This goes nowhere

Late last week, I suddenly realized I looked haggard.

This was distressing. You can look “tired” if you stay up too late the night before. You can look “exhausted” if you’ve just finished a whirlwind week or two and have spent out your temporary reserves. But if you look “haggard,” that’s a chronic condition of a life hard-lived.

Where I am is supposed to be easy street. I’m not supposed to be in a “hard place” right now. The roof is given over my head, food is catered to my place at the table, the work that I do during the day is rewarding and helps other people, the people I work along side of are kind to me. “Haggard” is not the look I expected to see on my face.

But I checked multiple times throughout the day, and the next day. I can still put a brilliant smile over “haggard,” but “haggard” it is. It’s almost more sad to me than discovering my first grey hair (I did that at age 16). Haggard is supposed to be for when you have 6 kids and a husband with cancer. Haggard is supposed to be for when you are trying to figure out if there is any way to care for your loved ones, to keep them safe. Haggard is not supposed to be for common, everyday living.

It makes me feel insufficient for life. I am not equal to the task. But it also. . .I don’t know. Makes me wonder if I’m doing it wrong? If I had made different choices, different priorities, would life had made me look “haggard” by now? Did I make myself “haggard” for good reason, reasons that mean a worthy sacrifice has been made, or was I just stupid? And, perhaps most unsettling, if I’m already “haggard” now, what happens next?

You know, in the stories–pick one, I don’t care — there’s the “struggle” for the “cause.” The conclusion. The “that was then, this is now. . .see where it all got me.” The struggle, the hardship is for a finite time, and the point is to get through it to the other side, which is the payoff, the fruits, or at least a relenting from the hardship. Cinderella scrubbed floors for a time, but by all accounts, she wound up happy. Reading books has a nasty habit of making you think life should follow the same parabolic plot lines.

In real life, despite our reference to “chapters” and “new journeys,” things rarely make a smidge of plot sense. There may not be a time of relenting, of arriving, of seeing why it was all worth it and what it accomplished.  And we tell people quite frequently that they “need to put in their time” or “pay their dues.” The idea is, if you work really hard when you’re young, everything will gel together happily. But that is a story, and maybe it doesn’t and maybe there’s no going “through.”

People told me when I was at my most sick point to not worry, that I would “get through it.” I thought that was a stupid thing to say. Chronic diseases happen all the time. What does “through” look like in that case? People tell you you’ll get “through” school, “through” bad job situations, “through” all kinds of stuff, and the implication is, after all is said and done, you won’t have any regrets. But maybe you will. Maybe you’ll carry scars. Maybe you’ll be in mourning the rest of your life. Maybe “looking haggard” isn’t a “rough spot” that you’ll pass through with victory; maybe it’s a sign of things to come. Maybe it’s a sign things aren’t to come.

But I guess what bothers me is the nagging feeling that people were right when they said, “after a certain age, a person IS responsible for how their face looks.” That character shows through, and decisions and choices and trials. If I can’t figure out how I got here, how am I supposed to make a difference on tomorrow, next month, a few years, a couple of decades? And I don’t like that characters in the stories know what it is they’re struggling for, and I don’t. I can’t tell you, really, that it will all be worth it in the end, or what I will get out of all of it.

How shall we then live?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the future. I know I have, and I know no matter how much I think about it, it doesn’t really give me any more control. Not really. People say to make plans, to lead yourself first, that you have to be proactive if you want to achieve “success.” But I think we almost might accomplish just as much to study where we’ve been, which is to say, not much. I’ve made and unmade plans countless times, and each time, I feel more frustrated. How do I know what is from me, delusion, and what is the truth and real?

Delusional self-assurance might be all that separates the guy who thinks he’s planning, from me, who thinks I’m scheming and dreaming. They like their sense of control, and I can’t blame them, but I can’t pass such a strong spell over myself. It always ends with, yeah, right. I can paint the pretty picture all right, but I just can’t quite believe it. Life never goes as you expect to, and I know that for a certainty. The things that make the biggest changes to the course of your life are rarely things you could plan for, anticipate, or sometimes even be able to make any sort of decision out of anyhow.

