We often do not realize how lucky we are until we somehow see how life could have easily taken a turn for the worst as in the Frank Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life“. Life can take so many unexpected turns resulting from the many choices we make as well as other factors outside our control. But it usually takes a crisis or bad experience to make us realize how lucky we really are.
For me it was the news from my doctor that I had cancer almost four years ago that ultimately led me to reflect back upon my life. The news was an unexpected shock and brought me to realize my mortality.
Eventually I started thinking about the many twists and turns life has taken me. I have mentioned in earlier posts that I am likely autistic and have a number of learning disabilities (see An Autistic’s Personal Perspective). Life has been a struggle academically and socially. As a child I thought I was mentally retarded because it was so difficult to learn new things with such limited short-term memory. I was always at the bottom of my class. In addition I am dyslexic. I read so slowly that I would forget what I had read at the beginning of a book after the first 50-100 pages and could never remember the names of characters and new terms. So school all the way through college was a major struggle. Somehow I persisted and managed to get a graduate degree in Electrical Engineering, no simple feat.
I was a withdrawn and extremely shy person especially when it came to girls. I had my first date as a graduate student and didn’t seriously date until working a few years. I tended not to make many friends and had a major inferiority complex. I seldom engaged in conversations with more than three people at a time and had to struggle to understand conversations in noisy venues. I always want to escape crowds and would eat continuously if food were available just to keep busy so I wouldn’t be noticed.
After getting a job and getting married, I started to settle down into a routine and my awkward times became less frequent. I worked for only one company and had only two different positions my entire career. But looking back I was far more successful at work than I had any right to expect.
As for marriage the first few of years were rather worry free. We didn’t have very many responsibilities or family so conflicts were rare. But after we started having children and more family responsibilities conflicts quickly escalated. My wife could not understand my lack of empathy for her feelings and I could not sense and understand her feelings, emotional needs, and occasional outbursts. When she would explode in rage my calm demeanor just made her angrier. Most of the time I was completely clueless why she was so upset at me. But fortunately most events soon blew over and life went on.
But there were many more good time than bad taking family outings, camping trips, celebrating birthdays, celebrating graduations and other events, attending school events, watching our kids grow up into young adults, and simply having many pleasant times as a family at home. It’s just that the infrequent tempestuous times had a far greater impact than the good times. Looking back, in spite of all my shortcomings my kids have all turned out better than I would have thought possible, and our marriage remained intact. I never considered myself an especially good father or husband but I must have done something right or perhaps all credits should go to my wonderful wife.
When the kids all left home for college our conflicts diminished significantly but I had concerns that once retired we would spent all day together and conflicts would rekindle. It was then that one of my children, who majored in psychology and studied and worked with autistic children, said that she felt I had high functioning autistic spectrum disorder. One of the primary symptoms of autism was the inability to sense the feeling of others through body language and other signs. Antisocial behavior is another. Other symptoms were falling into a routine and staying at a single job for decades. I also had problems sensing the feelings of my children during conversations with them so my children had some idea of what their mother had to endure with me. This revelation seemed to explain to my wife my strange seemingly unsympathetic responses to her feelings. It also explained to me why I did not sense the feelings of others. Since this realization we have gotten along much better and most of our conflicts are very short-lived and we make up.
I am now retired and reflecting back I realize how lucky I have been for having had such a good and forgiving wife, such great and understanding kids, and a career which has been far more rewarding and successful than I had any right to expect. Life has been very tough but I have persisted and learned many priceless lessons. I consider myself a successful person and realize how fortunate and good life has been to me. A short memory also means that I forget about many of the unpleasant experiences in life. Good things still fill my life. But I see the many inequities in life and have learned to have hope for a better world. I try what little I can to make it better.
Had my parents not come to this country and I had been born in a poor farming village in China from where my parents came I might be a poor dirt farmer. Had I not had the will to endure and overcome my shortcoming and had given up early in life, life might have turned out much differently. I might be a broken man had I not met and married my wonderful wife and has such great children. After all there were so many opportunities and reasons to fail, so many difficult roadblock and barriers to overcome, and so many twist and turns in life that could have led me to a much rockier road. Thank goodness I ended up as I have. It’s a Wonderful Life!