I was having a conversation with a friend tonight and the subjects became quite deep (cause as intelligent, deep-thinkers that’s how we roll) and slightly maudlin. I have some thoughts I want to get down before I lose them. This might ramble a bit and may not make sense. Be warned.
One of the topics we discussed was being true to oneself. Living honestly and unapologetically without fear or shame or guilt. That’s big topic material. I’ve had a very long struggle with these ideas. For a long time, some part of me has believed that living like that would be living self-focused. Selfish. It’s always seemed a bit Ayn Rand to me. I’m starting (slowly, because apparently slow thinking is also how I roll) to come to a different perspective.
I think a lot of people, myself formerly included, view living without apology as a license to do whatever we choose and if someone else doesn’t like it well then, screw them, that’s their problem. That can be blatantly defensive and blatantly aggressive at the same time. It elevates the self to the ultimate moral authority and excuses any action as valid because it’s “true to who I am”. It’s self-centered. I think self-centered behavior always carries with it, a core of guilt. Even if it’s not consciously acknowledged, guilt wears away at a person. Guilt makes the defensive more defensive and the aggressive more aggressive and if a person is their own highest moral authority then there is no way to get rid of the guilt.
Here is my recent perspective shift. I think if you really want to live unapologetically, then you live by always trying to make the right choice. Rather than making the choice that’s best for you, you make the choice that’s best for the situation and that automatically become the best choice for you. So, how do you make the right choice? What’s the moral yardstick to measure by? I’m a Christian. That means the yardstick is love. God is my moral authority and God says that I’m always to operate out of love. Note, however, that the loving choice is not always the same as the fun choice, or the nice choice, or the friendly choice, or the “I want everyone to like me and think I’m sweet and kind” choice. Sometimes the loving choice might make the ones you love unhappy. Frankly, always making the choice that makes other people “happy” is generally very selfish. It becomes more about having others think well of you than helping them truly.
I’ve wandered. The point is, if I’m always making the best choice I can, based in love; I never have to apologize for my choices. Even if others disapprove, I’ll know that I made the right choice as best I could. I still might make a mistake but the mistake will be an honest one. I’ll know I did my best. Then I can release the guilt.
Ok, I really don’t know if this makes sense. I just wanted to get it down so I’d understand it.
I blew a tire at speed on the interstate today. The van I was driving along at seventy-five (yep, seventy-five is what I’m claiming) suddenly popped up in the air with a resounding bang. I thought I’d hit something for a moment until the weaving and shuddering started. I was in the left lane and a semi was pumping along not far behind in the right. We managed to switch places fairly promptly without hitting each other. I made it to the shoulder at the far end of an entrance ramp, where, interestingly enough, someone coming onto the interstate much too fast came pretty close to creaming me in the back (yes, he was on the shoulder as he was trying to merge).
I was never really scared. I was definitely startled, but not scared. I didn’t even get enough adrenaline to get the shakes afterward. I suppose I could have died. The guy in the semi could have died. The mentally challenged person merging could have died. I didn’t really even consider that until hours later. I’m not bothered by death, at least not my own. No fears for me beyond that gate. I do have some fears about causing pain to loved ones who might miss me. The whole incident did, though it’s rampantly clichéd, cause me to think about how quickly things can change.
Every breath you or I take, something changes. Every heartbeat we have, someone’s life is permanently changed in a large and shocking fashion. Sometimes it’s our own. We tend (at least I do) to roll along, blithely assuming that each next moment will be just like the last and that the one after that is a guarantee. We assume this in the face of a staggering mountain of examples that this is simply not so. We do it, I know, because life would be too much work without those assumptions that fly in the face of reality. Joys and tragedies happen constantly around us as the world shifts from discrete moment to discrete moment.
One of my favorite authors has pointed out, in many clever and entertaining ways, that boredom is an amazing invention that humanity has come up with to protect us from the constant, astounding wonder of the universe changing around us. I think that’s true. I also think it’s needful that, every now and then, we take a moment to recognize, no matter how clichéd, that life alters every single moment.
Pay attention to your moments, as often as you can.
This one is a bit of a ramble. I have a few things I want to say and I very much want to keep writing today.
That’s the theme for today. Press on. That’s also the theme for tomorrow and the day after and the day after… It’s kind of implicit in the phrase. There will be moments, or minutes, or hours, or days, or even years when things seem to push against you, sometimes overwhelmingly so. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt like I was trying to run uphill into the teeth of a class four hurricane or walk through a brick wall. I suspect there may be more of those times ahead as well. It’s the way of things. It’s the very useful and needed way of things.
We never get even slightly better from doing easy things. Hard things make us better. Hard things make us stronger, smarter, faster, tougher, more skilled. When we do things that are too hard to do it makes us ready to do something even harder. We are always capable of more than we think we are. It’s needful to push, to press on, to struggle so that we can stretch and surpass ourselves. We should always try to be better than we are. If I ever get to the point where I think I’m as good as I can be at any given thing, there will be no point to ever doing that thing again.
Don’t cheat. When you cheat, you cheat yourself. You cheat yourself of the opportunity to get better. Even if no other human ever knows, you’ll know. Victory through a shortcut is robbed of its sweetness, of its true triumph.
A word about faith and a confession:
I want to be better than I am. I want a deeper sense of faith and a deeper relationship with God. I don’t always want the things those wants truly imply, though.
I want to want to love others as I do myself.
I want to want to live selflessly and urgently for God.
I want to want to be happy for others happiness without thinking of whether I’m having happiness taken from me.
I want to want to not take satisfaction when those people who have hurt me feel hurt themselves.
I want to want these things. I don’t always actually want them. I fall short. I lapse.
