I’m so thoughtful right now, it’s driving me nuts. I can’t follow one thought long enough to actually chance it down and figure out–I’m derailed instead on this thought or that thought or the other thought. I spend the first two weeks of break trying to calm my body enough that my mind could work, and now the dam has broken and my mind is all over the place like a jittery child. I’m trying to think every thought before life once again becomes too busy for me to think, even while thinking furiously about how I can ever keep my life from getting to be that busy.
One of the things I wonder about is why I write here. I use to write on a space I shared with my family, but I withdrew from that, and I’m not quite sure why. Yet, if I think no one is reading this, why do I even put it on the web? I have a hard drive I save plenty of stuff. . .why not there? And what does it say about me that I want to share my thoughts and yet that I’m not quite sure I want anyone to comment on them? That just sounds like work, and I’m trying to mend all the torn things and soothe all the raw places.
I just read “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson. It was a good book, but right away my brother wanted to know if I had any thoughts. Yes, lots. But not like him. He likes to look at the “meta”–the themes and the over-arching symbolism and what the author was trying to say and what was meant by this or that or the other thing. Me, I’m just sitting here quietly thinking about how she described every person as their own civilization, built on the ruins of all the proceeding civilizations. I feel like she said something I’ve been trying to put into words for myself: trying to understand my own language, my own art, my own culture; realizing I can create these tenuous bridges with other people, other micro-civilizations, but that ultimately I have to attend to my own civilization or watch it burn. And through it all, knowing that I didn’t start from scratch–that I am standing on the shoulders of my fathers, my father’s fathers, and their fathers yet. We are none of us self-made, in so many ways.
Speaking of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about the homeless and broken lately. The people who lost it all to drink. The people who knew only drugs from childhood. I don’t think that I’m better than them; in fact, thinking about them always makes me feel very small. Who am I? What have fought? What does life really mean to me? I was just reading about a homeless guy setting up a book stand and selling books for a buck a piece. I don’t know that I could do that. If I wasn’t safe and cozy in my sheltered little life, where would I be? It can be so hard just to put one foot in front of the other even now. People talk about how their life can fall apart around one little thing, like a car break down, and one thing leads to another and you’re homeless.
Among other things, it makes me really think about how we all, myself included, make such arm-chair judgements from such positions of safety and security. I see homeless people, and I wonder what they have that I don’t; what I have that they want. I think about it sometimes when I think even of how we spend almost all of our lives now sheltered–literally, with walls and a roof, hiding from all that is real. Sometimes I want to sleep outside–really outside, not in a tent–and wake up covered in dew. But I always chicken out, because I don’t really have that mettle. I think, “what would people think?” and “I wouldn’t get much sleep” and “the mosquitoes!” Isn’t that very pathetic? When the wind really tunnels during the winter, it’s all I can do to get out of it fast enough, and even though I dread it, it somehow shames me.
I complain all the time about being stressed and worried and anxious, but I wonder why I am. I am so safe. In the ultimate sense, yes, but even in the day to day sense. I have shelter. No one threatens me. I know where my food is. I sleep, warm. What am I terrified of? Only the unknown? I guess maybe the fear of failure. Some people say that when you fail enough, you stop being afraid of it. That would not be a place I’m at right now. I’m still ashamed of the thought of failing.
You know what else they say? That really hard times produces real character. I’ve always wanted real character, but I’ve come to discover I’m afraid to get it. I’m afraid to face anything really hard. I mean, really hard; not 18 credits of grad school hard. Hard where your body grows lean and you find out just how little you really do need and how valuable real character really is.
I just realized the other day that I don’t fit in at school and I don’t fit in at church; I’m so rag-tag and odd and curiously withdrawn and not really sharing myself. I wonder why. I wonder why I don’t really share myself, even when I think I am, and I wonder why I’m always so rag-tag. I mean, sometimes I do, obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing this post. But I get so impatient with people who worry about their looks or their presentation. “It doesn’t really matter,” my thoughts boil frustrated. Sometimes I think maybe it does matter, but I don’t have anything to change that–not the money to replace my worn out clothes; not the motivation to care how polished I look.
