Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Everything You Never Wanted to Know

[Disclaimer: This post contains information which may be negative or de-moralizing in nature and may not be suitable for sensitive souls. The author cannot be held responsible for any resulting depression or despair.]

I haven’t posted recently. There are reasons – and I wish it was as simple as my kids being home for the summer.

Sometimes I have too many thoughts to get any of them down in any coherent form. Sometimes everything I'm thinking is bound and gagged in a tiny room of deep emotion and I'm not ready to let anybody in. Sometimes everything I think degenerates into pessimism and I don't want to spread the disease. Right now all of this is true.

Being very careful not to bitch and moan and to be as objective as possible, here's my problem:

Everyone who accomplishes anything, whether menial, daily tasks or great, world-changing things does so because of an inner motivation; a passion; an inspiration. I am categorically unable to produce such a thing.

My mother finds it in helping people; my friend finds it in his work; some women find it in mothering; couples can find it in romantic love; someone else will find it in friendship. Some of these things I have and others, I don't. But none of them seems to be enough. I wake up in the morning and ask myself, "why should I get up out of bed?" and I can't find a compelling answer.

I'm stuck in Ecclesiastes mode:

" What does man gain from all his labor
at which he toils under the sun?

Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.

All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun."

I'm forever trying to get at the thing behind everything we do: I get up in the morning so that I can fix and eat breakfast, so that I have enough energy to clean up after breakfast; and I wash up after breakfast so I have clean dishes for lunch, which I prepare and eat so that I have energy to clean up again. I launder my family's clothes so that we have clean ones to dirty again. I go to sleep so I can get up again.

"The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises"
I'm spending my life- all of it- raising my children, so that they can grow into adults who spend their lives raising their children, who in turn, will spend their lives raising children of their own.

This cycles back as far as time, at least as concerns my forbears, since they all have had children- which, down the line, led to me.

"Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever...
There is no remembrance of men of old,
and even those who are yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow"
I just can't seem to shake the feeling that we are all working to perpetuate life, but life itself consists of nothing but working to perpetuate life! When I think this way I start to get bitter, because life seems like a big, cosmic joke.

"What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

God put eternity in our hearts, with no way to fathom it? In the face of meaninglessness, beauty and our sense of eternity become a burden too heavy to bear. It is too painful. It's mockery.

This underlying "inspiration" that I want - I've found various sops along the way, but they don't hold. I suppose I could say, with U2- "I still haven't found what I'm looking for".

Some people find it in a relationship with God. Augustine wrote: "Our hearts are restless 'til they find their rest in Thee." I think I have experienced this rest two or three times in my life. But I can't seem to stay there. Negativity sneaks up while I am sleeping and throws the blankets over my head; I can't see anything, I can't rest, I can't even breathe.

But I said I was going to try to be objective, didn't I? Okay, two thoughts:

First, there is a very good possibility that I need to be on anti-depressants. When I was taking Lexapro I did laundry just because it had to be done and didn't expect to find some grand meaning at the bottom of the pile. I saw my children as funny and delightful, instead of as part of a purposeless cycle of lives which are forgotten as soon as they end. And I altogether quit introducing myself (hand extended), "Hi, I'm Sisyphus".

(But if I need to chemically alter my brain in order to find purpose in anything, doesn't that just reek of denial? Kierkegaard, in A Sickness Unto Death, says the worst kind of despair is to not know that you are in despair. Do I want blissful ignorance?)

The second (and refreshingly opposite) thought I bring to bear on all of this is that, somewhere inside, I know this isn't the whole story. I know that there is beauty and meaning, because I have seen it before; and even if I can't now remember its shape, I can at least recall that I once saw it.

I’ve always believed the answer lies back with what Augustine said. But to rest in God, you have to know that He loves you. Sometimes I know that.

I mean, I can remember thinking, "I know God loves me", but I don't remember what it feels like. No, wait, that's not true. I remember-

It's tender and raw and humbling and satisfying; it feels like a slap in the face or unexpectedly stubbing your toe; it feels like repentance, it feels like beauty; like hushed words between lovers; like a newborn baby; it feels like all the reason I ever need for anything.

