Choosing Compassion Over Fear: Wanting Happiness for Others

Marlena Fiol, author of Nothing Bad Between Us, has released the latest installation of her “Choosing Compassion Over Fear” series- this time featuring author Jackie Shannon Hollis.

Choosing Compassion Over Fear: Wanting Happiness For Others

featuring Jackie Shannon Hollis

As part of our ongoing series, Choosing Compassion Over Fear, I am featuring some of our most cherished friends and colleagues to discover how they have navigated the landscape of doubt, insecurity, tragedy, and fear to move toward becoming their truest selves. Today, we are honored to feature an excerpt from Jackie Shannon Hollis. Jackie is a writer, storyteller, speaker and the author of the memoir, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story. *****

 What We Want

Between my father’s drinking, my mother’s health problems, and my own teenage rebellions, my path to adulthood was, well, rocky. That rockiness was marked by arguments (mostly between my mother and me) and silences (between my father and me). But I was also their hope for a college graduate. In 1976, I left our small town and went to the city five hours away.

While the first year went well, the second, not so much. Having come from a tiny school where I could be a big fish in a small pond, college made me a small fish in a big pond. I was lonely and felt awkward around the other students. I did what was a pattern for me and dove into the distraction of a new boyfriend. I almost flunked out that semester. This alone would have been reason for my parents’ concern. But then I moved in with that boyfriend. Living together, unmarried, was a big deal in those days and especially in my family. The fact that I was 19 and this boyfriend was 31, must have sent my parents over the top. But they knew better than to push me, so their response was muted. I was already skilled at shutting down any conversation about how I was living my life, so they were very careful lest they push me away completely.

 I came back home for a summer job at the end of that second school year. I’d told the boyfriend I would return in the fall. He called every week. All summer my parents and I stepped around the question of my return to college. One Saturday night in August, I was getting ready to go out to a party. My parents came up the stairs to my bedroom. Together. This was not how they usually did things, the two of them together to have a serious conversation with me.

They wanted to know if, when I returned to college, I would go back to living with my boyfriend. What were my plans? Why not get an apartment on my own?

I’d already had thoughts about leaving the relationship. But I didn’t want my parents to be right. I yelled at them that it wasn’t their business. I yelled at them that I didn’t know. I yelled at them to leave me alone. I left the house, slamming doors and spitting gravel under tires.

Hours later, when I came home, my parents were in bed. The lamp in my bedroom left a circle of light on my dresser. In that circle of light was a note. My mother’s looping handwriting. I was a little drunk, but her words were clear.

All I want is for you to be happy.
A) Make your own decisions.
B) Live your own life.
Just don’t shortchange yourself in the process.
I love you and that’s what counts—(we only want to be proud of you).
Do what you are big enough to do. Love, Mom

Maybe it’s possible to know a moment when you are changed. To recall that moment for the rest of your life. I still feel the shifting, like all my cells moved to a new place. Blood, tissue, heart, brain. That moment when a girl takes the step from being a teenager to being an adult. To stand in someone else’s shoes and see their view. I understood in a of clarity how hard their worrying about me was for my parents. I understood the arguments, the worry, the silences, were for this. For me to be happy. For me to go live my life and be happy in it.

I still have that note, tucked it away in an envelope.

It is possible I was a late bloomer. But this was the first moment where I made an internal point of view shift. When I stepped out of the I of youth, into the you of maturing, the us of adulthood. The moment when I considered not just the actions in front of me, but what might be the context behind the actions. Why is this person behaving this way? What do they want? What do they need? What are their fears? What do my actions look like to another? This was when I first understood how helpful it is to consider the intentions is behind an action.

I was not perfectly transformed. Of course not. Teenagers! Taking a lightbulb moment and transforming it into change requires reminders and repetition. But when I returned to school, I got an apartment of my own, I broke off the relationship which was not a concession to my parents but me being willing, finally, to look at what I wanted and to think further into the future than this moment. I carried on finding my way in life, equipped with a new understanding the world.

At 62 years old, I am still learning.*****

The happiness my mother wished for me was a twisty path and much more complicated than simply making “good” choices. In my memoir, THIS PARTICULAR HAPPINESS: A CHILDLESS LOVE STORY, I write again about my parents’ worry for me. I married a man who didn’t want children. My mother worried about me missing out on the joy of motherhood. But I was sure this time, my husband was the man I wanted to spend my life with. With him I would continue to learn and grow in ways I might not if I followed the expected path. But I also had times of deep longing for a child. The question and challenge for me was how to hold this one big difference between our wants without resentment or regret. 

The gift from that long-ago Saturday night is the gift of curiosity about the other, as well as curiosity about my own self. For me, this is the single most important tool in understanding and honoring my desires alongside those of the people I am in relationship with. 


 About Jackie

Jackie Shannon Hollis is a writer, storyteller and speaker and the author of the memoir, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story (Forest Avenue Press). Her writing has been described as honest and intimate, exploring complex human issues in prose that is both direct and lyrical. Her work has appeared in various literary magazines, including The Sun, Rosebud, Inkwell, High Desert Journal, VoiceCatcher, Nailed, and Slice Magazine.

Nothing Bad Between Us

A Mennonite Missionary’s Daughter Finds Healing in Her Brokenness

This story differs from similar accounts of childhood domination or abuse because it tells the story of the author’s seemingly paradoxical responses to the powerful forces in my life, but doesn’t leave it at that. It sheds light on the social and religious dynamics underlying these responses, giving readers insights into and understanding of her otherwise incomprehensible choices, as she found my way back into loving relationships with her parents and the Mennonite community.

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