Originally published in More Magazine, Summer 2009
Blame wasn’t supposed to be the point of the exercise. I know that now. But as I look back at my 20s and the time I spent unraveling the “why’s” of my life with family, friends and, yes, the occasional therapist, I have to admit that blame was at least part of my motivation. My friends and I could spend hours talking about the myriad reasons we were entitled to be pissed off at our parents, teachers, the Catholic church and anyone else who’d done us wrong, examining our pasts with the kind of focus a CSI character brings to a crime scene. And it may have been the 1980s, but I’m pretty sure the weekend visits from my newly-out friend Laura and her girlfriend rivaled any 1960s feminist consciousness-raising workshop, both in intensity and politically-correct discourse. There was a kind of delicious righteousness to it all: If our lives weren’t perfect—and no-one’s is!—it certainly wasn’t our fault. Parents, society, bad boyfriends, crummy bosses: They were to blame.
It’s true, sometimes they were. But there’s a flip slide to blame. Often, whispering under “It’s not my fault” are the words “I’m powerless to make it better.” Relentless inward-looking creates its own kind of paralysis, the fear that you mustn’t move forward until you’ve unknotted the past, that you’ll be condemning yourself to one new tangle after another if the threads of your life are not neatly spooled behind you.
The funny thing is that life happens anyway, whether you pay attention only as it recedes over your shoulder, watch it unfold around you as it happens or look forward to it with anticipation and excitement. (I knew I’d had enough of therapy one spring morning as I sat on a Toronto subway car wondering “What the hell am I going to tell her about today?” If you’ve got nothing to talk about, chances are it’s time to stop talking.) And as I shook off my 20s, charged through my 30s, and landed in my 40s, I realized something: dozens of influences—some good, some bad—have contributed to making me the person that I am. Plenty of things will affect my future, some of them—the economy, stray cells, distracted drivers—completely, absolutely beyond my control. And sometimes, someone or something else will be to blame.
But blaming them won’t make it better.
I’m not rejecting introspection or counseling thoughtless acceptance of the bad behaviour of others. Sometimes on life’s highway a little backtracking is necessary and a blast of the horn is entirely warranted. (And if you’re having trouble with the map, pulling over to ask for directions is a sensible choice.) But at 25, it was as if I were trying to navigate using only my rearview mirror. At 45, I know shoulder checks are important. But the view ahead is far more interesting than the road I’ve already traveled. And I’m the one at the wheel.