Last week, I stood on the porch and tried to figure out how I could get out of the shadows. It's not that I've been depressed. It's more that the web has been torn and I can see things for what (I think) they might really have been. Not how I imagined they should have been, or what I told myself were the reasons that could explain what happened in those dark and fragile moments.
Something in the night air told me to go back upstairs and open Beuchner.
A Point of No Return - (Buechner's diary entry for May 27).
The world is full of people who seem to have listened to the wrong voice and are now engaged in life-work in which they find no pleausre or purpose and who run the risk of suddenly realizing someday that they have spent the only years that they are ever going to get in this world doing something which could not matter less to themselves or to anyone else. This does not mean, of course, people who are doing work that from the outside looks unglamourous and humdrum, because obviously such work as that may be a crucial form of service and deeply creative. But it means people who are doing work that seems simply irrelevant not only to the great human needs and issues of our time but also to their own need to grow and develop as humans.
In John Marquand's novel Point of No Return, for instance, after years of apple-polishing and bucking for promotion and dedicating all his energies to a single goal, Charlie Gray finally gets to be vice-president of the fancy little New York bank where he works; and then the terrible moment comes when he realizes that it is really not what he wanted after all, when the prize that he has spent his life trying to win suddenly turns to ashes in his hands. His promotion assures him and his family of all the security and standing that he has always sought, but Marquand leaves you with the feeling that maybe the best way Charlie Gray could have supported his family would have been by giving his life to the kind of work where he could have expressed himself and fulfilled himself in such a way as to become in himself, as a person, the kind of support they really needed...
"Man shall not live by bread alone," and this just happens to be, among other things, true, and very close to the same truth that Charlie Gray comes to when he realizes too late that he was not made to live on status and salary alone but that something crucially important was missing from his life even though he was not sure what it was any more than, perhaps, Marquand himself was sure what it was.
There is nothing moralistic or sentimental about this truth. It means for us simply that we must be careful with our lives, for Christ's sake, because it would seem that they are the only lives we are going to have in this puzzling and perilous world, and so they are very precious and what we do with them matters enormously. Everybody knows that. We need no one to tell it to us. Yet in another way perhaps we do always need to be told, because there is always the temptation to believe that we have all the time in the world, whereas the truth of it is that we do not. We have only a life, and the choice of how we are going to live it must be our own choice, not one that we let the world make for us. Because surely Marquand was right that for each of us there comes a point of no return, a point beyond which we no longer have life enough to go back and start all over again.
After reading this (and this), I slept better and woke up the next day I got up and went to the gym, as is my habit. I ran hamster circles around the track chanting a new, strange mantra: "Make the most of it." As in, "This is it, we don't get more." And in the shower I thought about my dog - not just this moment - but all the other ones.
I thought about all the trips to New York and Miami. Every time I went away I'd get a call from the neighbor that my dog had wandered down the highway. What that meant was that he wasn't being properly secured, a necessity at our house.
You see, a friend's dog had been tragically killed after running through our orchard not long after we moved in. I remember the day. I was working in the art cabin at the top of our road. I looked out the window and saw this dog running Lab-happy through the trees. Being an animal person I normally would have run out to try and catch him and pet him but I was in the middle of something, I guess. Two minutes later, the dog was dead. Hit by a car on the highway. We were devastated - both of us - and heartbroken when our friend put him in the back of the truck to take him home and bury him.
So the other day, as I was showering post-run, I thought about that and acknowledged (I always knew, just wouldn't look it in the face) that he didn't secure my dog on purpose. Full well knowing what could happen. It happened all the time on our highway.
On the simplest level, maybe it was a way to try and keep me home. He didn't like me working and if he made it a stress to be away... On another level - and this is the point of the whole story - I realized in the shower that he really didn't like me, and that possibly, the reason for all of this sh**, is that he just wanted me to leave.
The same day, a friend mentioned an article he'd read about my step-brother who said, in the New York Times, that he was an only child. Though I completely understand PR and the value of keeping our family life a private matter, it bothered me. Not just that my sister and I didn't exist, but that he couldn't find a way to mention our brother*. Talking with J. about it over dinner, I spit out, "Everyone just erases me."
And I thought about all the other stuff that has happened recently and I reaffirmed that maybe it's painful, but boundaries are the way to set the web trembling for other people who need to find their balance. My lines are drawn on the page in permanent maker.
You still have all of my love but you don't get to not know me anymore. You aren't allowed to discount the work that I do, the education that I have, the value of my creative skills. You don't get to pretend that my web of global connections doesn't exist, that the only thing I'm good at is making dinner. That you wasted the six years you had with me trying to make me less - less smart, less strong, less capable - well, that's your problem. I'ma go be awesome (in my relatively small way) on the East Coast again. and I'ma do it without you, if I have to.
And then, I felt better. Like, instantly better. And I've been in a great mood all week - everyone noticed. I'm still sorting the connections between the dog, Beuchner, and Any Human Heart, but it was instant healing.
The dog's fine, by the way. He lives with a lady and has a better life than I could ever give him.
*Though, to be fair, if our brother is still alive - and still a drug addict - I wouldn't want him to know where I'm at, either.