Saturday, November 28, 2009

Extracting the Value from a Life of Constraint




(Quotation on an original acrylic painting by Bonnie MacEwan-Zieman, 2009)


As I share information in posts from time to time about my previous life as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, it feels important that the posts not end up as some sort of rant or pity party.  I do not feel sorry for myself, nor do I want you to feel sorry for me.  I had a good life in many ways as a child and I have a life I treasure now.  I do not want to 'whine' as Epictetus says above.  I simply want to tell my story.  I am choosing to share details about a previously constricted life and how I found the will to brake free, in the hope that it might help others who feel similarly constrained.


I just finished and enjoyed Andre Agassi's memoir, "Open:  An Autobiography".    After listening to him promote the book, my interest was piqued by his admission that although he excelled at what he did, he had always hated tennis.  He hated it because it was not a life he chose, but rather a life imposed upon him by his father, much as my life as a proselytizing Jehovah's Witness was imposed on me by my mother.  Agassi retired from tennis, much as I 'retired' from the Jehovah's Witness sect - bruised, limping, exhausted but also with much of value that serves his life now - a life of HIS choosing. 

I relate to the fact that because of his father's obsession with tennis, Andre never had the education he desired.  That was one of the big losses for me too.  I was denied the education I craved (and deserved, as does any adolescent).  Jehovah's Witnesses do not forbid higher education, but they do strongly discourage it suggesting that "a devoted follower of Christ would surely want to be preaching the kingdom message in these pre-Armageddon times rather than seeking advancement in this wicked system of things".  They know that anyone who attends university will open their eyes, expand their minds, sharpen their critical thinking skills and quickly exit the religion.  


Just as Agassi made up for past losses by opening his own school for disadvantaged children, I  have made up for past losses by being getting the education and degrees I wanted, as an adult.  He built a school upon his exit from tennis.  I went to school (university) upon my exit from the sect.


Andre Agassi's memoir illustrates another thing I learned to be true:  there is tremendous value to be extracted from an imposed, provisional life that you may be required to lead by culture, religion or family.  Extract the value, and move on from there.  It is possible.  It is exciting.  It can be extremely rewarding.  Andre and I are living proof!


(I realize it could seem presumptuous of me to compare myself to Andre Agassi because of all his accomplishments on the world stage.  Forgive my hubris - I just found so many ways I related to his predicament as a young person that I could not resist making the link.)

26 comments:

  1. This post is one I can relate to on many levels. Thanks for sharing it!
    Linda

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's funny, Bonnie, but as I read this, it never crossed my mind that it was hubris to compare your stories. Just as I never thought of your telling your story as whining. One of the great things about this medium is the possibility of telling truths. And that's always how you've put it. I've really learned a lot from your posts and thank you for doing it.

    I saw Aggasi's interview, too, and remember feeling not sad for him exactly (since he'd clearly moved past that terrible time in his life), but surprised that I could've watched him play so long and hard and not ever guessed it. You just never know what people are suffering in silence. What their lives are really like. Which only goes to prove that judging by appearances is usually going to be perfectly wrong.
    Thanks Bonnie, for sharing your story with us.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You'll be glad to know that I don't feel sorry for you; I share your triumphant satisfaction at having survived and learned and grown. If I thought you were revealing your background as a means to Poor Me I wouldn't be reading you.
    You go, Girl!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I do not see any hubris in your comparison between yourself and Andre Agassi. In fact it's apt. You were both constrained in childhood and both have found new ways of living that help you to deal with the difficulties of your past, which also makes both of you anything but pity seekers.

    It takes courage to break away from such constraints and even more courage to share that experience with others.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've been quite amazed at the reaction of the tennis community to his story. They've really bashed him for his honesty. I, like you, applaud his finally being able to tell his story. None of us knows what it is like to live a life not chosen, and to have to pretend all is well. I am sure it slowly poisons the soul. I applaud you too Bonnie, as you had to sacrifice a good bit to be true and live an authentic life for yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I was also surprised when he said he hated tennis. I didn't see hubris either, but rather a connection between two lives neither person chose.

    I have Jehovah's Witness people stop here relatively often. I can usually tell who in the group is ardent and who is not. Mostly it seems sad to me, so I am always polite and I listen.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I never felt you were whining or feeling sorry for yourself. You have an interesting story. And no hubris in comparing the circumstances of your life to Agassi's. It takes strength of character and belief in yourself to break away from a religious group like that especially with the loss of family that went with it.

