I think that parents’ intentions are good when they tell their children stories of fallen women and men. “You don’t want to end up like XXX. Study hard, ignore boys, and you’ll be just fine.” I don’t know that it always works. As a young girl, I would immediately feel interested in the “fallen” woman’s life I’d been warned against. And attracted. The reason behind my interest was the knowledge that the fallen woman had taken another track – one strongly advised against. Cautionary tales fail because children like alternate tracks. They like “What If” stories. They like doing what is unexpected and unaccepted.
What parents fail to realize, though, is that they do a disservice to the protagonists of their cautionary tales.
We (because all of us – at some time or another – have been the protagonists of cautionary tales) are not the sum of our bad times.
We all have bad days, bad months, and even bad years. We are not defined by those, though. We should also be wary of being good cautionary tales. We might have the great job, great boyfriend, and a much admired family life. Still, bad things can happy to us; stuff so bad that it derails everything we are a part of. What might a careful student or admirer of our life postulate then?
In the future, I will be one to correct others when they use people as cautionary tales, as I have been the subject of cautionary tales.
The age of fourteen was a rough one for me. My behavior and my words got me kicked out of not one, but two houses. The age of seventeen was a good one; I surprised everyone when my tiny self joined the Navy and made it through boot camp. The age of nineteen found me with a bad, bad, bad man. I did bad things because of him. In summation, those experiences shored me up. They afforded me the strength to get me through a horrible, horrible hardship.
Perhaps you are finding yourself in a bad time. Perhaps you feel as if you are being measured against others, and you are falling short. Perhaps you feel as if you are being held up as a role model for others to see, and perhaps that is weighing you down.
Know that I won’t use you as a cautionary tale. You are not defined by a bad day, bad month, or a bad year. You are on a journey. It isn’t over.