I’m not going to attend a memorial today. There are reasons I should. It’s for an old friend of the family. It’s being held at my parents’ home. Attending memorials when asked is something you’re supposed to do.
Except I don’t want to go. I have no concrete reason beyond that, no well-articulated argument to justify my absence. I simply lack the desire to attend.
I thought about my decision from a variety of angles, in an attempt to justify it. Because, for me, not wanting to do something is not a good reason for rejection, though why it’s not is a mystery.
I told myself that the connection was quite distant. I reminded myself that I don’t do well in crowds of people I don’t know. I argued that his children would have no reason to expect me, any more than I’d expect them to attend my parents’ memorial.
I posited what various friends might do if they were me, how they might justify a similar decision. I needed to know so I could be happy with my choice. I was thinking of calling one and bouncing my dilemma off her when a scene from the movie “A Few Good Men”, popped into my head.
Two of the lawyers for the defence, Sam Weinburg and Daniel Kaffee, are having a conversation about their case, about whether they should proceed. Weinburg makes the following speech:
“But here’s the thing – and there’s really no way of getting around this – neither Lionel Kaffee [Kaffee’s father] nor Sam Weinberg are lead counsel for the defense in the matter of the U.S. versus Dawson and Downey. So, there’s only one question: what would you do?”
What would I do?
I don’t put myself into my calculations nearly enough. I factor in everyone else’s needs and accord them greater weight. How would my decision affect those involved? How would it affect my family, my friends? What would random strangers think of me?
The decision-questioning and the lack of attention paid to my own needs is the same regardless of the complexity of the situation. It arises if I’m deciding whether to go to a memorial or asking people to clean up after themselves. I obsess over the impact my actions will have on others.
But what about me, what I want and need?
Considering myself, putting what I need first, still feels utterly selfish. How dare I consider myself? Who do I think I am, having wants that might conflict with other’s? Am I not obligated to acquiesce?
The short answer is “no”.
I have the same rights that I give to other people. I have the right to say no, and for no real reason. I can choose to not do something, to not agree to something, simply because I don’t want to. I don’t have to explain myself. It doesn’t make me selfish, or unkind, or small, or petty, or any of the other pejorative adjectives that pop into my brain when I try and prioritize my needs.
Caving to what everyone else wants and needs at the expense of our own desires never works out well. So, I’m not going to go to the memorial and I’m going to work very hard at not feeling guilty for putting my own desires first.