    I renounced the religion I was brought up in (christianity) but my family never turned their back on me. At most, my mother just couldn't accept that I really felt that way. She just continued on like I still believed.

    ReplyDelete
  8. you know...i really enjoyed this...we each have a story...and no matter how much we lament, we cant go back and change it....we cant ignore it, because it is part of us...but we can live because of it and touch the lives of others that find themselves in a similar place. thank you for doing just that. smiles.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Wow! This is so interesting and so great of you to share!

    ReplyDelete
  10. " Forgive my hubris - I just found so many ways I related to his predicament as a young person that I could not resist making the link.)"

    Bonnie, No - not forgiveness - Exalted Celebration! that deep pure faith in SELF bears no need for forgiveness - it has never erred. We are meant to fully participate in the glory of freedom, in the blessings of abundance, in the embrace of love. Yes, I too, share in those moments of realization, in those moments of liberation, in those moments that define the Now of SELF freed from the imposed constraints.

    Your expression, your artistry, speak to Creation. Thank you for the BEING you knew you had to BE.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I understand what you mean about your life being a good beginning. Losing a mother at a very young age defined me in so many ways. But not all of them are bad. Some of those difficulties helped mold me into the person that I am now, which for the most part, is very empathetic of others. Sometimes we understand things a little better because of where we come from.

    Great post. Now I'm interested in his book, which I wasn't before as I never really cared for his public image. But like most people, he is deeper than what the media portrays him to be. Obviously.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Barbara: How true. Everyone has had losses, disappointments, hurts of some kind. So important - we never know what a person has, or is going through.

    There was much more to Agassi than his wild child image portrayed.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Elisabeth: It does take courage to expose a past you might not be proud of . . . I think that is one of the reasons he calls his book 'Open' . . . and he is . . . open.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Jayne: Thank you. It does create tremendous inner conflict to be pretending you are okay with a life not of your choosing. Agassi illustrates that very well in his memoir.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Sandra: I'm always glad to hear people say they are polite with the Witnesses. As I am sharing, you just never know what struggles are going on inside. Thanks Sandra.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ellen: It is hard on parents when children reject their ways. Your mother must have felt if she didn't acknowledge it, it might go away!
    I regret that I must have deeply hurt and confused my mother when I left. She made it clear, however, she did not want to hear any of my reasons for leaving.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Brian: So true. Our story does not have to define us, but it does constitute a part of us. To negate it entirely is to negate our path and process. Thank you for your encouragement.

    ReplyDelete
  18. June: Thank you!! Such enthusiastic feedback is much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Missy: Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Rose Marie: Well, now that you put it that way . . . I guess I should retract my provisos. You are right and I do celebrate my freedom and selfhood . . . Perhaps my 'apology' was my fear of being misunderstood and my need to be careful.
    Thank you . . . again.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Nancy: You speak to the issue that I really wanted this post to be about - but the apology for possible hubris is consuming all the attention.

    We all have stuff. It certainly would shape one's life to lose your mother at a young age. That must have been very difficult. But as you say in your comment and I say in the post, we can extract the value from the difficult situation - and you describe how you have done just that.

    Yes, there is much more to Agassi than his wild child/playboy image. He reveals how much of that stemmed from deep insecurities. It is clear that he is a bright man, has done his 'time' in therapy (as he has really good insights into his thinking and behaviors), and is a very good person at heart. I was impressed with how articulate he is.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Wonderful post Bonnie...I only know life can be what we as adults choose it to be...

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hi Bonnie, Just want to thank you for such an interesting and thought provoking post! I admire your determination and sharp insights. And thanks for the great book review, too!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I would have no hesitation comparing you with Andre Agassi.

    And without presumption. I think the parallels are very apt.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Very interesting, Bonnie. I had not heard of AA's 'secret' feelings for the game and it puts his career in a rather different perspective. I am usually admiring of the effort behind great success, and particularly of the drive behind athletic achievement, but to pour yourself into something you hate??? That takes a kind of discipline that I have no experience of whatsoever! It's already (often) hard work to excel at something you love.

    And don't think for a minute that you ever come across as self-pitying or arrogant. You know your own worth, period.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are always read and appreciated.

(I am grateful for all awards received. However, I ask that this be an "award-free zone" and meme-free zone. Thanks for understanding!)