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Esmeralda: entitlement (a reflection on “just showing up”)

It’s hard to have hopes. It’s hard to have dreams. We assume it’s a given that all people have some ambition that they either do or do not pursue, either in secret or in the full light of day. We act as if everyone has taken the time to formulate specific goals, and that they either try to fulfill them, defer them, or do their best to ignore them.

But it’s hard. Having a dream entails feeling entitled to have a dream, enough to flesh it out and turn it into something concrete that can be pursued. If your goal is to become an accountant and to open up your own firm, you probably understand that you need some academic training, some professional experience, a few contacts, some capital… specific stuff you gotta do to get to where you believe you want to be. If you do those things, apply a modicum of effort and intelligence along the way, and have decent luck, your odds of success are probably okay, maybe even good. As Woody Allen famously (probably) said, “80% of life is showing up.”

Which takes us to our latest interviewee, who playfully named herself Esmeralda. Esme is a single mother of an 18-year-old son, who lives with and cares for her elderly, ailing parents. She makes ends meet with restaurant work (mainly bartending). I’ve known her for a few years, mostly from playing open mics in a joint where she used to tend bar. She lives in the Lower Hudson Valley, in the Capitol Region of New York State. She looks considerably younger than her 49 years.

So what are her dreams?

No doubt, Esmeralda has dreams. They are thematically consistent and fit her personality well. She even has acquired skills that she would need. But she is vague on essential specifics that could make them actionable. I’m guessing that she may feel her dreams more strongly than she can articulate them, and I’m guessing that it’s because she does not feel fully, freely entitled to them.

Esmeralda has trained herself as an astrologer and a tarot reader, and has psychology training as a counselor. She has a deep interest in the occult, and a desire to help people, to heal them. You really feel her empathy and wish to be helpful.

From the time I was young… when they would ask you in school what do you want to be when you grow up, I didn’t particularly care. I just wanted to help people, heal people and love people.

I am an astrologer, so for me that’s my vocation and my ultimate goal, is to help people through astrology…

I have training in psychology and counseling, so what I see is what [people] can be; then I see what’s stopping them from what they can be.

Her motivation to be a healer, through astrology and counseling, is not in question. The problem is the obstacles in Esmeralda's life, which seem to prevent her from following through, or really thinking through, these worthy aspirations.

I would like to be able to get past my own stuff, to be able to help other people. Because I feel like my focus is consumed with my own crazy life, and that sort of drags me down.

The big obstacle is the need to provide and care for her parents (one might infer, also her son, but that relationship seems to be more nourishing than draining to her). So Esmeralda can’t become the kind of caregiver and healer she wants to be, because… she is too busy care giving and healing. Sort of ironic, and sort of inevitable, especially when you consider her upbringing.

Esmeralda's parents are Pentecostal Christians, born again into a cult-like group when she was 7 years old.

It was very controlling. People couldn’t make decisions on their own, you had to go to your leader, your group leader, and I hated that they were always talking about me and my stuff, and issues they were having with me and other people. It was horrendous, horrible, and I used to fight with them all the time, because I knew exactly what was going on and how ugly these people were inside. Of course my parents didn’t want to hear it.

The goal of TSP/i is not to amateurishly psychoanalyze people… though I am not above that temptation! In this case, there does seem to be a link between the cult’s overbearing influence, her parents putting the needs of the cult above those of their daughter, and her ultimate ambivalence about her own goals and dreams. Her dreams as a young woman were very much shaped by this experience.

I wanted to be married, and yeah, even when I was a teenager and I’d think about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I just wanted to be married, and happy.

Aside from being a bit of an escape fantasy (“married and happy”), this is pretty much what Esmeralda was raised to be:

I think that that was what I was approved for in my family because of our religious, my religious upbringing. I just think that my parents looked at me and said, huh, wife and mother. So they didn’t really push me for anything else.

Perhaps predictably, the man Esme married when she was 25 resembled her father in his abusiveness and his lack of empathy. She naturally tried to heal him, and, inevitably, failed. The marriage did not last, and she has never remarried… Now, she would be happy with a “functional relationship,” with a person she was not necessarily required to fix. “I tend to attract very wounded people, because I look at them as what they could be if they were healed from that.”

So what’s next? What,indeed…

Esmeralda is a kind and caring person. She has a lightness about her, especially when she talks about her passion for astrology, that belies the sadness of her story. But she is thwarted by her obligations, and this causes her heartache. There is much to admire here: you can imagine a lesser person simply walking away. It is consistent with someone whose default emotion is empathy to suffer the double irony of putting her own dreams aside in order to care for people who were, at the very least, not particularly encouraging of her right to have anything but the most gender-defined, unimaginative vision for herself.

I’ve asked myself as I’ve written this: would Esmeralda agree with my assessment of her life? Does she really not feel entitled to actively pursue her dream, even to the point of having a plan that she is not yet ready to execute? She never said exactly that; I have inferred it. Perhaps she’ll read this, and perhaps then we’ll know. Maybe, then, she’ll know, one way or the other…

Even having a dream, without less executing on it, requires a certain confidence. Without some feeling that it is ultimately attainable, a dream becomes a burden, an unending disappointment. Trapped in a life that she did not ask for, by people who formerly oppressed her, Esmeralda drifts… I choose to believe that, once relieved of that burden, she will find a way to soar.

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