That’s where Grace comes in. Grace means forgiveness for falling short. Everyone knows that, right? Grace is not just about forgiveness though. Grace means gift. Grace is also the gift of power. It’s power given to change; change the world and change myself. It’s power given to accomplish the miraculous. (Miracles are just God’s expressed sense of irony, after all.)
I’m gifted with the power to change things.
But only if I press on.
It was dark when I got home tonight.
A few years ago, when Rachel was still here, I hated getting home in the dark. It seemed dreadfully unfair. I had someone waiting for me. It seemed like I was missing time she and I could have been spending together just because the sun was down. I know that doesn’t really make sense. Truthfully, we never did anything outside together anyway. We’d talk and maybe laugh and watch TV together and then I’d shower and go to bed and she’d stay up all night and sleep during the day. Still, I resented it. I felt like I was missing out.
It turns out I was missing out, just not on the thing I thought I was missing. I was missing out on the charcoal-sketched shapes of trees in my yard. I was missing out on the sound of crickets and frogs and furry animals scurrying through the bushes. If I did make it home while the sun was up, I missed seeing the tall grasses in the marshy land next to my yard or the sun on the pond. I missed everything around me. Back then, the sounds of scurrying animals would have made me nervous anyway. Seems like everything did. I was afraid of missing out, afraid of getting cheated out of something, afraid of not being good enough, afraid of failing. Afraid. Afraid. Afraid. What I was truly afraid of was losing control and having the balls I was constantly juggling all fall down.
Control is an illusion.
If you think you’re the one keeping all the balls in the air, prepare for the crash.
Fear brings forth the object of itself.
I really can’t recommend losing everything you’ve built your life around. It’s a painful thing. One thing about it, though, it takes away fear. If you feel like you’ve lost everything, you don’t have to fear losing anything anymore. It can also help you take a look around and see the things that really surround you in your life. It gives…perspective. It separates the dross from the gold.
I’ve discovered I actually like riding home after sunset. I heard the crickets tonight.
This will be a short post because I’m tired, sore, and emotionally all over the place.
My work took me to Charleston today (that’s Charleston, SC, home of Spoleto, Benne Wafers and the start of the Civil War). I love Charleston. It’s full of history and charm. Stories abound there. I drove over the Ashley and saw a marina full of boats and more boats scattered in the open water. I drove past marshes full of sawgrass (you can buy handmade grass baskets from the market, by the way. They’re beautiful.). I drove downtown on the narrow twisting streets designed more for horse and carriage than modern motorized vehicles, past homes that have been around for much longer than me or anyone I know. Each corner has a small corner grocery (literally, they were all on the corner) with two plate glass windows (one facing each street) and a single glass door. Each store fit as organically on those narrow streets as the houses that butted up against it. It’s a beautiful city.
I also drove through neighborhoods that looked just as ordinary, just as pedestrian as any neighborhood that you might find in any town or city anywhere you care to look. Not charming. Not historic. Just people; old and young and struggling and just as ordinary and extraordinary as any of us.
I learned two things (or re-learned or remembered. I feel like I’ve known this before and I’ll probably have to learn it again later.).
Places are made of people. Ordinary people doing ordinary things. If you’re yearning to be somewhere else, certain that the other place will be the source of all the things you’re missing, be aware that it will probably be filled with the same people and neighborhoods as where you are. Everywhere is someone’s home town to escape from. Lives are built from within people, not based on places.
I passed all of these really beautiful, meaning-filled places and I never took even one moment to stop and take a good look. I was on a schedule. “On to the next patient.” “Gotta keep up the pace.” “I’ll come back later on a day off.” I doubt I’ll go anytime soon on a day off. Even if I do go, it won’t be the same as it was today. I missed the moment. You can waste a life by missing moments. A life is made up of nothing but moments.
I haven’t written anything in weeks. There have been lots and lots of very plausible and valid reasons not to write; many times when putting it off for another hour or another day was the reasonable thing to do. Writing is work, after all, requiring concentration and intention, and it’s very easy to find a reason to put off work for a little while. It’s always just for a little while after all. Well, this little while is getting pretty close to a month now. Today, as I was thinking about writing and thinking about putting it off for a better time, a time when I’d be inspired and the words would just flow out and they would be meaningful and and well chosen and resonate with the reader, I was finally able to face the most basic reason I haven’t written lately.
I haven’t written lately because I haven’t been trying to write honestly. I haven’t been willing to share where I am and what I’m feeling in my writing. I’ve been trying to find wisdom to share and inspiration to give; to write something that would cause the reader to think “what a great and wise and clever man he is to have written down this thing that causes me to understand this great principle and blah, blah, blah”. (Not a real quote, as hopefully demonstrated by the blah, blah, blah.) I have long been a believer in the idea that the best writing is honest. It exposes the writer and allows the writer to share personal things, and, in doing so, might allow the reader to feel a connection, one person to another. Writing is communication and communication is about connection, right? Any other writing is hack writing.
Hack writing is what I’ve been trying to force myself to do. I’ve been worrying more about the audience and how many people might read it and if they do will they like it than I have with writing honestly. Truthfully, life has been rough lately. I am absolutely not where I want to be nor am I anywhere close to where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. I feel like I’m right in the deepest, darkest part of the storm these days. I haven’t wanted to write that because that’s not how I want to be seen. Who would? (I guess some would because they enjoy being the “poor guy, he doesn’t deserve this” kind of object of attention. I don’t.)
The thing is, I want to write. So, I’m going to write. It will be honest (which is not necessarily the same as good, no promises there). No-one is required to read any of it. I’ll write for me for a while and hopefully I’ll process it and maybe honest writing will take on a different tone.