Ups and downs, ins and outs, curve balls and random collisions. Who said Life was going to be easy? As I sort it out, here's a collection of my essays, newspaper columns and mental meanderings about family, friendship, ecology, politics and a world that goes bump in its fright.

Friday, January 26, 2007

We All Have Scarlett Moments

A friend I'll call Cynthia called me once upon a time to tell me she'd finally broken up with a man she's been with for several years. Though I kept it to myself, my first reaction was uncharitable: "I've heard THIS before..."

Those of us who know Cynthia had listened over the years as she told us that this time she really, honestly had had it with this guy. But as I listened to her this time, I heard something new in her voice. Before, she'd been hopeful that she could leave him. Now, she was determined – not only to have him out of her life, but to change her ways so there was no longer room for him or his kind.

"I swear to God," she said, in a voice vibrating with determination, "I will never again get myself hooked up with a man who doesn't even LIKE women. If I have to live alone the rest of my life, that's the way it's going to be."

As soon as those words came out of her mouth, I knew: Cynthia was having a Scarlett O'Hara Moment.

Remember the scene in "Gone with the Wind," when Scarlett, exhausted and defeated, shook that sad, droopy turnip toward the sky and proclaimed, "As Gawd is mah witness, ah will nevah go hungry again." In that moment, Scarlett became the quintessential survivor, determined to do whatever it took to overcome her circumstances.

Scarlett O'Hara Moments aren't common. It may be possible to live an entire life without one, although I suspect one's character would be lacking important ingredients if that occurred.
S.O. Moments are times when character is forged, when who we've been being suddenly slams on the brakes, looks around, then hooks a radical turn in a different direction. These are the times when every cell in our body cries out, "Never, ever again."

It is in these moments that we reach the bedrock of our character. We reach the end of our needs, desires and/or capacities for tolerating the intolerable and we begin to change.
The real work of 12-step programs always begins with a Scarlett O'Hara Moment: "As God is my witness, I refuse to ruin my life with alcohol, drugs, violence (fill in the blanks) again." Changing one's life is implemented one day -- sometimes one minute -- at a time, but it all starts with that surge of determination that things are going to change, and they're going to change now.

I don't know the mechanism by which this happens, but I know once we've had a Scarlett Moment, circumstances begin to rearrange themselves around our resolve.
At first, it seems as though someone out there wants to test the strength of that resolve. "Oh, yeah? You just think you're through with the wrong sort of man just like that?" Then someone or something very tempting appears in our path and we have the opportunity to prove – to ourselves, if no one else – just how committed we are to this new direction. Joseph Campbell describes this phenomenon in The Hero With a Thousand Faces as encounters with the threshold guardians, who place themselves between the hero and the Golden Fleece to force the hero to discover just what she or he is made of.

One of my S.O. Moments came shortly after my children's dad and I divorced many years ago. A single mother of two small children, I felt utterly unprepared, particularly for the financial demands that suddenly were thrust upon me. I had to borrow money a couple of times from my parents, but finally just couldn't do it any more. "I swear to God," I declared, "I will never borrow one red cent from my parents again."

Within a week, of course, my dog got sick, the car broke down, the babysitter raised her rates and my son had to make an expensive trip to the emergency room. What little savings I had were wiped out and I was completely slammed against a rock, with a hard place looming just ahead.

I knew if I picked up the phone, Mom and Dad would rescue me again. But I was nearly 30 years old and that option had become completely untenable for me. So I made my own way around the catastrophe, inch by inch, and eventually pulled myself out of that particular pit.
In doing, so I began to remake myself in ways I liked much better.

This new sense of self is the most important by-product of these moments. We begin to respect ourselves, to see ourselves as heroes rather than victims.

And as Gawd is mah witness, everything changes after that.


Blogger Ruthie Black naked said...

My SCARLETT O'HARA moment has lasted 25 years so far!
People say I imitate her since we're both bitches. But I'm as genuine as she was, since we were from the same neck of the Georgia woods, and we both were stars of novels.

I saw MARGARET MITCHELL meet her tragic death on the sidewalk outside the Fox theater in 1949. (The Egyptian style theater in Atlanta where the movie GONE WITH THE WIND had premiered). A taxi hit her as she was crossing the street, looking up at the theater's marquee where her name was displayed prominently. I tried to warm her of the taxi, but she didn't seem to hear me.

1:55 PM

Blogger Teda said...

I'm living an Scarlett O'Hara moment right now. It is no as easy as it could seem...
Thanks a lot for your column, I had really loved to read it. You are such a good writer. Sorry for my English. Greetings from Spain!

3:54 AM

Blogger KC_Compton said...

Teda -- Yes, these survival moments are always a lot easier in retrospect. Sometimes the only thing you can do is just keep going, one baby step after another, until the worst of it passes. Take care of yourself and make use of hidden resources -- there's always more to you than meets the eye. Hang onto what's essential and let everything else fall away, for the time being at least.
Your English is fine! -- kc

6:51 AM


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