairy tales are full of people who won’t share their name, because it gives power. The stories say that if you give someone your true name, then they have some control over you. But maybe, just maybe, fairy stories have some sort of distant relative in reality. Superstitions, after all, are based in practicality – it’s bad luck to open an umbrella in the house, but only because something as unwieldy as an umbrella is likely to knock over and break something.
I’ve never really felt in control of anything, and I wonder if that’s why I’ve always felt awkward when I’m introducing myself to people. I invariably mumble, and then they have to ask again, and then I have to tell them again. I dread being asked what my name is. Is the mumbling caused by the dread? Or is the mumbling caused by distaste? When I was a kid, the first person I had met who shared the same name had already claimed the only logical nickname. It had never occurred to me until that point that there WAS a nickname for “Amanda,” and Mandy is the first person I remember being consciously jealous of.
(I did try, briefly, in high school, to claim the nickname “Alice,” because it sounded vaguely like my initials strung altogether, but I’m insecure enough to have hated it the very first time it was said mockingly, even though I’m sure the person only meant to be funny rather than mean. There is only one person left who still brings that up, and I can’t seem to get her to stop. My own fault, I suppose, for bringing it up in the first place. Que sera, sera.)
I’m not a terribly assertive person. “That’s not what I would have expected you to choose,” or “Oh, no, you really don’t want to do that,” and “We’re going to do it this way,” and “I want you to care about this,” are things I have been in the habit of capitulating to. I don’t confront decisions that I would not have made. I’ve been in the habit of consoling myself that situations are only temporary. That I can just go back and quietly and privately fix it later.
The problem is, when you aren’t assertive enough to do it right away, “later” keeps getting further and further away, and before you know it, temporary situations become long-term, and the starter house and furniture and miscellany of life that you bought 14 years ago, that really wasn’t what you wanted, has become the house you are going to stay in for at least another ten years until your youngest graduates from high school.
I’m afraid that this is who I am now, though. The last time I really tried to be assertive was ten years ago, and I was told that I was pregnant and hormonal, and throwing a temper-tantrum, so I’m kind of in despair that I will ever be taken seriously as someone capable of defiance of any kind. I’m trying to dig myself out right now, to say that “later” is finally here, but I think I let it go too long. I’m afraid it’s no longer possible, and that maybe, since I’ve always lacked the courage to change anything, it’s time to just accept.
I’m really very blessed. I know this. And in the end, I suppose this current sadness is really just another temper-tantrum. Maybe fairy stories have nothing to do with mumbling when you introduce yourself. Maybe fiction is beloved because it gives us the illusion that people exist who really do get to decide their own fate.
Maybe you all feel the same way, and I’m only just now coming to the same “what have I done with my life” mid-life crisis that everyone feels. If so, then I’m going to tell you something that you really need to hear: It’s okay to feel this way. I understand, and you aren’t alone.