Thursday, October 21, 2010

Whatever Anyone May

"Whatever anyone may do or say, I am bound to be good; exactly as if gold or emerald or purple were continually to say this: 'Whatever anyone may do or say, I am bound to be an emerald and to keep the colour that is mine.'"

- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book VII, 15

* * *

The most difficult challenge for the fucked is to know, understand and be who they are regardless of anyone's opinion or judgment of them. At some point in their wandering they dropped, or never grabbed hold of their essential self. Currents of doubt and betrayal, love ungiven or unreturned, the habit of going along to get along saps the life out of who they meant to be. Like husks after a dry harvest they are blown this way and that by externals, by chance, by circumstance. The misery attendant to such a life presumes that misery has no end.

And for once the fucked are right. That misery knows no bottoming, no point at which the nadir can be reached if only to gain one's footing to begin the climb out.

Such a plummet ends only when you decide it ends, and if you are fucked you'll never believe it.

* * *

I am sitting in the shade of a large Ginko tree. It is 1986 and I have retreated to the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in west-central Kentucky reeling from the end of my young marriage. I am a gutted fish. It is a hot September day in my past and the shade of the tree is a relief from the heat. I am grateful that the Cistercians take vows of silence because I couldn't imagine talking to anyone. The monks and brothers communicate with a sort of sign language, but even this is often considered an intrusion on their thoughts, and the general rule is if you see somene alone with their thoughts leave them be.

The guestmaster, Fr. Damien, a tall, wiry-strong sort of fellow in his late forties walks past the tree and nods to me. I grimace a smile back and am surprised when he spins on his heel and walks back to me and sits down next to me. After a few moments, while looking out over his cloistered world, he says to me: "I can see the pain you are in, Mark and I wish I could take it away for you, but I can't. No one can do that, but I will tell you this: we are always being called into our names. Every minute of every day is another opportunity we're given to be who we are. There is only one of you and if you don't live out the fullness of that, then who will? God is always calling us into our names."

With that Damien stood, brushed out the dirt and mulch from his robes and walked off in silence. I sat there in my pain and had just been given the keys to the kingdom, so to speak, and knew it not.

* * *
We claim we want answers, but in truth we want soothing lies. Fr. Damien's faith allowed him to offer me what he had learned, and true to his word, he could not take the pain away for me, but he'd given me a tool so that I could do it for myself. But I preferred the pain because it kept me attached to the remarkable woman I'd lost. And this is how we are: vain, hurt, filled with a raging hope and a desperate longing. In Joseph Campbell's terms, we refuse the call of our lives because it is uncertain, dangerous, with no promises. The problem is it is that anyway and the longer we turn away from our lives, the deeper we are fucked.

Aurelius tells me I am bound to be good in the same way emeralds are bound to be green because that is who each of us are. But emeralds don't have to be convinced they are green, but you and I need to be convinced we are good. We wait for permission to be happy; we demean our abilities by putting them in service of economics only; we judge ourselves and others with a high dose of snark and derision and all the while we are merely dithering on shore, refusing to get wet, to enter the stream of our lives.

The plummet ends when you sit under a Ginko tree and recognize that if every moment is an opportunity to be called into your name, then every moment is an opportunity to stop the fall, end the self-inflicted misery and be emerald green if for no other reason than that is exactly who you are.


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