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“Should”, Should go to H*ll

 In Circle the Child, Weekly Forum Discussion

Written by: Melanie Groves; Circle the Child

The topic of “should” makes me feisty. I read the weekly blog topic yesterday as I normally do. It’s what I call my creative process. I let the topic percolate. Usually, I fall asleep with a couple of ideas floating around in my mind with a vague shadow of the story I want to tell and by the time I wake up and sit with my coffee, the words fly on to the screen with the melodic tap tap of my fingers on the keyboard. Not today though. It was a fitful sleep. My jaw hurts this morning so I know I spent the night with clenched jaws grinding my little pearly whites. This morning I fear the keyboard might fall through the desk with the thump-thump of my angry pounding on the keys.  How is it a word, a single word, can get me so worked up?  I try and sit with the discomfort of the heavy emotions and turn to Google to validate my dislike of the word. Google doesn’t disappoint. I find this little gem from Margaret Atwood, who beautifully sums it up when she points out “Should is a futile word. It’s about what didn’t happen. It belongs in a parallel universe. It belongs in another dimension of space.

Since I am a perpetual student, and as luck would have it, I am working my way through an NLP certification, I can also come at it from a scientific lense. From a Neurolinguistics perspective, “should” is a completely disempowering word. Like “never” and “always”, it’s a word that shames people and needs to be eradicated from language. It’s laced in guilt, duty, and living up to an expectation—oftentimes an outdated one that is an ill-fitting obligation that satisfies someone else’s need or want.

Then you add a “have” to the word and again, disempowering “should have” fills you with regret and triggers that little inner child in feeling that I am somehow not good enough because I didn’t do as I “should”. Grr. Must unclench jaw here.

So what’s got me so worked up? In the universe’s way of magically infusing synchronicities, I am wrestling with the “should” demon as we speak.

Grab a coffee. I am about to tell a story. Much to the dismay of short-story folks, it involves back story for context until I come to the point of the story in the here and now.

Two months and 1 day after my dad passed, my friend’s dad passed. So already, this brings up the grief of my own loss, which surprises me because I think I’ve dealt with this. After all, I grieved. Apparently, there were some more tears stuck in there. Here’s the back story part about this friend. We met in our early 20s. We quickly became friends. Joined at the hip. Finishing each other’s sentences and sandwiches. Laughing until no sound came out and just holding space when there were no words in that moment. She still lived at home with her parents when we first met which is how I got to know her parents so well. Her dad was like a second dad to me for a decade. He was so welcoming, so open, and so genuine. He gave career and life advice, and when I met the man who would become my husband, dating advice.

Without going into too many details for fear this blog post becomes a novella, life threw my friend a couple of blows. Life-altering, no doubt. In her own way of coping, she cut all ties. Moved out of town, no forwarding address. No responses to emails. I was devastated. While at first, I took this as a personal blow, that somehow I was responsible for her pain, I eventually saw that she had cut everyone out. This person who was such an integral part of my life. Gone. No goodbyes. No sorry’s. In a time when I personally would be leaning on my friends, she made a choice to start over. I was hurt for a long time, then angry. I tried each year at Christmas and her birthday to connect. Eventually, I came to the realization that it wasn’t about me. I didn’t do anything wrong. She made a choice for her, which worked for her. Which was how she coped with her pain. This brought me peace. I got to the point where I could think back on a funny moment we shared or where something would pop up and remind me of her and make me smile instead of sad.

So how does this connect to the “should” in my life? I should go to the celebration of life for this man that had an impact on a decade of my life. Yeah, it hangs there in the air, doesn’t it?  My emotional mind has my stomach in knots, while my overthinking, overanalytical mind is whirring and reasoning, “Why should I? We haven’t been in contact. She wasn’t at my dad’s funeral…but how could she have been? How would she know dad had passed? After all, we aren’t in contact. We only found out about her dad because of the obituary that we had in our local paper. So, now I know. Therefore I should go.” In my moment of calm, I did reach out to her mom to express my condolences and had a really nice exchange.

Thinking mind: “Isn’t that enough?”

Emotional mind: “No, I should be there for her mom. Ok. I’ll go.”

Thinking mind: “Wait! Having gone quite recently through celebrations of life for dad I know how hard it is to keep it together and acknowledge this new reality in life —it’s hard. So I put myself in her shoes. She was super close to her dad and I can only assume this is still the case. When trying to hold it together and start to get a glimpse of life without this person, do I want to be confronted by a past I was very purposeful to cut out of my life?  I would say hell no. So I won’t go. I should respect her very clearly set out and adhered to boundaries.”

The chaotic back and forth is exhausting me. What I do know is that if I tune into my heart I know what I want and what the course of action is. I want to celebrate this man’s life with a drink in hand, a toast and stories because that is how he lived and that so beautifully encapsulates the memories and essence of him. What I want is to do this with peace in my heart. What I want is to say the thing that is in my heart and for it to be ok. The thing with “shoulds” is that it also triggers in me my work in progress of saying “no” when I need to. My aligned mind already knows that the answer is no. For so many reasons. For reasons that nobody but me has to know or understand. For today, I choose to establish boundaries. I choose to be firm in my decision. It’s a decision that comes from love and compassion. It is a decision that is empowering.

So while “should” has taught me a lesson here on choosing to be empowered I still intensely dislike the word. “Should” should go to H-E double hockey sticks.

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