“And all the things I’ve seen behind these tattered seams
And all the upturned faces with the lamplight in their eyes
And each imperfect turn flickers as it burns
It only lasts a moment but for me they’ll never die”
Frank Turner, Balthazar Impresario
Dear reader, I have a confession to make. I an unfailingly and unabashedly human. And as a member of that club, the truth is I really need this. I need to write this blog. To find meaning. To weave this daily dish of the wonderful, the terrible, and the mundane into a greater plot. Because one of the greatest features of humanity has always been a search for greater meaning. We are suckers, all of us, for a great story.
Most people find this in religion. I have a tough one with this. You can tell me all day that there’s a white dude in the clouds with singing angels, and I won’t believe it. You will also never get me to believe that if there were such an entity as God that he would be so so cruel as to damn anyone to eternal torture for nothing else than not believing in such stories.
The next extreme is a more nihilistic approach, whereby you believe that there is no meaning to any of this. No. I can’t buy into that. I did say I was human after all. We are too complex for all of that. We are capable of terrible things and beautiful things and every shade in between. A daily theatre played out generation by generation as we mesh our individual “stories” together into the greater drama. Can we get our shit together before the rock we inhabit goes to hell? That remains to be seen.
Let me be clear. I don’t believe that this is a “just world” or that “good things/bad things happen to good/bad people.” I know that they don’t. But I also don’t believe that none of this has meaning. Or a greater purpose. The search for meaning and purpose IS, I think what we are about. And why we are all here. If such a concept of a God exists, it lies in that.
I think that more and more, my belief system is coming down to a simple understanding that we are all in this together. That we all start at different points. And that we each take our flawed journey from there. Those journeys are based upon a moral code- a set of rules- unique to us. And that code is based upon the stories we tell ourselves. And those stories? They are usually founded upon our own ideas of self-worth.
A core belief of my own is that nearly all of the evil projected into the world can be traced back to a child that was not made to feel that he or she was fully loved. Or that love was conditional. But there are other factors at play.
The child born to a millionaire tells himself that he is “special” and better than others. And believes that the things that he does are okay because of that. The rules don’t apply to him. God has blessed him. Or maybe the church of Scientology.
The psychopath feels that he is chosen to do his deeds. That he is a born predator and his victims deserve their fate. The drug dealer tells himself that he does what he does because it was the only option available to him. And besides, his victims know what they are getting into, do they not? There is a bit of truth and a bit of fiction in most of these stories. But what we tell ourselves matters. And it drives everything that we do.
Point of View/Theme:
I don’t stand alone on some lofty tower. I admit that I am no different. My stories have always crafted and shaped who I am. As a child, it was a fantasy story. I dealt with my feelings of powerlessness by imagining a future where I would “prove them all wrong.” Future me would look like Barbie. With long, flowing locks. And I would be a world-famous actress/artist. Imagining this mythological future was how I coped. As I grew older and matured (and also began to discover what my strengths and weaknesses really were) this story evolved. It became a storyline of continuous growth in the face of adversity.
I came into this world prematurely, after my mother had appendicitis and the German measles during her pregnancy, yet had no birth defects or disabilities. I survived a push down the stairs as an infant in a walker with some stitches to the head. I survived a 25-foot fall from a tree-house at 12 with 5 broken vertebrae and 3 broken leg bones, but could have been easily paralysed. I survived an out-of-the-blue seizure disorder that gave me grand mal seizures during my senior year of high school and caused me to go on medication for several years, but I grew out of that as well. Then, of course there is the small matter of surviving an early childhood divorce, family members with mental illness and more moves and reintroductions as the “new kid” than I can count.
Despite all of that, I put myself through college, and created for myself a successful family and career. I created for myself the stability I always searched for.
(And no, it was not ALL bootstraps. There was some some opportunity and luck along the way. There is in most of our stories. Most of us just won’t admit it.)
Middle life transitioned in a new phase of this narrative. I spent my 20s and 30s trying to do the “right thing.” Along the way, I melded a huge part of my identity into my career. Approaching 40, I felt that I had earned my voice. But it hit at the wrong place. And the wrong time. And in a toxic culture. My internal locus put her problem-solving hat on and screamed “Fix it! Fix it! FIX IT!” I never figured out that there are some things that are unfixable. That do lie outside of my control. I was punching air. To cope, I went to work trying to fix things internally. I wrote in my journal. I started meditating. I did these things to better myself and grow, but change wasn’t happening soon enough. I couldn’t let go of the things I couldn’t control I never learned how to let go of anything.
The Plot Twist:
My plot twist, of course, came with my cancer diagnosis. Incurable. Very little chance of long-term survival. It shocked me into a perspective I had been unable to gain through any other means. I quickly figured out how much time in my life I had wasted trying to ‘solve’ things that were simply beyond me to control.
So what the fuck do I do now?
For the first time in my life, I am looking straight ahead and all I can see is dense fog. How can I problem-solve the unknown? I am already searching out contingencies. What-ifs. Alternative solutions. How do I survive this? Or at least stick it out for as long as I can?
I can’t plan. Because I don’t know.
I don’t know how aggressive my cancer is. I don’t know how my body will respond to treatment. I don’t know yet the extent to which future options will be ruled out for me. In short, this is my worst nightmare.
The Resolution. Crafting the final chapter.
How does my story end?
Well, for starters, I don’t give up. Giving up has never been a part of my story. I’m sure as hell not going to let it end that way.
Overcoming cancer would be the happiest ending… but I can’t write an ending that I ultimately have no control over. But perhaps that’s the point.
If I can’t overcome, I can at least find a way to grow. I can use this time to grow internally. To try to become a better person.
And perhaps my greatest challenge of all? To learn how to let go. That’s easier said than done, my friends. I’ve battled my way through 40 years of story with my internal locus on overdrive. Learning how to toss that away will be one of the hardest things I could ever attempt to do.
The stage is set. I am sitting at the wheel. And all I see before me is that thick, dense fog. I have to breathe, to hit the gas anyway. I have to learn how to accept the things I cannot change and let that murky path be what it will be. There will be patches of clarity, and decision points along the way, and I will be there to meet them. But I can’t throw punches at the clouds any more. There is not enough time left for that.
Is my protagonist up for this final lesson? The first tests will come after the first of the year. Here’s hoping I can rise to the challenge.