Life and Randomness

freedom

I am in a stretch of 5 days alone as the kids are on spring break. I’m not on break at the same time, but somehow that makes this time even sweeter. It’s strange for me to get my own self ready for work and focus on only that without the constant hum of school bus schedules and packed lunches and homework in the background. I’m grateful for this few days in front of me.

Friday night I saw Patty Griffin in concert in Atlanta. I sent a hurried text to a friend a couple months ago when the tickets went on sale, and she said yes, so we jumped on it together. It took some planning and last minute rushing to get kids squared away just in time to head downtown and grab dinner before the show.

I’ve been a fan of hers for so long, and I can’t even count the lines that have echoed in my head and on my speakers when I need a little direction. I was listening to “Forgiveness” as I drove to my grandparents’ house that sunny Sunday morning when I got the phone call that my grandmother passed. I had that song on repeat so much during my grandmother’s last weeks. It hit the spot for some unknown reason, as music always works that way. And I raised my voice to the air, and we were blessed. 

And a couple of years before that, “Let Him Fly” was on repeat in the earliest weeks, when I was still living in my married home and couldn’t get a minute to think or be alone. I’d take the long way to the grocery store or on the road to an errand and listen to it on repeat like a mantra. It would take an acrobat, and I already tried all that.

She has been my nearly constant soundtrack for these last few years. Something about the solid simplicity of her voice and the call of her lyrics tell me everything is going to be okay. Let the rusty nail no longer hold this world together.. I’m going to let it hear the prayer, no matter who is there, no matter who is listening. Lately it’s “When It Don’t Come Easy” that tears me open and takes me somewhere I can’t get otherwise. I don’t know nothing except change will come, year after year what we do is undone, time keeps moving from a crawl to a run, I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home.

When we left the show, I said to my friend that Griffin is just so solid and real and true. Those were just the adjectives that came out at the moment, but they are also the most fitting ones to say. In a world of Botox and airbrushing and constant reinvention to appease whatever is trending, I think it’s so beautiful to see someone who knows herself well enough to deepen what she creates in the way she has. (This quick PBS interview is a great commentary on that, too.) It was such a great night – and a reminder to me that, at the heart of it, truth and beauty are the same thing.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about aging – about the ways I feel old and the ways I feel young. Most of all, I’m just feeling like I’m only now getting started. I think it is that first half / second half idea that Richard Rohr speaks so much about (and Jung wrote about it  before he did). I’m only now beginning my second half, so to speak, and everything just feels so vast and wide and deep and true in a way it wasn’t before. What a gift it is that the magical second half really doesn’t depend on how much time has passed or how much time is left, but it’s a change of perspective. It’s not guaranteed for everyone, and it is usually brought about through pain and surrender, but it’s so worth it.

Last week, in passing, I heard someone talking about life and growth and the way she phrased it was that she is “doing so much better in life than they are” and that line rolled around in my head for a while – I don’t even know who the specific they refers to exactly, and this was just quick passing conversation. But it just made me think about that whole better in life perspective that I don’t understand at all anymore. (And to be fair, no judgment. This person is young and square in the middle of those early years where necessary score-keeping and comparison are your ways of life.)

I was reading through some of my daily Richard Rohr email meditations last week, and he elaborated on Jung’s theory of individuation – “the lifelong project of becoming who we were meant to be.” This resonated with me and what I see around me. Rohr says, “How counterproductive our popular culture [in the United States]—with its fantasies of prolonged youthful appearance, continuous acquisition of objects with their planned obsolescence, and the incessant, restless search for magic: fads, rapid cures, quick fixes, new diversions from the task of soul.” I think the thing I’m realizing, and the example I see in artists like Patty Griffin, is that you cannot participate in that chase while also participating in your own individuation. The two processes are mutually exclusive. Rohr continues to explain that if you can pass that threshold to the second half, you “will be freed from having to do whatever supposedly reinforced one’s shaky identity, and then will be granted the liberty to do things because they are inherently worth doing….Ultimately, our vocation is to become ourselves, in the thousand, thousand variants we are.”

There’s so much freedom to be had when you stop playing the game. I could feel that in Griffin’s presence and you can feel that in the art produced by others who do the same. You can feel that in the lightness that illuminates people who compose their own lives in that space of freedom, too. When you aren’t playing the better at life game and you just do your own thing and pause long enough to hear that still and small voice, you stop keeping score. You stop comparing. You draw closer to your vocation and your life starts to take its own shape around you – solid and real and true. Truth and beauty are the same thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_______________________________________

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Life and Randomness

truth

It is early morning as I type this. I have a full day of grading essays ahead of me, but I give final exams in the next week, and my academic year is winding down. This is the storm before the calm. I am almost there.

