( Sunday, February 15, 2009 )

Galinda was slow coming to terms with actual learning. She had considered her admission into Shiz University as a sort of testimony to her brilliance, and believed that she would adorn the halls of learning with her beauty and occasional clever sayings. She supposed, glumly, that she had meant to be a sort of living marble bust: This is Youthful Intelligence; admire Her. Isn't She Lovely?

(Gregory Macguire, "Wicked")

( Tuesday, February 10, 2009 )


I’ve been thinking a lot about connection lately. About human connection, about the need for other people, the necessity for intimacy – for that face to face encounter with others. To be involved in another’s life. You know, active participation and community with human be-ings.

I was reflecting on my tendency to cut people out of my life. That isn’t a secret or a revelation; if you’ve read any of my older posts, you’ll know I’ve admitted as much. But I was thinking about why I’ve done that, where that action’s roots are within me. And I decided that any time a relationship changes—whatever the relationship, and whatever the change—there’s a very specific choice that has to be made. Maybe we don’t even think about it, we just decide on a subconscious level. Or maybe we’re accustomed to making one specific choice every time, so we continue to make that same one further down the line.

When the interaction between two people changes, the choice is: alter your perspective, adapt to the new relationship, and retain that person’s presence in your life; or, on the other hand, cut that person out, end it altogether, and move on. I’ve always favoured the second choice, I think, because I assume it’s the easiest and maybe even the best one to make. And I won’t say that that’s necessarily wrong, because I think there are relationships that must end, where two people need to sever connection and exist separately.

But I’ve been reconsidering that as my default option. Why? Because I’ve come to understand that the choice, no matter which one is made, is win-lose. And the choice can’t be made on the basis of ease. If a person has become important to me and the circumstances governing our relationship change—even if the perception is different for them than it is for me—and I decide to cut all contact with them rather than bear the discomfort of adapting, I lose their influence on my life. In some relationships I can imagine that would be a good loss—if it was an abusive relationship, say, or even just an unhealthy one. It would be a necessity to basic well-being. But on the other hand, if I choose to adapt, to go along with the change, I win in the sense that I benefit from their presence in my life, but lose the right to whine and complain, to hold onto my resentment.

In reconsidering my own choices, I think I have given up important and good relationships because I was unwilling to adapt (maybe incapable?). I’ve given up relationships—people—that had the potential of making me a better human being. Maybe it would have been simply the challenge that would have helped refine me, teach me to love, show me how to be who God calls me, calls us, to be.

Likewise, I’ve been thinking about what I bring to relationships. Part of the problem, I realize, is that I am incredibly ego-centric. The focus is on me, on what I’m getting from it, on what I gain or lose. And I realize that perhaps the most fundamental truth is that if the focus is on me, it won’t work. It can’t work. If all I can think about is what I profit, I sacrifice meaning, intimacy, sincere love.

In some sort of fit of revelation, I suddenly see the tables turned, the paradigm shifted: does my presence, my life, help other people become better? In any given relationship, am I fully devoted to that other person in intention and compassion and love? Am I willing to sacrifice attention, give up my pride, my desires and my will to benefit them? Would I die for them – physically, but also in my behaviour, my attitude, my all-consuming ego?

In the last couple of days, for several reasons that are unimportant in specifics but meaningful as far as they’ve been catalysts for learning, I've had some sort of epiphany about myself, about the way I am and the reasons I tend to behave the way I do a lot of times: my life is ruled by fear. My relationships, my decisions, my plans and hopes, my day to day activities, are all saturated in this fear, sometimes a near palpable fear. Perhaps I've gotten so used to it on some level that I often don't even recognize it for what it is. But it's there. I know it is. It might be a fear of being alone, a fear of being unloved, a fear of failing, a fear of inconsequence, a fear of regret. It might even be, at times, a fear of feeling, because feelings are unreliable and temporary and intoxicating.

And it occurred to me that it's completely paradoxical -- in being fearful of alone-ness, I am propagating it. It is impossible to cling to both love and fear; if I choose to fear, I surrender my ability to love and be loved. (How about 1 John 4:18? "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear...")

A book that I have read a few times and continue to find a lot of meaning in is "Sex God" by Rob Bell. He makes so many good points about God, about connection between us and Him and each other, and I am always amazed at how, in the end, there is such a simple core to it all: love. At one point, in talking about how a man treats a woman, he asked the question, "Does he have liquid agape running through his veins?” I love that phrase, liquid agape running through his veins. And I realized, yeah, that's what it is. Those people I find such comfort in being around, it's because I see unblemished love in them. They may not even realize it, they might not know that it’s seeping out of their pores, but I notice it. I see it. And I react to it.

A few years ago, someone sent me this little book called "The Way to Love" by Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest who died in 1987. I've slowly made my way through it, trying to let it soak in, and I've often gone back and re-read chapters and tried to really grasp some of the ideas he taught. While I've been thinking about my own life, about wanting to be a person that affects change by simply being, I was reminded of something he had written:

Effort can change behaviour, it cannot change you. Think of this: Effort can put food into your mouth, it cannot produce an appetite; it can keep you in bed, it cannot produce sleep; it can make you reveal a secret to another but it cannot produce trust; it can force you to pay a compliment, it cannot produce genuine admiration; effort can perform acts of service, it is powerless to produce love or holiness. All you can achieve by your effort is repression, not genuine change and growth. Change is only brought about by awareness and understanding. Understand your unhappiness and it will disappear—what results is the sate of happiness. Understand your pride and it will drop—what results will be humility. Understand your fears and they will melt—the resultant state is love. Understand your attachments and they will vanish—the consequence is freedom. Love and freedom and happiness are not things that you can cultivate and produce. You cannot even know what they are. All you can do is observe their opposites and, through your observation, cause these opposites to die. (pg. 70)

I’ve been feeling a surge of hope today. I suppose it comes from understanding something new about myself, about where I’ve been sabotaging my own life. And I find a great deal of comfort in that, in knowing the name of the poison running through my veins. When I can name it, I can end it.

And I'm afraid and everyone's afraid and everyone knows it,
But we don't have to be afraid anymore.

("Torches Together," mewithoutYou)