Essay: Disappointed Life

Jun 14, 2019

When I was in college, I read a novel by Saul Bellow called “The Adventures of Augie March,” the story of a young man growing up in Chicago.  Augie had a kind of bold optimism, inspired by a woman who’d survived the London bombings during World War II.  

In spite of her hardships, Augie observed, she “refused to lead a disappointed life.”  That phrase jumped out at me because it explained something I’d sensed but never put words to.  Both my parents had led disappointed lives and I didn’t want to do the same. 

My mother had a beautiful singing voice and traveled to California to seek her fortune.  But although she had opportunities, she didn’t have the confidence to pursue them,  Instead, she went  home, got married, had children—and grieved the loss of her dream.

My father was a successful dentist but not a very good business man.  As a result, he never made what he called, “big money.”  And while it seemed to me we had everything we needed, he felt like a failure.

Both of my parents led disappointed lives—and their pain damaged our family.  That’s why whenever I’ve felt defeated, I remember that phrase, “refuse to lead a disappointed life.”  It was a choice and I could refuse.