As a child I looked up to no one like I looked up to my sister, Shan. She was seven years my senior, old enough to use her influence for her own comedic enjoyment (like the time she “talked in her sleep” and convinced me my parents had gotten me an old balloon for Christmas and nothing else), but she also let me be her friend even when she had better things to do. As she went through her teen years and young adulthood, she was never too cool or busy to spend time with her nerdy kid brother. We talked about the deep things of life, we laughed about the ridiculous parts of it, we made exhaustive, candy-fueled lists at 3 a.m. for no good reason. She advised me on handling parents and school and girls. We laughed together as we read my ninth grade ex-girlfriend’s lite-rock inspired love letters aloud (I didn’t say we were always nice).
Life, however, is not all candy-fueled lists and harmless love letters. There is confusion, betrayal, loneliness, anger, exhaustion. We all face the gauntlet as best we can as adults, and Shan has faced a particularly daunting one with what I consider great poise, insight, strength, grace and beauty. Today she is sharing some of her story with us, and I am so grateful for it. This piece is soul-scrapingly honest, and I trust you will recognize not only the beauty and truth contained in it but also the gift you are being entrusted with, the gift of someone’s unprotected heart on screen before you, and handle it with the gentle grace it deserves.
Shan is a talented artist and you can check out some of her awesome paintings at her Facebook page here.
I’ve spent the last 6 years of my life avoiding religious conversations of any type. For most of that time, I’ve also harbored a disdain for the entity known as The Blog – primarily because I was introduced to the idea of blogging through a post on MySpace. That the word “blog” was then closely linked in my mind with the word “emo” was an unfortunate but unavoidable consequence. Recently, though, my sister-in-law said in passing, “You should check out your brother’s blog sometime”. The woman had just baked me stuffed mushrooms and pointed me towards an awaiting selection of beer – I was a pliable audience. I started reading this blog. Having allowed David’s very non-emo writing to open a conversation with my heart and mind about spirituality, I’ve tentatively begun – 7 months later – to try to reply in kind. I am beginning to try to explain where along the winding road I am. I’m beginning to see that the conversation isn’t the enemy. And here I am writing on a blog.
I have a long standing and deeply felt love-hate relationship with self-awareness. As a child I reveled in lists that helped me define myself to myself: “People I Like”, “My Favorite Camping Trips Ever” and “Best All Time Exploding Scenes in an Action Movie Set in the Past in Another Galaxy–Preferably Far, Far Away” are similar to a few I remember. When I began the molasses walk of divorce 6 years ago, I made a book of me. It was made entirely of images that collected together my favorite things: the places I loved or wanted the chance to love, the colors that moved me, do-dads that I collected. I found it comforting to try to capture what it is that makes me Me. That desire to define myself extended to painful honesty with myself about why I was doing what I was doing, what exactly I wanted to change, where I really and truly wanted to “end up”. I didn’t mind if it was ugly, I just didn’t want to be self-deceived. All that has been the Love of the relationship.
But the Hate in this tug of war is that it is hard to look in the looking glass too long without risking it cracking me from side to side. At the end and beginning of every day, I am a sinner and I have yet to find the “drink me” bottle that shrinks that truth in any way. So when I pull myself back to look — yet again — at one of the most painful parts of my personal evolution (my quest to find out who I am before any god there may be and how that god actually wants me to interact with deity) much of who I am wants to just run and hide under my emotional bed.
And that, then, is a lot of what I have to say about my spiritual journey: it has been frightening. Much Afraid is a handle I would willingly accept in spiritual realms. It is frightening to know that if there is a god (and I fully believe there is), then whatever that god wants me to do or not do or be or try or finds me responsible for, is pretty damned (literally) important.
The weight of finding, knowing and living in “God’s Will For Your Life” was one I don’t remember ever not feeling – ever. Every decision seemed truly to be of eternal importance from some of my earliest memories. I knew I was to acknowledge god “in all my ways” and the belief that The Spirit in me would bear witness to my spirit so that I would know what god wanted of me was not confined to typically spiritual matters. I remember believing earnestly at the ripe old age of 13 that god had a very specific will for my life when it came to cereal. I’m not making this up. I believed that if there were multiple cereal options when I got up in the morning, then it was my righteous responsibility before god to pray and let the spirit move me to make the “right” cereal choice. 23 years later my face is blushing when I remember how I wrote my 13 year old friend to explain to her in detail how she, too, could draw closer to god by praying over General Mills. To say that this belief that I needed to always choose God’s Will or suffer a useless, unfulfilled, unholy, unworthy life was paralyzing would be an understatement. It was also impossible and I won’t speak here of the great lengths of soul flagellation I went through after every occurrence of un-God’s Willed-ness – whether it was actually “sin” or not. And certainly there was plenty of sin.
When I consider where I “am” now, along the winding road, I am struck by the fact that this weight of responsibility has only ever been lifted in any way by my willful choice to say “I am drowning under the feeling of this oppressive responsibility, and so I will choose survival. I will choose to ignore as much of the feeling of responsibility as I’m able and just ‘do the best’ I can and ignore the god portion of it altogether.” This doesn’t seem “Right” to me, by any means; it simply seems like the only way I can survive.
I had believed earnestly during times of prayer and meditation and bible reading that many things were the “still small voice of the spirit” leading me to believe or feel or do things only to later understand those either could not have been god or god was not kind. Either way, that left me in serious trouble. Either I can not hear/discern/know the spirit’s voice (and couldn’t, even in times of the truest obedience and faith I’ve had) or what god says is cold hearted and critical with no view to truly help me grow. I don’t want to believe the fault is god’s (or the word “god” doesn’t really mean what I think it means), so that just leaves me to blame; basically I’m screwed. I’m just a broken down gypsy with no ride home — I want to get there from here, but I can’t walk fast enough and I have no wheels.
Being a gypsy at the side of the road, though, leaves me with a view of all the caravans passing by. I look away often, but when I don’t I see a parade of people in spiritual machines moving forward, forward. They get in these machines together and fly the flag of their particular vehicular choice. They sing driving songs and shout driving directions to other travelers from bullhorns. They make faces at the people in the cars and chariots and flintstone-mobiles travelling the road near them. They move fast, they move slow, they move all zig-zaggy. They throw out candy or maps or broken glass or umbrellas. But they never seem to understand that from where I’m standing now they all look the same. They’ve all got a machine and flag and song and they’re moving in the same direction — and most of them think the others are just crazy, wicked wrong. But they have a vehicle to move them closer to where they want to be. They’ve chosen and committed and claimed a mode of transportation to knowing and pleasing god. Some and or all of them (I frequently suspect the latter) may be wrong about which “vehicle” was the go-to manufacturer of choice, but doggone it, they won’t know it til it’s too late anyway and at least for now they have the satisfaction of earnestly trying.
So when I look at where I am right now, that’s what I see: the gypsy at the side of the road, watching the caravans pass by, wondering how people keep all those machines in motion. I wonder how people move forward with god and any kind of joint worship system without the wheels of decision falling off in the mucky twin ruts of pride and fear. I’m always wary of a runaway station wagon full of koolaid handlers running me down if I wander too near the pavement. I would like to turn my back on the road altogether and lose myself in the forest, but I can not escape the bone deep need to acknowledge how important it all is and find a way to stay near enough the road that if god ever happened to travel this way, stopped to stretch and took compassion on a silly girl with a book of pictures so she’ll know who she is, I just might get a ride home.