Wednesday, November 14, 2018

hard turning

Ellie’s eyes laughed and she looked up to the ceiling of the E train and chuckled—the way people who have lived a lot remember the time before they had lived as much—as she said: “You have so much going on. And it’s all good stuff.”

Good stuff?

I mentally stomped my foot the way I used to physically when I was three. It’s hard to be laughed at when you are seven and it's—I suppose it’s actually easier when you’re twenty-seven. It just doesn’t happen as much and it’s usually not as obvious.

"What do you mean?"

She laughed again out loud and listed back to me all the decisions and angsts I had listed to her, none of which included feeding children, spouse or aging parent.

"It’s all good stuff. And you’re figuring it out."

Giant sigh.

"I don’t know what I’m doing with my life."

"Well, let me tell you, you never stop figuring that out."


How annoying, I thought, not to be given answers to all the questions I am trying to resolve. How frustrating to explain the problems and find no solution.

Even as a gripe for answers, I try to imagine what living a solution is like. Are there times in my life that I have lived this way that I imagine what “True Living” (once I have worked through all this becoming and growing nonsense) looks like in my head: perfectly at peace, sticking with my prayer routines, effortlessly giving myself over to work or school or whoever appears in my life that day, knowing without a doubt that this is where I am meant to be and who I am meant to love, right now, in this moment?

It is not an accident that the myth of a golden age is so universally appealing: as I look back on seasons in my life that are not now, it is not only easy but fundamentally natural to forget the small daily battles of ego versus other which actually make up the bread and butter of each day. I forget the internal struggle to take time to talk to a student when I am rushing to class. It is easy to erase from memory the nights I went to bed lonely, even after praying. I quickly elide over the anxiety of planning out a life and mapping everything into one day. Of not having time to breathe or write a letter to a grandmother. Even in the times I look back on most fondly, that radiate beauty into sad mornings and ward off despondency like sunshine—if I recall them honestly—even then I was caught in guilt or angst or heartbreak. I wrestled with doubts and insecurities and fears even in Kolkata and East Harlem and South Bend.

No, as I think about it, there doesn’t seem to be a single time in my life I have lived in a solution. I have always been living in a problem, living in tensions—creative or no—living in the question of what will I become? What will I do with my life—the only comprehensible unit of which is a today?

I was not “happier” before today, in another place, in another time. Nostalgia is so tantalizing, but it is such a siren’s call: memories are woven into our present, but try to make them the locus of our living, and they vanish. There isn't any other time than now, and there isn't any other place but here, and there are no other people than the ones that appear in your today. True living isn't lived in the external accidentals, but in the quiet place of your heart where the binding and the loosing take place. That place has never changed, not since you were very little. You are still in it. And the question is: are you happy there or not?

Ellie gets off the train and I am still on it.

As the wheels of the train pound, their rhythm churns out refrains of Annie Dillard: There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom.

The rest is merely gossip and tales for other times.

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