The rose bush in my backyard has been covered in buds for weeks it seems, but yesterday I finally saw three blooms bust wide open, and this morning it is covered in bright pink flowers. It’s strange how something as predictable and certain as the change of seasons can be so exciting.

There are certain truths in life – like that winter will become spring every single year without fail – that we tend to forget or ignore or somehow doubt. I feel like this message is chasing me lately. Does that happen to you, too? It’s like everything that I am reading or hearing or thinking is revolving around some center point whispering to be heard and then shouting a little louder until I pay attention to it.

Today’s culture values individual perspectives and stories, and I’m grateful for that. It’s important, and it’s the first step to empathy. But maybe what we lose in the process is the notion of absolute truth. There is the truth and there is my truth and there is your truth. None of those are exactly the same thing, but the absolute truth is the bedrock where you have to begin. We even have a term for this now when someone says truth-bomb. As though that real truth, that uncomfortable thing we try to ignore, is explosive.

I was listening to a podcast recently where someone was talking about this, and she said truth is like a reporter – just the facts, ma’am. The rest of it is stories that we pile on which can have some value but can also be full of false notions sometimes. I love gray area. I love the questions it brings and the changes it can inspire in me. But I lived in that space for so long that I am ready for solid ground, and maybe this truth concept is at the center of that.

I haven’t read any of Augusten Burroughs’ work. (Tell me where to begin if you have!) But I ran across a passage of his on Instagram, and it blew me away. He says, “Nothing you build on inaccuracy or mere hope or longing or lies or laws that oppose the nature of things can endure.” That is a statement of fact. How many times in our lives do we do this? We can build something on inaccuracy, and it can chug along for awhile, but it cannot endure. This is why people can drive expensive cars and file for bankruptcy soon after. Why you get shocking news of someone’s divorce when they appeared to be happy only a few months ago. Why friendships don’t stand the test of time when you don’t have all that much in common to begin with. It is why someone with a beautiful social media feed is often pretty unhappy in reality. The gig is always up eventually. That is not a truth we can change. It’s a universal law.

He also explains, “Whenever I have encountered a block or an issue in my own life it’s because somewhere, hidden in my life, is an inaccuracy and I have to find it. There’s an inaccuracy of the marriage, of the life I’ve built…being a little bit dishonest here and there created a disaster. When I think about all the times I’ve screwed up it was because there was a lie somewhere in my life.” That’s a pretty sobering thought. These lies are not always things that we tell others; in fact, I’d say it’s more likely that they are things we tell ourselves.

I tell my students that writing is like an excavation. You have to chip away at all the layers sometimes until you get to what you really think, what you really want to say. That’s where you strike gold.

Truth is the same way. It is not as subjective as our culture likes to think it is. If someone shows you who they are, you can add a thousand stories to it to explain it away, but what is the truth? Just the facts ma’am. What do their actions show you about who they are? That is the simple truth. If you have patterns in your life that keep reintroducing themselves again and again. What are you doing to create it? One long look in the mirror and all the hard questions. That’s where the excavation starts.

This is hard stuff, but the other side of that coin is that there are some beautiful truths that we can’t deny either.

What I know is true ……

That good things come to those who work hard.

That the life you create is made of a million tiny moments, the things you do every single day.

That patience is a virtue and you will always get better results when you respect the hands of time and withstand the urge to chase something shiny and temporary

That gratitude multiplies on itself and brings you abundance

That lasting happiness is built of your own hands inside of your own self

 

I think what I know to be true above everything else is that life always gives you what you want. Always. Not like some genie in a bottle delivering us our wishes on command. But what you pay attention to grows and grows. Maybe where we go wrong is that, with all of the other layers we throw on top of it, we lose that pulse of what we really desire, and we want something else instead. Then that thing comes true and we are left with unhappiness anyhow because we chased the wrong thing.

These are hard questions. But where you find the inaccuracies is also where you can follow that path to the truth. You find it, you ask for it, you work for it, and it will come to be. This I know is true. As sure as the earth travels around the sun, as sure as the seasons pass, what you desire will come to you. The challenge is to want the right things.