Sunday, October 21, 2007

the paradox

An interesting thing happened to me the other day.

I think I grew up.

I'm not sure I understand it yet. This I can say: several times in one day last week, I experienced the thing that I have pretty much devoted my life to avoiding. Much as I talk a big game about being all postmodern and comfortable with ambiguity and holding a web of interconnected beliefs and all that crap, the fact is that certain kinds of strong conflicting emotions have always been pretty much physically unbearable for me. They make me anxious in a way that I cannot bear.

This comes out mostly when people who I care about tell me they are unhappy with something - anything from the quality of my work to a decision I made to the amount of mayonnaise on their deli sandwiches - and I cannot fix it for them. Right then and there.

This, in the past, has set up a wail in my head that blocks out everything else, until I can shut it up, usually with some kind of rationalization - some way I can convince myself that that mayonnaise is really, truly, on a deeper level when you look at it this way, BETTER.

Of course I have other specialities - mostly ways of shutting down the unhappy conversations before they get to the part that needs fixing. I don't even TRY to do this. It's deep in some sub-cortex. Afterwards, I always feel ashamed, and usually find some way to rationalize THAT.

So first, I had a meal with someone from our church, and part of the conversation - a fairly short part, mixed in with travel and family and bands and gadgetry talk - was him telling me that he was badly disappointed in some things about church. My things.

And for some reason - for maybe the first time in my 45 years of being me - it was okay. I listened. With a few deeeeep breaths, I was able to keep the wail quiet for a while. I didn't try to stop the conversation or defend myself or minimize it or laugh it off or give off those subtle signals that suggest that my mental health was way too fragile for this topic today.

We really talked.

I didn't fix it.

And I didn't die.

And then another friend emailed me and asked what was going on with me.

I am disgusted with church – not Church, not God, not even this particular church, despite our current challenges – I just have no idea what we are supposed to be doing around here, with Sundays, don’t know why people go to church or what God expects from it. I want to program nothing for a Sunday, and have people gather and see what happens. I want to close for a month and just have dinner parties. I want to turn off the electricity and see what happens.

And yet I’m excited about Christmas.

The good part of that struggle (which moves in and out of the foreground, and is foregroundy right now because I was just having lunch with _____) is that I’m not struggling alone, and no one is saying to me “Oh! It’s THIS! Obviously. Duh, You’re stupid to wonder. What’s wrong with you anyway?”

Some parishoners might think that, and of course they’re welcome to think whatever they like. But among the people I talk to daily, this is not considered a stupid question. (Take just a moment with me and recognize how beautiful and unusual that is, and breathe a quick ‘thank you’.)

So, though it’s hard, and it’s noisy in my head, I would say this disgust is kind of…energizing. It’s kind of an exciting disgust.

... I’m not saying it’s a day at the beach for me. But I feel like it’s the question, and also the paradox – like, it’s the question I was designed at ask, and keep asking, and other questions feel tangential and ditzy.

And yet I know that, even if I invest my life wondering…I won’t get to the whole, real answer. Ever. Probably not more than a glimpse of a corner of the shed in which the answer is kept.

And at the moment, that seems all right. Kind of.

So perhaps I have grown a new part of my brain, which is capable of holding more things in tension.

Perhaps having a child has shown me - on a literal, physical level, a bloodstream level - that I cannot fix much, and certainly not completely, and certainly not at a moment's notice.

It's interesting.
It feels like the beginning of a long long hike, on a nice day.


Rev. April said...

i get what you're saying. beautifully said.

TeamDandy said...

I love this post!

Stacie said...

And yet I know that, even if I invest my life wondering…I won’t get to the whole, real answer. Ever. Probably not more than a glimpse of a corner of the shed in which the answer is kept.

And at the moment, that seems all right. Kind of.

Holy hell, you made me cry.

Michael Howes said...

i get it - you say it so well. it's what keeps me in The Biz - doing this thing that demands my very best, pushes me into becoming a whole new (whole?) (holier?) person and will be a fascinating unsolved/unsolvable mystery every day I use oxygen. and that inudcts me into a community of people also not figuring it out. Meg Ryan in Joe Versus The Volcano: "Almost everyone is asleep buut the ones who are awake go around with an amazed look on their faces."