I was looking at my tagline right before I sat down to write again. . .the words of a woman. I wrote that as a way of throwing down the gauntlet to myself. Ever since I finished high school, I’ve felt like I’ve been living in some kind of dream. Not like “Cinderella goes to the ball” kind of dream; the kind of dream you dream at night. Where nothing quite seems to make sense and one scene shifts into another without quite connecting and where your sense of time all slides together and apart at the same time, and where you have this abiding sense that things aren’t quite real but you can’t quite put your finger on why. And that’s just a small symptom of that–when do you know when you’ve slid over the line from and older child to a young adult? When do you know you’ve really become a woman? Especially if being a woman doesn’t actually look like you thought it did.

What did I think it looked like? Honestly, I think it looked like self-assurance. That however you ended up, you ended up that way because you meant to. And that even if you felt a little bittersweet or perhaps had to remind yourself sometimes that this was real life and you couldn’t have everything you wanted, that you were settled–content?–because who you were was who you were and you had no doubts about that, and wore it confidently like a favorite pair of jeans.

That I look around me and see almost no one who feels that way does not make me feel any more a woman. It just makes me feel sad, like we’re all lost children pretending we’re adults. And when I see how woman – and men – are portrayed in movies or on TV, I just see us all pathetically reaching for some sense of confidence that we’re playing the role we’re supposed to, in the manner in which we’re supposed to. If we can adopt a persona — it doesn’t matter which one, as long as we can own it — if we can adopt a persona, then maybe we can more confidently say, “yes, this is me.”

And it’s tempting, it’s really tempting. Isn’t that part of what couples go through, when they select their registry? “This is Us.” It’s new, we aren’t quite sure, and this is part of figuring it out. But it’s also, I’ve realized, the more tempting the more uncertain and unconfident I feel. If I am confident, I am busy doing, and I waste relatively few brain cells on what it looks like to anyone, including myself. If I am feeling vulnerable and uncertain, I start doing my hair differently and considering if maybe nail polish is for me, and if I bought kitchen dishes, what kind would I get?

I suppose this is where platitudes about times of growth and change being uncomfortable and making us feel uncertain only to make us stronger are supposed to be applied. But I feel a bit like maybe that’s missing the point. Like perhaps the point is, we never really grow and change and get stronger in the stuff we thought we would. All our plans are blown out of the water while we messily mature in an area we’d never considered. We only consider the things we’re already large enough to grasp, and growth is, by definition, pushing us into things we aren’t already capable of grasping.

So what’s the point of planning? About nail polish or future employment or mythological families or the spring bulbs you’ll plant when you finally own a patch of dirt in your own name?

If that sounds fatalistic, please realize it’s not. It’s an honest question. Is thinking about these things a necessary part of the process of growing, or is it a silly waste of time? Does it help us seek what God is leading us to do, or does it cloud over the whole process? Where is it a dutiful function of using one talent to make many talents, and when is it vanity of vanities?

I honestly don’t know, and I keep careening between “live in the moment, God only knows what is coming next” to falling asleep writing outlines in my head. I can’t seem to find any rational balance between the two, and it’s confounding and disheartening.

Even So

“I don’t really know where I live anymore.”

I just blurted it out, and then felt the weight of that unexpected truth.

Someone asked me if I still lived at home. I was preoccupied with what I was doing, so I guess the truth was closer to the surface without my mind being available to keep it in check. The person wanted to know if I still lived “at home” but I haven’t been living “at home” for over two years. And I’m not even living in the same state I was in for the last two years any more, and although I know where I park my car every night, in a few months I’ll be in a different state. . . and then a few months later, another state altogether.

I miss my family and friends, but it’s hard to feel like that’s “home” when I feel like I don’t have much autonomy there. I made good friends while at school, but I never felt at home in that city or under those mountains. I’m staying with relatives now, and I like the place where I’m working, but it doesn’t ring as home.

It was such a succinct statement of the real crux of the matter that when I was thinking about it later, I wished I had time to sit down and have a good cry. I’m not homeless in the sense of sleeping under an overpass. But I feel very homeless in the sense of feeling like I don’t really belong anywhere, that “my place remembers me know more,” that I don’t know where I’m trying to get to anymore, and that I don’t ever know when “this” will be “over.”

And aren’t the homeless to be pitied? I pity me.

But Jesus said, “Birds have nests, foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Which leads me to my perennial question: why? Why does God have this thing for homelessness?

