I read this today: “The laughter was a final answer to the question, Am I nuts? Certainly you are.”
My family are usually good at balancing each other. One or two people may be designated the people who need our support, and we align temporarily to shrug in the face of their bullshit, pay for them emotionally or financially, and let them be a fifth wheel.
Pandemic, of course, strains this system.
The times that are hard are times I realize everyone has glazed eyes, everyone is barely afloat. The children pull each others’ hair. The adults say less, because they have fewer nice things to say. Every time we meet, there is an update of what might or could happen when school starts, if “start” is still the word we use.
Why can’t these people believe covid is real, and dangerous? Being out, spreading the thing, objecting to the mildest measures of public health? This is serious! How do people read the news that 50 people got the virus from x, and then immediately go out and do x?
I can’t accept that people can’t accept how serious covid is, and I can’t accept that I do not have the power to protect myself completely, or the power to protect others. I can’t accept others, or myself, and round the merry go round of human neuroses goes.
A big part of this crisis, for me, is accepting just how selfish and evil people can be. That includes me, though I prefer to focus on other people’s selfishness. I very much prefer it.
I’ve lived this life with so much consideration for others, with sacrifice to help the common good, and they….
I’m taking a moment to step away from that right now.
They are me, I’m them, are there actual political and cultural battles to be fought here, yes, but again, just for a moment, let me acknowledge that I am selfish and evil.
Do I imagine that other people’s moods, rudeness, kindness, or compliments are somehow pointing out that they do not like me? Is there no one on earth qualified enough to approve of me that I could relax and feel like I’m okay? Is there any way I could stop discouraged perfectionist fucking things up, or doing a reasonable job and obsessing about the ways it wasn’t actually good enough?
I was deeply roped into the fight for teachers to teach remotely. Around and around, knots and tightly cintured around limbs, if the vote did not go my way, I could not keep breathing.
It happened to go my way, but it doesn’t, always.
Yes, it is important, but nothing is more important than being in, and living, an authentic life, a life coming from your heart of hearts, and not what someone else told you would make you happy.
Any fight for justice that comes from a place of self-righteousness, rather than a grief at human imperfection, is built on unsteady ground.
Because people cannot accept that what happens to others may happen t them, I grieve. Because a parent is so convinced that the “right” schooling is the only way their child will “succeed,” I grieve. I grieve for people accepting and exchanging false information. I grieve for ministers who hold services that seem more important to them than the risk to their parishoners’ health.
I grieve as I struggle to put down my ravenous hunger to have someone tell me I am a good person, and smart. That I’ve done meaningful work. That I am only middle age tummying, nothing to fret about. That I’ll never have a panic attack again, because I’ve done the right things to manage my brain.
I bring the rage of 15 years of feeling overlooked, ignored, infantilized, and criticized as a teacher in public education. And the rage that comes from seeing others experience the same things, over and over again.
I bring the rage of my child self, who is still mad as hell that life is not fair. Who is still scared because they shut the door on a cell when we visited Alcatraz, and I knew complete loss of control. Who is still scared that knocking a Christmas ornament off a tree in a department store in 1979 will get me thrown in jail. Who realized around 1985 that her great-grandma was actually a person who died, just as she is a person, and so she will die. Who was unable to stop her parents’ fights.
Who hid things in fourth grade: the divorce, a book I stole to learn about how breasts were supposed to show up, and the plastic money I accidentally took home from math class and was afraid to return to the teacher who scared me. Who has pooped her pants. Who is afraid to date anyone. Who throws parties so she can feel comfortable at them. Who talks a lot when she is nervous. Who sometimes gets her feelings hurt so easily that she rockets off to a planet of hurt and can’t come back.
That’s all there.
It feels good to drain the pus.
Today I read some more of Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, which has the exact cringey butterfly on the cover that you are now imagining. A butterfly I carefully hid, along with the title, when I read this book in public, back when there was “public.”
The content makes up for it:
When I was young, I fantasized that I could learn all that was needed to know in order to choose rightly; today I know that I can never know enough….
We grow more susceptible to ideologies that promise easy solutions, black-and-white values, and we often require a palpable enemy ‘out there’ to hate since that allows us to avoid self-reflection… individual sensibility is easily swallowed, moral nuance forgotten, and responsibility for individual choice avoided…
To free ourselves… we go the next step… and ask: ‘What is this touching in me?’ ‘Where have I felt this energy before?’ ‘Can I see the pattern beneath the surface?’ ‘What is the hidden idea, or complex, that is creating this pattern?’ ‘Is there something promising magic, Easy Street, seduction, ‘solution’ here, when, as we know, life will always remain raggedy and incomplete?’
What offers hope?
Some people could find the meaning of their suffering and finally align their spiritual compass with the purpose of the soul.
Finding meaning, not having meaning walk up and say, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” Finding meaning, not angrily tapping your foot while you wait for some authority figure to say, ‘You are so amazing. You are rated an A plus person.”
Finding it is very hard in a dark time, because we may lack the strength to do the most basic chores, let alone take time to consider ourselves emotionally and spiritually. It may be easier, though, because as you may have noticed, in the dark, the bright spots call us, and satisfy, more powerfully.
First quote from Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing, pg. 191
Quotes from James Hollis’ Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, pg. 163-164, pg.176
Image: “The finding of Moses who is rescued from the Nile by the maidservants of Pharaoh’s daughter,” Bartolomeo Biscaino, 1650-57, Metropolitan Museum of Art.