Observations, Self, Spirituality, Writing

..aaaaaand she’s back!

I came back this blog for the first time in ages yesterday and realized that those ages were even longer than I’d thought. March?!?! I didn’t fall off the wagon. I apparently jumped off, was trampled, and ended up forty feet under.

March is when my life started moving too fast. I was still in grad school at the time, and around halfway through my thesis advisor had gotten in touch with me for the first time since the previous June– to let me know, casually, that my paper wasn’t media-studies-y enough and I’d have to do it over.

“You might think it sounds like I’m telling you to trash all but the last four pages– and I am— but know this is part of the writing process,” he said in his email.

Cue me attempting to cobble together any usable sources and passages from my original paper (on draft 6, by the way) and writing an entirely new thesis on a different subject in a month.

So that was happening in March. And things with the boyfriend were becoming perilous. He wanted to get engaged sometime soon; I didn’t. Our differences in spirituality and values were putting on weight.

And then I miraculously finished my thesis and graduated, and to fill that loss I picked up a few new jobs– began tutoring ESL and taking this elderly woman for walks. And then I broke up with the boyfriend. And packed in a yoga membership, another teaching gig, and some copywriting.

Basically, I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. Because they were screaming all kinds of scary things at me.

Like: “Boyfriend loved you like no one else ever will, and you’re selfish not to let this God thing go for him.” And: “Grad school was a waste of time, and you’ll never pay off your loans.” And: “You have no identity anymore. You have no friends.”

At the time of writing, I’m still scared. I’ve been on a few dates, and they’ve ranged from mediocre to borderline dangerous. The copywriting gig is tenuous at best: I’m a total newbie, and my boss has hesitated again and again to give me the client access I need to do a good job, which makes me think she’s about to pull the plug on our relationship and just go back to doing everything herself. Also, I’m only nannying for three days a week now, for Margaret and another little girl I’ll call Winnie. That means a helluva lot less money, and a helluva lot more time with my scary thoughts.

Plus, my parents, who have struggled financially for the last five years, have finally been served with foreclosure papers.

I told that to Bryan, a dear friend, last night. When he took my call he could hear I was crying so he went outside and shut the door behind him, and he told me to try to trust that everything was going to be okay. He’s not religious, but I took it as advice to trust God. Which has historically not gone well for me. In the past, trusting God meant demanding he resolve situations in a particular way and then resenting him when he didn’t.

This time, I tried to listen to Bryan. I hung up with him and sat on my bed, telling myself to trust that God wants me to experience joy, and that he is eager and able to provide my parents with what they need. I tried to think about who God is, and trust that in all this mess, most of which I’ve built myself, some kind of ultimate goodness and joy is guiding me to itself.

That lasted about five seconds.

So here I am again, hoping to get out of the dirt and back on the wagon, but with a new set of concerns. I’m doing a good job of being present to the world. I need to get back to being present to myself.

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Observations, Self, Spirituality

Worries.

Worrying is a real struggle for me. Or maybe, not worrying, which implies that there are specific things I’m worried about, which is true, but not the main thing. Rather I struggle with a general sense of unease, fear, and anxiety about the state of my being. I’m deep, I know. It’s a spiritual fear, an existential one. What am I doing here? I wonder. What’s my purpose? Is life even good?

When I was younger, my fears had a deeply religious bent. I was afraid (and resentful) that God didn’t seem to be all good, and that my fight to please him would eventually turn out to be worthless. I would turn to my Bible, Matthew chapter 6, which talks about worrying:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.

It never really did it for me. I wasn’t worried about having enough to eat or wear– I was lucky enough to have those things provided for me, even when my Dad was out of work and clinically depressed. Or, according to some Christians, God had chosen these provisions, this station of privilege, for me.

I always wished I could find comfort here. When I was feeling anxious the other day, they came to mind. But I realized– aha!– they’re actually not that comforting at all, at all! At least not the way they’re traditionally interpreted.

Think about it. We’re urged to compare ourselves to the lilies of the field and see how God cares for them. But how many lilies of the field are trampled every day? Or grazed on? For every seed that takes root, how many don’t? How many birds of the air fly into wires, are shot by hunters, eaten by larger predators? For as many birds and lilies as there are, there are also many, many that die. So it doesn’t really seem like God is taking such special care of all the lilies–just some. And we’re supposed to compare ourselves and take comfort in their state?

The lilies and birds are just creatures. Just creations. And so are we. Rather than thinking about how God provides specially for the lowly, I find more comfort in the passage’s secret knowledge that there are rhythms to life, and all of us are subject to them. God sees and notices when the lilies and birds die, as he does for us. God celebrates when the lilies grow, as he does for us too. That passage turns out not to be about worries for food and clothes or about how much more special to God we are than the plants and animals, but a reminder that we are all lowly.

Which reminds me of another comforting passage, this time a poem by Mary Oliver called “Wild Geese.”

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Whenever I feel out of control or deeply sad, this poem grounds me. It too reminds me of my creatureliness, and the freedom to be had there. I don’t need to pressure myself to change. God is the Creator, and God has designed all my habitats and ways for me. It’s up to him to change me, if he wills. I am just a little creature, just like the pebbles and the geese, and my home is the world; all I have to do is live my life. I take great comfort in knowing we’re all together.

(Final side note: I could complicate that will all kinds of caveats– the existence of sin and selfishness, the role of decisions and willpower in growth, etc. etc.. But most of the time I don’t tend towards freeloading on grace. I need to hear that I should let go, not try harder. I’m a firm believer that there can be just as much wisdom in opposite aphorisms and advice, but that one may be better for a person at a particular time.)

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