Abraham? Leave your home. Go wandering aimlessly for the rest of your life. Joseph? You’ll never belong, no matter how long you’re there. Moses? Take a whole lot of you people and go get lost in the wilderness. David? Just ’cause I said you would be king doesn’t mean I won’t have you driven out of your own country. And He didn’t spare His only Son, either, who grew so famished in the wastelands that He had to be fed by angels.

I want to stamp my foot and demand that God gives me a home. But I can almost hear Him laughingly say, “Why would I do that?”

I know home is not home is not home until we are finally Home. I know it would only be a shadow, a foretaste of what is to come. But in the meantime, while we’re waiting, why don’t we get that taste? Yet the theme of having no place to rest is quite strong, and I don’t think it can be easily dismissed. But why? Why is it so much to ask, to know that kind of goodness in this world? Why does He say, “blessed are those who give up home and family for my sake”?

It’s so easy to say trite things about “making us depend on Him more” or “showing us how trustworthy He is” or “nothing of this world is really of value, anyhow; we have to keep our eyes fixed on the the things above.” But you know what? When you really get right down in the midst of it, when you really feel this millstone of it around your neck? You still ask “why.” You still ask why there can’t be a better way to know Him or trust Him or understand about what things have value. You still cry out, “how long, O Lord?” Because it’s still the pits, and quaint sayings don’t change that.

And I have no answer. And I have no comfort.

But if I were to respond to one blurting of the truth with another unexpected expression of the truth, then it would have to be with. . .

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

Amen.

What do you care?

There is something uniquely gut-wrenching about watching a grown man cry.

It seems almost too private to write about, yet has unsettled me all day and so I feel the need to work it out.

A patient who had been to the clinic for a long time passed away last fall. Now, her family was back in the clinic, giving an hour long presentation that was half a memorial, half a thanks. The clinician I was with that day was — is — a man’s man. More fit than a fiddle, broad shouldered, narrow waisted, tall, handsome, charming. Spent his stint in the army. Loves his outdoor sports.

I kept glancing across the table, wondering if he’d crack. The rest of the (mostly female) department was audibly sniffing. He was still doing his tough guy stance. But when they got to the part they were specifically thanking him and relating stories of the times the patient had spent in our department, he was doing more than wiping a few tears.

As soon as the lights came on, he stood up, all official and business-like, and went to his desk. As a person who has lost her tears in public more than once, I knew he was business-like scrubbing his tears as fast as possible. Patients in 10 minutes.

In 10 minutes, I couldn’t find him. I went up to bring the next patient down. I was up one flight of stairs,  when I heard (but couldn’t see) someone entering the stairwell. I heard him crying up three flights of stairs. Actually, I heard him stop in the stairwell to do his crying without an audience. He’d have easily overtaken me on the stairs if he had any intention of climbing them.

He joined me in the patient’s room a few minutes later, no trace of tears on his face.

And I was angry.

Not that he’d cried. Not that he’d hid his tears.

That this place is so far from home.

I finally found a place that seems to care about human beings the way I do, and it’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles from home.

Dear Diary

I don’t think it’s a very good sign when you enjoy a couples company better when the two of them are not both around. It gives me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. I enjoy my uncle’s company better when my aunt is not around, and vice versa. That doesn’t seem right.

A guy at work today looked so tired. Somehow, seeing people tired just really makes my “caregiver” hormones kick in. You know? The kind that makes you want to say, “awww. . .” and make their life easier somehow. At the very least give them a  sympathetic, “Rough day, huh?” and a comforting squeeze of the shoulder. Only thing is, that’s totally inappropriate. Sometimes it seems mean that being kind is inappropriate, but when you are single female student and the person in question is someone you hardly know, male, married with kids, and most definitely your superior — no. Just no. You don’t do that. But you can still go home feeling bad for them.

I don’t know why I always feel ashamed to be tired, but I do. I’m bone-weary tired, and embarrassed that anyone should know it. Embarrassed, even, to admit it to myself. I stayed up an hour later last night, just because it was “too early” to go to bed. Needless to say, I’m even more tired today. It just seems too pathetic to do nothing but go to work, come home, eat supper, and go to bed, and I hate to admit to myself that during times of transition and adaption, it is, for me, hugely emotionally draining and must be attended to. And that attending to it means being quiet, being alone, and doing a lot of sleeping. A lot of sleeping. On the way in, I almost wondered if maybe I was “depressed,” but I don’t think it’s depressed as much as “overwhelmed and coping.”