In that place, my little life is swallowed up in a sea of purpose ("What God has done from beginning to end") rather than one of meaninglessness. The nastiest human being becomes someone worth my sacrifice; the most thankless work can be done with joy; sunlight turns dappled and golden instead of scorching; raindrops roll heavily from the tips of leaves, infusing them- and the earth- with meaning.

But I can't hold this always before me in any significant way.

A chief fault of mine is that I don't allow people to love me. When I was about eleven, my best friend and I took a "how-well-do-you-know-your-best-friend" test in a teen magazine (because she was into those sorts of things). When the test revealed that I knew everything about her and she knew only the very superficial things about me, she was so mad at me she wouldn't speak to me for a week. And I guess it was my fault. I don't generally offer information that isn't asked for. I think most people do.

Blogging is strange for me because I am constantly offering unsolicited information about myself. I don't like it. But it's a casualty of writing that I'm willing to face, because I love writing. And I suppose it's somewhat safe, because all of you out there in the completely intangible cyber-space can read it if you want to-or not, if you don't- and if it gets too uncomfortable you can always read it and pretend you didn't.

All of this rambling is to a point: I don't know how to be loved. I've spent my life blaming it on my parents or on God or on other people (for not noticing) but what it all comes down to is that I have isolated myself. I hacked a lonely road out of the thicket and set out traveling alone. I don't know how to repair this and I'm not even going to attempt an answer right now.

Right now I’m going to pray for mercy. And the next time someone offers a hand, I’m going to grab it.


lithereed said...

There are so many things I could write in response to this post. I’ll stick to just a couple topics. First of all, I understand your reluctance to rely on medication. I’ve never tried an antidepressant because my foul moods have rarely been dark enough to warrant medication. But I also know that, even if I did need medication, I would exhaust all other options before resorting to it. This is not logical. There are many substances that we put into our bodies in order to regulate ourselves or enhance our moods—caffeine, nicotine, sugar, alcohol, chocolate…the list is endless. I’m not claiming that these substances are equally beneficial. It just helps me to stop and think that nearly everything I eat or drink will, in some way, influence my mood. I know that if I eat total junk (pizza, cheese tortillas, pasta, coffee, iced teas, ice cream, chocolate, and no fruits or vegetables) for a week I will feel horrible for that whole week. I’ll have very little energy or motivation and an extremely negative perspective on everything. My point is that our bodies are made up of chemicals. When you eat and drink, you are admitting that it is normal to regulate those chemicals by adding or excluding certain other chemicals. Medication is just another chemical that one can choose to take when ones own chemicals get totally out of whack. People take medication for innumerable physical problems (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) and no one tells them to get off the pills and just deal with it. Yet, somehow, that very message is still being sent to people who have very real disturbances in their brain chemistry.

Your discussion of God and purpose has triggered so many thoughts that I hope to respond through a post of my own, when I get a chance. For now, let me just say that our desire for an overarching purpose is very interesting. I wonder if this drive for some grand finale is something that has been reinforced by our culture, or if it is something that is universal. We are, at this moment in history, very focused on the future. Yet, I know that in previous times and different cultures there was not such an intense focus on what will be. I wish I could remember facts and names, but in several cultures there was a definite acceptance of the circular nature of time. The idea of time as a straight line was foreign to these people who accepted that the seasons would roll back into one another and that, “The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.” Obviously the desire for some ultimate purpose is not new, but I wonder if the clearly circular nature of time would be less disturbing to us if we had not been trained from such an early age to strive towards a better future, while flying blindly through the present.

Rachael said...

Stephanie- first, you are right about medication (and other substances). In fact, if I took regular exercise and was strict with my eating, and got enough shut-eye, I'd probably be seeing the world alot differently. (Maybe that was Solomon's problem - too much Mickey-D's and not enough strolling around the garden.)

Secondly, I don't have time right now to answer secondly. It'll have to wait until tomorrow. Thanks for the comment. It's nice to hear from you. And good to talk about these things instead of packing them away to fester in a dark corner somewhere.

Roo said...

