Friday, December 08, 2006
The Claws Can't Reach
Grow up with brutality, it seems the normal way. If you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing, beat yourself until you do. If that doesn't work then the claws come out in punishment. Never do that again! And one more soul backs into a corner, weeping where no one can see. Well trained. You can't lead any kind of expansive life back there, though, and God's Light calls from out there in His green grassy field. "Wouldn't you rather live out here, run, jump, enjoy? I made you for pleasure, you know, and I'm pleased when you enjoy life."
There are levels of brutality. Some is obvious in physical scars. There are apparent emotional scars too. Better to keep them hidden to prevent phony sympathy and the platitudes that come from no desire to understand but rather to remove a source of pain. In a perfect world everyone would grow up with their needs met and we'd learn how to deal with each other as equals. We'd learn how to live well.
I've always wanted to live well. The problem has come in figuring out what that meant. It's not a trivial question because there are so many opinions. Millions of gurus and generations of gods all with advice on how to live well. An answer imposed from outside doesn't work very well, at least for me, and I've stuck to my own counsel. I've seen this as a weakness.
In some ways it has been, and still is. It's very hard for anyone to get to me, to even see me. I'm quite skilled in obfuscation and living amid self-defensive shadows. But as a friend of mine pointed out last year the results haven't really been that bad. Her statement was a real surprise. I'd never thought about my history in terms of anything but ongoing failure. She said I'd done pretty well, beyond just having a decent job and a place to live. I had some freedom to express myself and in that was interacting and enjoying some other people. And I was still here, when so many had been torn down by the conflicts.
How have I survived? Not, as I've always thought, by any particularly well-managed skill. I'm an opportunist. Others make long-term plans. I just drift in the river and when I arrive at an opportunity I choose to take it or leave it. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. I've been to college three times, failing all three. You're supposed to have a plan for your life, right? If so, then how come I'm still here? Here's an example.
In the fall of 1976 I was doing some hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. The sun was near setting behind the Continental Divide and I was putting my equipment back into my old VW Bug. A woman walked up to me and started talking about hiking. Eventually she got around to her point: she wanted a guide up Hallett Peak, which we could see from where we stood. It's a walkup. All the ranger-led hikes were done for the year and she had only a couple of more days. We met the next day, early, and started hiking. It was a glorious day. We got back around midnight. We stayed in contact and she invited me to visit her in Los Angeles. Last place on Earth I wanted to live but in 1982 I, having nothing else to do really, went out to visit. She leaned on me to take a Civil Service test with the City and, to keep her happy I did so. The job was Warehouse Worker, and given the competition it was no big surprise that I was at the top of the list. But I was on my way back to Nebraska to go to school again. I declined the job offers.
Two years later I flew back to Los Angeles, having failed the third school attempt. With nothing better to do while deciding if I wanted to stay in L.A., I assembled a simple sand sculpture kit and headed for the beach. Ultimately, weather and impecuniosity combined to cause me to put my name back on the job list. I was already here. Staying for a couple of years to pay bills seemed like a good idea. I got hired in early December 1984. The relationship with the friend blew up a month later and I moved to a place of my own. The failure of another relationship in a year started me thinking there wasn't much point in continuing but before taking that dive under a train I looked for professional help.
Note the pattern here: no real decisions. Just solving problems as they come up. No planning. There's nothing to be proud of here, no great demonstration of skill in living on my part. I'm like a pinball ever going downhill, just choosing between this bumper or that.
Whence comes self-respect? I really don't know. I don't believe the usual stories. All that crap about men conquering the world and such. Our world is conquered to the borderland of Hell, and how the next few generations are going to make it I don't know. No, there's something else out there to live for, some reason to get up, but it's nothing normal.
Who am I for believing such nonsense? I'm like an egg with a shell of prickly diamond and a marshmallow interior. I believe in the soft part of life. Not everything needs to be beaten with a club. Why not sit still and let the sunset come to you, washing with its golden light the world we all live in? Why would God permit me to hold onto such stupid beliefs?
Well, maybe He gave me the ability to believe. I've been drifting, not doing much guidance, but the river is God's. Maybe he's the one who gently guided events as they needed to be, and I simply grew up with a kind of gut-level faith that despite all the thrash and brutality that everything would work out in the longer haul. It did. It has. There is no call for pride in my life, but pride is another misunderstood idea. I can't stand on a hilltop and point to all the magnificent things I've built or done, the people I've influenced to do even greater things.
I'm not sure what the rest of this story is. All I know is that I woke up early this morning and was poised for some serious self-excoriation. The claws were out. I heard this little voice. "I love you." This has happened before. I've wondered whose voice it is. Mine? God's? This time, at least, it was God's voice. Quiet, small. He wrapped me up and wouldn't let the claws scratch. They don't do a damned bit of good anyway. Self-punishment never accomplishes anything but it's still a hard habit to break.
OK, I'm not only a mystic. I'm a creampuff. A papier-mache' lion. Look at me cross-eyed and I run. All wall, no interior. Look in the eyes and see vacuum. Soft. Not suited to this world at all. Better people than I run to seek adventures that I stand aside for. God seems to have other opinions on these events and I am in any case forgiven. In the forest of self-judgment it's hard to walk after the hart of new life. The trees may be imaginary but they're no less obstructive. Cutting them down doesn't work. All I can do is, with God's help, quit fertilizing them.