I guess that’s partly why I find it embarrassing. I feel like I “shouldn’t” be this overwhelmed, but I am. People tell me things like, “you’re a very intelligent, competent young woman” like that means I can do anything. Well, maybe I “can” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without a high cost. Maybe I am “rocking it” during the day, but that doesn’t mean that by the end of the day I don’t want to just crawl into a hole and hide.

I hear one uncle downstairs skyping with my other uncle, and he’s mentioning that my aunt is out, I’m up in my room, and he’s downstairs alone. I feel guilty, but also extremely disinclined to join him. He was reading the paper. No, he was reading the paper and shoved a piece of the paper at me and said, “here, read this, so I don’t have to feel bad for reading the paper.” We were still at the supper table. I read for a little bit just to keep him company, but the paper is not really that fascinating. I don’t want to go down now and make awkward small talk at the glowing screen. I was a nice people-person all day, and I don’t have any left.

My eyes are burning. I’m going to get ready for bed. Yes, even though it’s not yet 8 o’clock. I just can’t do today any longer.

What I do know

The thing is. . .I don’t want to live in other peoples houses any more. I don’t want to, even while I feel so privileged to be able to. I don’t want to, even while I’m terrified of being utterly alone.

I could make lists of things I don’t like about being in other peoples’ houses. I could make lists of things I like about being in a place where it’s “mine.” But the point isn’t to complain what I have. The point isn’t to pine for what I don’t have. The point is, I’m still scared of the future.

What do I have to go on? Logic, feelings, all is unreliable. What I want, what don’t want, what else do I know? These things don’t give me direction, but what else do I know?

I sat outside eating my lunch, and I heard my own thoughts: I’m scared by how much I like this place I’m working. That thought startled me. I’m holding so hard to the thought that once this is over, once I graduate, then I’m done. Done. I can go back to the place I call home. Only I can’t. Because I don’t want to live in other peoples houses anymore. Only I’m terrified of being utterly alone. Of turning my back–that’s what it feels like–on my family. Of a home of my own, but only my own, empty of family.

I run through all the pictures I can paint in my head, and none of them make sense. None of them resound. None of them sing, the way they sing when you have the frequencies tuned. Any little piece that seems to say “yes” makes all the other pieces scream “no!” Nothing lines up. Nothing goes together. Nothing gives me the slightest shred of “what comes next.”

And it seems to me that the harder and harder I strain to see what what comes next, the less and less I know. And the less and less I know, the more it feels like I’m living in a dream. I don’t know what to do when I get up in the morning. I have a long list of things I could do, or even would enjoy doing. But, as with those dreams, it feels sort of like moving through water. Scene to scene doesn’t seem to line up. I hear the words but it’s not really clear if they’re real. I sleep because I’m tired, but then when I wake up it seems less real then when I’m asleep.

Do the next thing, they say. Do the next thing. Doing the next thing seems like just riding that train of the cliff. That’s okay. It’s a leap of faith, right? But what if there’s not a whole lot of faith there? Maybe you just fall to the bottom and get bashed up a bit, maybe crushed real good, and that’s where the rebuilding happens. And you’re still supposed to say that’s okay, and maybe it is.

But maybe — and this is where I keep getting stuck — maybe the problem is the not enough faith. Maybe the problem is the dour pessimism that says things can’t go well, that learning can’t happen without pain, that no one ever really gets what they want in life, that wanting and not having is our lot as long as we’re here. That those beliefs are stronger to me than the belief that God hears and answers and is good and has beautiful plans. That I’m so busy bracing for the bottom of the canyon that I’m not even bothering to asking to fly. Because I’ve just already decided that God doesn’t answer requests like that.

Just pray. But the words die on my lips. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t already said. It seems to be getting harder and harder to say the things I’ve already said. Because the human in me says, “If He isn’t answering, the answer is no.” The human in me says, “Sometimes you have to let go of your wants and deal with what is.” But what “is” is the wants, and I’m lost again.

I wake up every morning looking for some hint of clarity. I go to bed expecting clarity in the morning. It never happens, and the queer feeling in the pit of my stomach gets a little more hollow and a little more deep. But some morning, one or the other is going to have to happen. Either I’m going to shatter. . .or I’m going to learn to fly.