You said 'The world is going back to Paganism'. Oh bright
Vision! I saw our dynasty in the bar of the House
Spill from their tumblers a libation to the Erinyes,
And Leavis with Lord Russell wreated in flowers, heralded with flutes.
Leading white bulls to the cathedral of the solemn Muses
To pay where due the glory of their latest theorem.
Hestia's fire in every flat, rekindled, burned before
The lardergods. Unmarried daughters wth obediant hands
Tended it. By the hearth the white-arm'd venerable mother
Donum servabat, lanam faciebat. Duly at the hour
Of sacrifice their brothers came, silent, corrected, grave
Before their elders; on their downy cheeks easily the blush
Arose (it is the mark of freemen's children) as they trooped,
Gleaming with oil, demurely home from the palaestra or the dance.
Walk carefully, do wake the envy of the happy gods,
Shun Hubris. The middle of the road, the middle sort of men,
Are best. Aidos surpasses gold. Reverance for the aged
Is wholesome as seasonable rain, and for a man to die
Defending the city is a harmonious thing.
Thus with magistral hand the Puritan Sophrosune
Cooled and schooled and tempered our uneasy motions:
Heathendom came again, the circumspection and the holy fears ...
You said it. Did you mean it? Oh inordinate liar, stop.

Or did you mean another kind of heathenery?
Think, then, that under heaven-roof the little disc of the earth,
Fortified Midgard, lies encircled by the ravening Worm.
Over it's icy bastions faces of giant and troll
Look in, ready to invade it. The Wolf, admittedly, is bound;
But the bond will break, the Beast run free. The weary gods,
Scarred with old wounds, the one-eyed Odin, Tyr who has lost a hand,
Will limp to their stations for the last defence. Make it your hope
To be counted worthy on that day to stand beside them;
For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die
His second final death in good company. The stupid, strong
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last,
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side.
Take as your model the tall women with yellow hair in plaits
Who walked back into burning houses to die with men,
Or him who as the death spear entered into his vitals
Made critical comments on its workmanship and aim.
Are these the Pagans you spoke of? Know you betters and crouch, dogs;
You have that have Vichy-water in your veins and worship the event,
Your goddess History (whom your fathers called the strumpet Fortune).


'So dim below these symbols show,
Bony and abstract every one.
Yet if true verse but lift the curse,
They feel in dreams their native Sun.'



arkenstone said...

God put eternity in our hearts, with no way to fathom it?

How would it be possible for a finite, mortal creature to fathom the infinite and eternal? Physicists tell us that there can be more than three dimensions of space and yet how can you imagine a fourth or fifth "degree of freedom?" Likewise as someone bound by time I cannot fathom a creature never having a beginning or end.

I completely identify with your struggling to deal with the mundane cycle of life where it seems one meaningless effort only serves to facilitate another meaningless effort. I think you cut to the heart at the end when you speak of love. That is our purpose in life. The work, chores, eating are just things we do to keep living. Our real purpose is to love. To join you in quoting Ecclesiastes,

"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."

I hope I can get to that point someday. Without a creator, without that created purpose, we truly are just a collection of matter, no more meaningful than a ham sandwhich. In the meantime I am sort of caught wondering if in fact the despair I experience is not (as I have nearly always believed) due to lack of meaning in life but instead caused by the fact that life is utterly meaningful and I am not living in accordance with that meaning.

Rachael said...

"I am sort of caught wondering if in fact the despair I experience is not (as I have nearly always believed) due to lack of meaning in life but instead caused by the fact that life is utterly meaningful and I am not living in accordance with that meaning."

This is so well-put that it bears repeating. I want to live in accordance with that meaning, which is why I'm so restless here outside of it. I should thank God for my discontent, if it leads me to the right place. But the way seems so obscured and dark, sometimes.

Thanks for the post.

Roo said...

Sorry if I was off - sometimes all I have is felt 'shape' in response and I try and find the nearest thing to it.

I always look forward to my notifier saying A Dime a Dozen (1).

Rachael said...

Andrew- No, I don't think you were off, at all. Of course, I don't know what you thought I meant or what you meant by posting the poem. I only know what I think you meant and what it meant to me (poetry tends to be that way) and how I related it to the issues in the post. But in my head it made sense and was significant.

Roo said...

The lines which always turn something in me are:

For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die
His second final death in good company. The stupid, strong
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last,
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side.

Especially 'in good company'. That relates to the second quote, taken from 'The Birth of Language'. In particular:

Yet if true verse but lift the curse,
They feel in dreams their native Sun.

Destilling further, I think the connection I saw was between:

'...because I love writing.'


'...but lift the good company.'