One of the latest TV series I’ve binged watched was the Showtime comedy Nurse Jackie, which ran from 2009-2015.
It centered around ER nurse Jackie Payton, who struggled with a prescription drug addiction, and (spoiler alert) ultimately succumbed to her disease. It was a funny, moving role played by Edie Falco, and months later I’m still thinking about the opening and closing scenes of the series. In the opener, Falco prays the prayer of Saint Augustine: “Make me good, Lord — but not yet.” And in the closer, as Falco is dying of an overdose, her (decidedly more saintly) nurse coworker, trying to tell Jackie she’s going to be okay, ends the show by saying, “You’re good, Jackie. You’re good.”
Today I realized that for the most part, this is what I want from myself. In life. To be good. To be a good person.
Not that it’s the first time I ever thought about this or that that’s some grand realization (I believe all of us, at least to some degree, want this for ourselves, whether or not we realize it or want to go there), but it ties into something else I often think about myself — that I’m “a rebel,” at least according to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz, which I took some time back and was at the same time shocked and validated to learn: Of course I’m a rebel. I don’t want to do something just because someone else tells me to do it. That pisses me off. That makes me NOT want to do it. But at the same time, I thought, I took that quiz when I was in a bad place. In a bad relationship, with someone who often tried to bully me and boss me around, without always necessarily doing his own work or setting a good example for me and our children.
I started thinking that maybe I’m not a rebel — maybe I’m an obliger, or someone who responds best to outside accountability. A people pleaser. I can make time for others, but not often for myself. So, of course, I took the quiz again. And, as it turns out, I am indeed an obliger.
Now, is this a result of bias, due to what I was thinking when I went in to take the quiz again? That’s possible. But some obligers do suffer from “obliger rebellion,” so that could explain my tendency in the past to want to rebel against specific individuals only, which also may have colored my opinions and actions during that time of my life in general.
At any rate, I felt validated and righted again. The “good girl” thing ties in so well to this obliger slant, I started thinking of all the ways I try to be good (“and fail,” I’ll point out my mind wants to insert there) and all the things I think a “good girl” or a good person does:
- A good person flosses. Definitely flosses, and brushes twice a day.
- A good person exercises. Nothing too crazy or intense like a bootcamp, but smart. Sensible. Takes care of health responsibly.
- A good person spends wisely; researches purchases to a certain extent but nothing too intense; uses coupons but not to an extreme and gets good deals without often splurging impulsively.
- A good person cleans, cooks, does the laundry on time, sits with her kids to do their homework.
- Doesn’t yell.
- Doesn’t smoke.
- Doesn’t drink too much.
- Doesn’t eat too much. Doesn’t spend too much. Treats her partner well. Takes her vitamins.
The examples were everywhere I turned, from the moment I woke up to how I thought I should fall asleep soundly and sleep all night, because a good person can meditate when they can’t sleep, or doesn’t worry and ruminate, speaks their mind kindly and with respect, and does everything with this question in the back of their mind: Is this good? Am I doing well here? Is this what a good person does?
Now, that’s not to say that a good person is everything to everyone and does everything — the SuperMom complex doesn’t fit here. A good person knows how to prioritize what’s important, and if the laundry doesn’t get done, sorry. But the big things, the significant things we all worry about — health, money, work, raising kids — when my obliger rebellion kicks in and I fail myself in one of these areas, I hate myself for it. It breaks me, and yet I find myself doing it over and over again. Make me good God, just not yet.
I also know intellectually that being “good” does not mean just the things we do or think or say. Many would argue that wanting to be good is in and of itself a virtue. But I tend to be hard on myself. I know that I equate outer “failures” to mean inner weaknesses and lack. So am I destined to be doing this all my life? Chasing peace, only to screw it up because it’s easier to give in to the part of me that thinks I’m bad, like a self-fulfilling prophecy? (Is that what we all struggle with sometimes on the most basic level, as humans in general?)
It’s hard to say, and I’m not sure how this newly awakened self knowledge will affect me today, next week, next year. But I do believe all self knowledge results in some type of change, no matter how small or gradual. And if I can call up this perspective when I’m tempted to charge more on my credit card, skip another workout, judge someone, gossip or yell at my children, maybe it will color my actions a bit differently. It’s otherwise all too easy for a person like me to think I’m a horrible mom, a horrible person, not good enough, never good enough. And that’s no way to live life. I enjoy it; I have fun; but I also want this: Make me good, God. Not later. Now.
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