I guess sometimes I have a hard time with politeness and small talk and socializing properly, too, because of that same frustrated thought: it doesn’t really matter. Except how to do you connect to people besides socializing properly? Even though I’m afraid of really hard times, I also know: I know that when you really need a friend, I’ll be there for you. I probably will not be there for you to walk with you to the bathroom or always walk to school with. I will probably not be a good friend to gossip with or shop with and I probably will rarely go to any parties and when I do, you know I’ll sit awkwardly through it all. But I know that when your place gets wiped by a tornado, I’ll be putting in the long hours of labor to help you uncover your land. I know when your life is crashing in, I will really listen and not spread it around. I know I give generously when there’s really a need, but the other stuff doesn’t really seem to matter to me.
Somebody once said, “Nothing that has to be forced ever lasts.” That’s kind of sobering to me, because it’s so very hard for me to make real friends. I always figured I had to just keep trying. I guess it scares me a little, because I also see the injunction to leave behind all the things you are forcing. I suppose it’s not good to force yourself through life, but what else are you going to do? Stay in bed, because it’s too hard to get up? I did that once this semester. I was dealing with some brutal depression–well, it felt that way to me–with the death of a family friend. I just literally could not make myself get up for early class. I went for later class; I did make it to that. But I felt so ashamed I couldn’t even make it to class. Especially when my friend–it was her father that died–I knew she was going in to class to teach it, and here I was, unable to even participate as a student. That seemed really pathetic, too.
I know that I don’t have a whole lot of discipline, of self-control. I’m kind of scared at the idea of practicing it; I’m afraid I’ll just break myself. Is that silly? I think also, I liked the security of thinking I already had it. Comparing yourself to others to justify yourself, and all that. I guess it’s kind of the first time (this sounds horrible, but I think it’s true) where I really wanted to exercise a “character trait” rather than actually achieve a goal. I’m pretty much a goal oriented kind of person. But I’ve come to realize I have a pretty big gaping hole where “self-control” should be, and that I’ve actually been working overtime to hide that from myself and others. Everyone says, “be gentle with yourself,” but you know, there is a difference between berating yourself and hating yourself and being harsh with yourself and then totally falling into the ditch on the other side of the road and saying you can’t be expected to be held to standards, because you’re special. No one is so special they don’t need a measure of discipline, and “getting away with it” doesn’t count as discipline at all. Not getting caught or not having to pay the price is not the same is acting honorably or in a fitting manner, and it doesn’t matter who is watching.
I don’t really know what else to say, except that the sheer number of people saying that no matter what, we must keep moving fowards seems to me to be merely emphasizing what a difficult, frightening, wearying task it really is. I think a lot of us aren’t able to scrape up any “list” of “resolutions” this time of year, because we are clinging to what feels more like survival than moving forward. And I think sometimes those shiny lists that others are making tend to cause us to feel ashamed, because we can’t even pretend enough to make up a pretty list. But I think we shouldn’t be ashamed, because I think maybe the bravest thing to do is going on even when you don’t have resolutions or reasons why. Maybe I shouldn’t have said bravest; maybe I should have said the most faithful.
I guess if I have any advice for you, whoever you are or I am, it’s to stop trying so hard to not be scared. Because I’m not sure that being scared really means anything is going wrong–that you’re in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing or really not good enough. Someone once told me, “The Fear is a Lie” and I think remembering that and realizing that is more important than trying to fight it. I don’t know if that makes any sense or not, but I just mean that as long as we’re afraid of the fear, it has power over us. Instead of finding as something frightful that must be fought and battled, it seems more right to recognize that it is powerless, and not deigning to meet it on the battleground of it’s choosing.
May your fallow ground be broken, and may you grow in every good way.