Monday, June 3, 2013

Shadows and Deserts

“It's not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”
Stephen Fry

                One of my students told me several weeks ago that she admires me for being real. I was grateful for the compliment, as I am pathetically grateful for any word of encouragement. I dislike public praise intensely but that doesn’t mean I have less of a need than anyone else for occasional validation. I am not overly fond of large crowds of people; I prefer small groups and one-on-one conversations. That does not mean that I want to live in isolation. I often cannot attend get-togethers for various reasons including transportation issues or other commitments, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be invited. By nature I am somewhat introverted, although I no longer consider myself shy. I love people and I want to have friends, although I am not a Joiner who has a need to belong to lots of organizations or go running from event to event. Some people do and that’s fine; it’s just not me. My husband is my best friend and I honestly prefer his company to anyone else’s. That may be weird, and it’s also probably weird that as a general rule I am more comfortable around men than women and more comfortable around older people and young adults than those nearer my own age. I am not sure why any of these things are, they just ARE.

                I probably shouldn’t overanalyze myself. My dad used to tell me that being shy was a prideful thing because it means that you think people notice you a lot more than they actually do. He was right. I mean, probably a dozen people actually read this blog and twenty-five percent of those are related to me. I don’t really write it for other people as much as I do for myself anyway, although if what I write helps or inspires others, so much the better.  To quote Eeyore, “Thanks for noticing me.”  Writing is one of my “mad intensities” as is reading. There is something in me that causes me to love the things I love with a great passion- writing, reading, teaching, God, my family, my friends, animals. Over the years I have traded one obsession for another as a result of an addictive personality or OCD or whatever name experts want to give it. But in talking to artists, writers, musicians, and so on I realize that this is all part of a creative mind and personality. It’s weird, yes, but it’s not crazy or anything.

                I have to be extremely careful not to drive myself and other s insane. I try not to expect too much from people lest I drain them completely. I am very, very cautious about giving away too much of myself to others. I know I can give it all to God and He can bear it in a way that human beings cannot. When I was younger I had impossible standards for others which were only a reflection of the standards I had for myself. Ultimately, I broke. I have broken many times since, but not irrevocably. I still sometimes expect too much from family and friends-expect them to understand what cannot possibly be understood, expect them to never hurt me or let me down in any way. That is not fair. What I really try to do is accept others the way I want to be accepted. I try to be for my students that person who will listen and care and not judge, and will see the potential in them and not ever simply write them off.

“If you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.”
Jodi Picoult

                I have never been able to quite “blend in.”  If you are different, it’s just not possible. Now, of course, my very large size makes it more difficult than before. I used to wear grays and browns and blacks hoping that it would make me sort of disappear, but when I realized a few years ago that it wasn’t working anyway, I decided to start wearing what I like, including the bright colors that are supposed to be a no-no for middle-aged stout ladies. And people do sometimes stare and giggle, and students make fun of me behind my back, or sometimes pretty much right in my face, and I just ignore it. I hate my fat, but I LIKE my clothes and my hair, and I have as much right to wear pretty things as skinny people do. Take that, Abercrombie and Fitch. And by the way, to those who whisper, “She’s gonna break that chair,” just know that I have never broken a chair. I have fallen out of a few, due to sheer clumsiness, but I have never broken one. I am smart enough to figure out where I can and cannot sit, just as I am smart enough to know when people are making fun of me.

                I’m trying to be real here, as real as I have ever been. What I loved about working with very young children was that there was no judgment, just smiling acceptance and trust. Teenagers aren’t so kind-well, some of them are-but the great irony is that they say they hate hypocrisy and legalism but they themselves condemn one another and everyone else on the basis of appearances and other surface-level junk. I choose to love them in spite of this, because the reality is that inside, they are terribly insecure and many of them have suffered great pain. Most of the kids I teach are good-hearted and compassionate, but a few have let bitterness take root and grow and because of this they seem to take great pleasure in hurting others. I myself was extremely arrogant as a teenager, setting myself above others and saying that I was smarter than almost anyone else and I did not stop at sometimes saying cruel things. I thought it would lessen my own pain, but it actually made me feel worse which was why I didn’t do it very often. I think that’s true of most people. Maybe I am being idealistic, but I think that deep down, very few people are actually so mean that they don’t feel at least some guilt about their unkind behavior.

                I try to think about what is the “Christian” response to being mistreated, made fun of, left out, etc. I try to recall the Golden Rule. I remind myself that I am a child of the King and that no one else’s opinion actually matters. But all of these are the same old platitudes which, even though true, can sometimes ring hollow when you’ve been dealing with the same crap over and over for forty-two years. I leave the first five years of my life out of it because before I went to school, no one told me that I was fat, and no one told me I was weird except my siblings who were pretty weird themselves. But I find myself in this great dilemma now because every time anything happens, I get the idea that no one likes me and I logically know this to be very untrue. Then I go from that to doubting every ability, every relationship, every aspect of my life and personality.  I get to self-analyzing and using this blog that most people don’t even read to vent the fact that everyone knows-the world is a cruel place.

                It is a cruel place indeed, sinful and fallen. I try to also see the beauty that is in it and most of the time I succeed because God’s grace and glory cannot be denied. I have been blessed so far beyond what I deserve that at times it overwhelms me. Why, then, do I let the pain and fear and worry overshadow the goodness of God in the land of the living, without which we would all surely despair? Sometimes I feel as if I am totally alone..and yet:

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was a light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

                Tolkien was right. The Shadow is only a small and passing thing. The enemy would like for us to think it is more, that it is bigger and more powerful than it really is. My reality is that there are students who do not like or respect me, but there are more who do. There are people who have utter contempt for me and for everyone in general, but there are people who care. There are days that are bad and days that are good, times when nothing seems to go right and everything is a desert, and then the streams and rivers are filled with good rain and it’s all okay again. This is just life-the world and the way things are-the way things have been since the day sin and death entered Creation. There are no easy answers .I keep seeking and seeking and I find only glimpses of Truth and sparks of Divine. The moments of clarity are rare but lovely. The times of refreshing are fulfilling. And if for a season I must retreat into my books and be sustained by prayer, then so be it.  I have to stay real but I also have to stay sane. To trust in that light and beauty beyond the Shadow is all I have, all any of us have. It is all that matters, in the long run. Trust…and hope.


“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings 

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