Whether subsiding from fatigue or crackling with life, I have come to view myself somewhat indifferently. This detachment from my own self did not happen overnight. The things that impact you the most: the thoughts that ebb and flow but always promise to return, the experiences that shape your psyche, recurring dreams you hold in your heart of hearts- these do not show their effect all at once.
Before I begin my brief story, let me make a general observation- Prolific writers enjoy using elaborate metaphors for life: a long journey, an inner battle, a vicious cycle, a process of breaking down. Perhaps they find safety in their meticulous description. If they can describe it, if they can fathom it, then perhaps they can control it. Still, the man or woman who wields the mightiest pen remains a mortal. While I am not a prolific writer, I too have tried to capture the depth of life with my words. However, it flies on too grand a scale for my pen to catch. It is too full, too rich, too much. So, instead of carrying the weight of meaning within me, I have begun the process of letting go.
The time that I live in-the warming up of the twenty-first century- is not a romantic place to be. It is a thrilling place, and opportunities are here for the taking. There are people everywhere. I read an article last week that says England will be overpopulated by 2080. Lyft, the company that I work for, predicts that in ten years, a third of all cars will be self-driving. Every day, there is a new skyscraper a mile taller than the last one. They call this progress. Progress has been such a part of the American way of life, that we westerners cannot imagine a life without it. Someone is always inventing, suggesting, or improving something. Why, then, is there still so much that baffles us? Why can’t we figure out how to make marriages last, or find a way to patch up the current political rifts that have divided America? We are still looking for the answers.
My life, for the past three years, has been largely an exploratory matter. I have lived in Chicago with all of its grime and glory. I have lived in Washington, D.C. with all of its power and prestige. I have lived in the heart of Texas where the hill country gives the blue sky a chance. It’s true that everything is bigger there. I’ve been living hard, too. Always working, traveling, studying, giving, striving for what it was that could fill that Texas-sized hole in my heart. I was not running away from myself. On the contrary, I was trying to find myself. Each time I moved, I became a different version of me.
I used to worship all that glittered. I was never an outright disciple, but oh, how I wanted to be! I rubbed shoulders with Senators and attended galas and walked barefoot along the ocean with a complete stranger I never met again. I fell a little bit in love with him, but there were plenty of others to pursue. Whether it was going with the boy I had just met on the midnight train to Baltimore, or stealing the sips of the forbidden Pina colada from under the nose of the bartender (I was only 19), I delighted in anything I considered to be even slightly extraordinary, although it all seems a quite foolish and innocent to me now. I have taken deep breaths of the autumn Maine air, and I have savored barbeque in the humid Texan air- all with the same relish. My appetite for living is insatiable. I want to always be seeking and experiencing something novel. Ah, but what I have learned is that the cost of high -flying and high-living is the thud.
After a new adventure, my mouth always becomes bitter with the taste of sleeplessness, and I feel dirty even though I’ve showered twice already that day. The cycle of disgust and self-pity begins. Aimlessly, I walk around the house seeking a diversion. I’ll lay on the couch and stare up at the ceiling, wondering what my next move will be. I work on my resume, frustrated that I have not done or accomplished more than my friends in law school. No matter what I do, or where I go, I do not find satisfaction. Finally, after wrestling with these demons, I have begun to let them go.
When I actually paused to notice, the dealings of progress are not a pretty sight. Westerners do not rest, we vacation. We are being slowly worn down to death by the velocity of our lifestyle. We are dominated by the gods of technology, money, and education. We have everything, yet we still seek validation. It was these realizations that made me flee from the centers of human progress. If I sense myself about to jump back in the vicious cycle of competition again, I recoil.
It is not that I disdain busyness; my life is actually filled to the brim with obligations out of necessity. I go about my affairs in the city that I live in with some degree of equanimity. But when my lesser instincts of discontent and restlessness bubble up inside of me, I must shed them like a skin.
Sometimes, if I’m not careful, I’ll run into someone from the DC or Chicago days, and they’ll ask me what I am up to. They are always surprised that I am no longer in politics. After all, that was my world for over ten years. I like to think that I have hatched out of that world. Everything humans do seems to be in the name of progress or evolution, but we can evolve too much. We live so much in the new ways of the world that we forget the old virtues that kept us going for centuries. My old friends and colleagues are not bad people, they are busy running the gauntlet and catching a breath when they can.
When I remember my own days of overburdened care and going nonstop, I want to be absolutely alone and insulated with as few ordinary cares as possible. In the newest version of myself, I have managed to discard my old obsession over the opinions of others. For the sake of my own sanity, I plod along at my own pace and choose my own friends. Regardless of the situations, I find myself in, I no longer take myself too seriously. I am free. Free to laugh and to charm, but not to impress. Free to wander and to wonder, but not to worry.
I’m not able to renounce the mob on my own. While I have worked to disregard much of the world, I am still a part of it. Even if my own self-regard is not as intense as it used to be, my zest for life remains. I must still participate in this inexplicable thing called life. If I try to hold the world at bay on my own, I know that I will, inevitably, crumble beneath the force of it. Instead of fighting these inner demons, I have replaced them with the sweeter knowledge that Jesus is my portion. Now that I’ve drunk from Living Water, I am not parched anymore. While the world runs feverishly towards the unguaranteed future, I have slipped on this knowledge and it fits, comfortably, around the heart that used to beat so wildly in fear.