It just didn’t occur to me that I could quit my marriage. Not because of my elementary school education at St. Frances Cabrini Church or because I couldn’t make the mortgage payment. I really just didn’t consider it as a choice. I was so ingrained with the gift of grit I never looked at the possibility that I could quit trying.
The capacity to endure has inspired me since those when I was still too young to get babysitting jobs. Lying on my bed trying to escape the dog days of Nebraska summers, I spent countless afternoons being inspired by women who were victorious because of their will. Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. O-Lan, who rose from slavery to riches in Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. African American opera singer Marian Anderson. Meanwhile, I watched my mother watch other people’s children while raising her own eight, just so she could put food on the table.
My tendency toward tenacity has served me well. It took me from a little three room (one for my newborn) office with a part-time secretary and one computer to a thriving law firm that’s grown so much we are expanding to the building next door.
My grit was greatest when my second husband, a man beloved for his kindness and goodness, outlived a terminal cancer diagnosis by nearly a decade. Years of practicing positivity and perseverance in the face of the devastating odds infused me with a quiet confidence that I could endure during the final weeks of his life mostly spent on the sofa in our sunny living room.
Grit is great. But my own grit has also gone awry.
I didn’t to quit my college boyfriend whom I had known to gamble away a week’s pay on a pool game. Instead I loaned him $450 that I’d painstakingly saved from my tips earned waiting tables With that loan, I lost my entire Barcelona budget for my sophomore semester abroad.
Then there were the times I applied to be a juvenile court judge. Not the two times. Not the three times. No, it took me six failed attempts before I woke up to the reality that, despite a commission deeming me qualified, my politics were not a match with the then governor making judicial appointments.
And then there was my marriage. Seven years of being in and out of therapy. Three different marriage counselors. Group therapy for couples. Studying the classic The Dance of Anger, desperate to discover answers for making my marriage better.
I might have been smart enough to get into law school. But book smarts and wisdom are two different things. It took me a long time before I realized that my grit could get in the way of me getting on with a better path in life. When I awoke to the possibility that I could be something in addition to relentlessly persevering and eternally optimistic, I saw new possibilities I had never before considered.
Marriage vows are sacred when made. But so is being honest and being true to yourself.
I hope I never lose my grit. And I hope I remember that sometimes it’s wise to quit.