I’ve been thinking a lot about “If-“by Kipling. Written for his son and elevating him to 19 and 20th century virtues, it is a poem beloved by many. When reading it post-divorce it shined in a new light. After all, this poem is about resilience and stoic virtues, this ultra British values. It is about being honorable in the face of adversity. The poem is a masterpiece, here is the first half of it, although I suggest you go and read the rest:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
In this new chapter of my life, I have spent a lot of energy in trying to approach life in the kindness way possible. I set a high mark for the kind of person I want to be, and it is not exactly the “stiff upper lip” British person that Kipling so adores, but there is a lot of wisdom in his words. The version of myself that I want involves a lot of empathy and kindness, just trying my very best to live my life without hurting anyone, and even helping those who are hurt.
The first line of the poem is about dealing with people who have lost their mind, and then blamed you for it. It definitely resonates with me. Dealing with M., constantly involves deconstructing and reconstructing his narrative. It is about separating the lies from the truth, which is why I have tried to avoid him so vigorously since our divorce. Recently, I was treated to M. deciding to unload on me on my birthday, accusing me of spreading lies about him (which I haven’t, at all) and just being entitled and hurtful. It was really difficult for me, mostly because he insist that he has done no wrong, and he pushes me to reevaluate my history. For either he is delusional or I am. I have to revisit the most painful days of my life, just to reassure myself that I’m not insane.
But going back to Kipling, the poem continues. For you need to be able to deal with those you doubt you, without outright dismissing their doubts. M.’s behavior is not justified, and you won’t hear me try to defend him. But there are real flaws in my character, that I should still listen to and try to learn and move away from. It is a fine line to walk, but it is part of moving away from the “victim” narrative I so comfortably fall into sometimes.
This poem is about patience, honesty, compassion, humbleness, stoicism. Not just in our everyday life, but in the face of adversity. It is not about being judged at your best, but at your worst. Are you capable of responding with kindness when someone is actively insulting you? Not passivity, or tolerance, but still virtuously, can you rise above it? As I said, these are some pretty high standards, and I struggle with them. I’m not very good at not speaking too wise.
By far the most beautiful part of the poem is that second stanza. It is about dreaming, but not letting your dreams consume you. It is about being virtuous in good days and bad days. Having an authentic self, even at your worst. I consider this time in my life to be my greatest challenge to date, and I do not want to be defined by having been left by my husband, but by how I picked up from it. The people that I embraced when this was all over, but also while it was going through. Be your best self in your worst moments, for we do not control the circumstances of our pain, but we can rise above it. We can be good people that shitty things happen to.
We can be resilient and rebuild our lives, we can keep trying and fighting. Be independent, and reliable, and honest. This is not something that happens one day, or a journey through a straight line. It is an ambitious goal, but last week I complained about things that weren’t my choice, and this poem is about the things that can be. This is my life now, nobody else is controlling me, people can push at me, but they cannot make me move. I’m at the controls now, I can choose to be as happy and as moral, as kind and as brave as I want.
This is a work in progress, I won’t stand here and talk about my virtues and how this divorce has made me into a perfect human, because there are days when I still feel defeated, and I feel lost, and I’m unkind; but those days are more and more in the minority.
What is at stake now is not my relationship, my marriage, or my friendship with a single person but my own sense of self. I have chosen that I will be the kindest person I can be, and then force myself to be just a little bit more, to be happy and true, and to be a good daughter, sister, and friend. I have issued a challenge to myself to always aim for better. That is MY choice.