Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I think I finally get it now...

I used to think that only some people had interesting lives and cool stories to tell. That only the ones who have traveled or lived abroad or speak more than one language or have done something that I, from my narrow-minded perspective, deemed "interesting" - whatever that may have meant at any given moment in my life - then I would deign to give of my time and energy to listen to what they had to say.

But I think I finally get it now.

Everyone I meet either has faced some enormous battle, some frightening moment, some momentous decision or is facing something like that right now. Every person in every supermarket aisle, at every gas pump, on every motorcycle, and driving every single minivan has risen above what they thought were insurmountable odds and is alive to tell dozens of heart-stopping tales. Everyone has at least one amazing, miraculous story to tell from their lives. The sad truth is that I don't give other people enough time and space and safety to tell their stories. I am too quick to judge someone's worth by the color of their skin, whether or not they speak English with an accent, their country of origin, what they are wearing, what car they drive, or whether or not they are married or have children or believe what I believe or live in my neighborhood or fill in the blank with whatever prejudgment matters to me most at the moment of judgment. I shudder to think how many of the best life stories I have missed because I refused to make time to listen to a prophet or an angel in my presence.

I used to think that reading the Bible and going to church and attending and teaching Bible studies and talking about my faith every time I got the chance regardless of whether or not the person I was talking to was interested in what I believe were the best ways to prove to myself and others that I am a woman of faith and that I trust in God.

But I think I finally get it now.

Those are just a few ways, precious few ways to walk the journey of faith I have embarked on. What I realize now is that when I wash the dishes and peel carrots and scrub our filthy tubs and talk on the phone and laugh and cry and tell the truth and forgive someone and admit to my doubts and fears and anger and lust and disgust and confusion I am living out my faith then too. Even when I am not doing any of the things that I have always been told are proof of my commitment to my faith and to God, even when I am doing exactly the opposite of what I know to be right and true, I'm living a life of faith then too.

Because the life of faith includes the doubts and fears and questions. It includes the times when I wander off the path unintentionally and the times when I pull out the machete of my free will, take a sharp left turn off the previously bulldozed boulevards of belief, and carve a path into the darkness where none existed before. Leaving home with my fortune in my shoulder bag, heading out into wildness, headstrong and determined to be the wayfaring stranger in a faraway land - all of that is just as much a part of my walk of faith as sitting quietly in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Roma during mass after lighting candles and kneeling at the side chapel where Bernini's statues of Daniel and Joseph stand. Sometimes the wandering away is a whole lot more fun ...

I used to think that to be a good friend, a faithful friend, and a loving friend ( or daughter, mother, wife, sister, neighbor, etc), I had to put up with anything and everything that the other person put out. I used to think that I couldn't stand up for myself, that I couldn't ask for what I wanted, that I couldn't disagree with the other person. I have been told and I have read and I have even taught that "love keeps no record of wrongs, always hopes, always perseveres."

But I think I finally get it now.

That kind of all-forgiving, all-accepting love is certainly the goal. But I don't love that way. I cannot love that way. And lately I have come to realize that I don't even want to love that way. Because when I have tried to give and forgive and accept and believe all things and not keep a record of wrongs, I have been taken advantage of, used, abused, and when I declared to myself and my abusers that it was time for all that wrongdoing to cease, I was unceremoniously reminded that if I am a good wife/mother/daughter/ friend/church member or fill in the blank with whatever other label keeps me living as a doormat, I will let the madness continue. Not so much. Now that I finally get it, my goal is to be awake enough to sense the small, safe, whole, and holy ways in which I can love, forgive, connect, touch, heal and be loved, forgiven, connected, touched and healed. And to stay agile and fit enough to run for cover whenever necessary. I am too proud to beg, but not to proud to flee the scene of previous crimes against my heart, my mind and my soul.

I used to think that if I prayed enough and went to church enough and obeyed as many of the ten commandments as I could as often as I could and if I ate well and exercised a few times each week and dressed modestly and refused to curse and smoke and drink too much or do drugs or go places and say things that I could possibly get into trouble for, in other words, if I were as good as I could be as long as I could be, that nothing bad would happen to me or anyone I love.

But I think I finally get it now.

I have almost no control over what happens to me or the ones I love. Here's the thing, I try hard to do right and live right and eat right and all of that right stuff - and a whole lot of bad shit has happened to me and people I love. Often. Far too often. Sometimes I eat crappy food and sleep late and blow off church and other things and sometimes I give in to my urges to be real, real bad - and bad shit still happens. Fortunately, most of the days of my life, goodness and mercy do follow me, no matter where I go or what I do or say. I am enormously grateful for that.

I have a friend who reminds me regularly: "This is it, Gail. This is the only life you've got. This is not a dress rehearsal, and there are no second takes. Stop talking about the life you want to live - and live it. Right here and right now. What are you waiting for?"

I think I finally get it.

But keep the reminders coming because I am bound to forget again. Probably by tomorrow morning...

PS. It occurred to me tonight that this is the first time in nearly six years of blogging that I have ever published a curse word. I'm not sure why that realization has gotten me out of bed after midnight to add this PS to this blog post, but it has. Actually, I do know why. I kept hearing questions like: "What will _______ and ________ think of my foul language? Will I be banned from _________ and _________? Will I ever be invited back to _________ or _________?" echoing through my mind. I thought a lot about editing "the bad words" out, but decided not to because what made me open my eyes a few moments ago, jump out of bed, and add this post script was remembering that God loves me no matter what I do, where I wander off to, or what vocabulary I use in my travel journal. That is definitely something worth writing about.


GailNHB said...

I wrote that PS at 1:00 this morning. When I tumbled out of bed six hours later, one of my favorite movie lines ever was scribbled on the white board of my early morning consciousness. It's spoken by the nurse in "The English Patient" responding to one of the dozens of questions asked of her by her badly burned patient.

She confessed: "I don't know anything."

I woke up this morning still thinking about last night's blog. Still pondering what it is that I think I finally get. I hereby publicly confess that most of the time I don't know anything.

Lisa said...

This is an absolute MASTERPIECE!!!!

Karmen said...

As I read this, I didn't even notice the curse words. Maybe becuase I have the ability to curse like a sailor. I have always wondered what makes curse words, well curse words. Sometimes you need a word with an exclamation point and to me that is what they are.
I love the walks you are taking me on. Back to reading more.