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.

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