My life is a paradox.
I am a true introvert, but I love people. And I love being with people – with certain limits and controls. I like to be alone, just not by myself. I like company in my quiet. I like shared solitude. Coupled contemplation.
And I dislike conflict, though I never seem to be without it.
I say I dislike conflict. But it’s really unresolved conflict that I dislike. And conflict that seems unresolvable drives me mad, because it’s my nature to solve, to mend, to heal, to redeem, to find peace and harmony. And I find it hard to understand people who don’t seem to mind the discordant strains.
However, I could argue that I have thrived in conflict, after all. Because it’s all I’ve really ever known. Even all those times that I thought I was just surviving, I was growing in endurance. I was building metaphorical muscle to handle a strongman competition.
When adversity comes to you (whether by your own hand, or by forces outside of your control) you can either lie down and give up, or rise up and fight. The first choice leaves no room for success, but the second is a gamble. However, if your desires reside on the other side of the struggle, only one option is conceivable.
Looking back, I can see how the struggles that have come have created a stubborn resilience in me that has allowed me to handle some tremendous difficulties.
Though I believe I have family and friends who probably wouldn’t let me become homeless and destitute, I have had an independent streak since I was a teenager. Therefore, I have always found a way to re-mediate any crisis I found myself in without leaning on anyone (as much as possible). Therefore I have worked a variety of jobs, and picked up some diverse skills and knowledge throughout my years. I’ve learned that I can do almost anything if I need to. And now, if I don’t know how, someone has put up a YouTube video that will show me how.
The secret is in the why. If your why is greater than the obstacles, you will find a way to overcome them. And if it isn’t, then why put forth the effort at all?
I just happened to find a great why. And it is my HOPE. And I will never give up my pursuit.
I may never be able to give you the world, but I can offer you mine.
I may never be able to show you any of the seven wonders. But I can take you out to the country beyond the streetlights, and throw a blanket on the ground where we can lay on our backs and wonder at the greatness of creation, and our part in it all.
I may never be able to buy you diamonds. But I can remind you that the contours of your face and limbs were chiseled by one who makes any master diamond cutter look like a novice in comparison; and that you are of far more value to me than any jewel, no matter how rare or exquisite.
I may not be able to take you to as many concerts as I’d like, but I’ll sing you karaoke love songs with abandon, as you blush.
I may not be able to buy the biggest house on the lake, but I’ll fill each room that I can afford with love and presence.
I may not be able to take you to dance in a grand ballroom where others can fawn over your beauty and grace on the dance floor. But I can dance with you in the kitchen at 3 AM, and tell you how grateful I am to be able to hold you so close.
We may not be able to visit an exclusive spa, where you can be pampered as you so richly deserve. But I can put on some soft music, pour you a glass of wine, and rub your feet while you relax and let go of the day’s worries.
I’m not likely to ever take you to a Nascar race, but I’ll race go carts with you. Then I’ll take you for a celebration/consolation dinner for the winner and runner-up.
I may not take you to a casino, but I’ll stay home and play cards or board games with you, and fix you snacks.
If we don’t get to see all the latest movies that come to the theater, or ever get to go to a Broadway musical, I’ll share a blanket with you as we stream a movie on the TV, or as I read to you from a book that you would enjoy.
The decisions I make do not usually lead me down a path to worldly riches, but they make my life rich in relationships – because that’s where I choose to put most of my investments.
I may never be able to give you the world, but I’ve already made you mine.
There’s a room in my heart with a perpetual reservation in your name.
An open invitation. Always.
It has been stocked with all the amenities to make your stay comfortable no matter how long.
There you’ll find an assortment of music to listen to, and movies and T.V. shows to watch – all of which were picked for your liking. There are books to read – both for pleasure and for growth. I add to them as I find others I think you would like, or find challenging. Or there’s even a deck with a clear view of the moon in the late night. Come by any time. Kick off your shoes. Adjust the thermostat. Poor yourself a glass. And make yourself at home.
I check in every day. In fact, I check in often throughout the day every day, making sure everything is just right, and looking for signs that you may have stopped by. Most often it is just as I last left it just moments before. But sometimes…sometimes I feel your energy…I smell your fragrant scent lingering as if I’d just missed seeing you. I look quickly to see if anything is out of place, proof that you were here. I touch everything you might have touched, to absorb any residual traces of your aura. Then I sit back in a familiar comfortable chair, close my eyes, and breathe you in.
In my mind I see you clearly. I can look into those deep eyes, and see the dimple in your smile. I tell you how I feel, and that I’ve missed you. I ask questions, and you answer. I reach out and touch you. I hold your hand. I ask you about your day – what has frustrated you, and what has made you smile. I hear your passion and your laughter. I invite you to dance with me, and you take my hand and rise to your feet. I hold you closely and smell your hair as we gently sway to the strains of our own soundtrack. I feel the warmth of your body as you relax into mine.
I am lost in an embrace that as far as I know only I am able to feel.
Then I wonder…do you ever hear my voice when I speak to you? Do you feel my prayers going up for you? Do you feel my love radiate across the expanse between us? Do you feel the strength and comfort that I send to you?
I spend so much of my time in this room that others may think me a recluse. But this is my favorite place in all the world – even though the vast majority of the time spent here I spend alone. It is after all, the only place I see you.
I spend my time trying to make this room more appealing to you so that you might want to spend more time here as well. I clean and dust. I add music to the playlist, and movies to the queue. I even hang a new picture from time to time. I pay attention to what I know you like, as well as what I suspect you do. In the process of making the atmosphere better for you, I make it better for me too. Which is good, because I spend so much of my time here.
I often don’t realize how much time has passed. But I am always eventually jarred from my thoughts by some pressing responsibility. My phone rings. An alarm goes off. As I open my eyes to attend to the present, I realize that my eyes burn and my face is wet. I collect my thoughts – savoring those from which I was awakened. I rub my eyes with the palms of my hands and dry them on my jeans. Then I rise, put on the smile that makes others more comfortable, and leave this warm abode to take care of whatever requires my presence.
But I’ll check in again very soon. As always, I HOPE to see you then.
There are events that change the course of our lives forever. Once experienced, there is no going back. A new course must be assumed, and all future decisions are necessarily affected. Those events become marking posts that identify new beginnings, as well as burial plots containing the decayed remains of beliefs once thought immutable, traditions no longer meaningful, and relationships found to hold us back rather than hold us up.
Today is the third anniversary of my first blog post, “Why Disturb the Cat?“. And, though I’ve let the cat get a little comfortable as of late, I’d be remiss not to mark this important date in my life. I am grateful that my words get your attention at all. If you are reading these words, I thank you. And know that I am not finished. There is more to come.
With warm coffee keeping company, and morning sun hidden,
A single lamp chases shadows of desolation,
Momentarily holding darkness at bay.
Sounds of wind-driven rain fill an otherwise silent morning,
Displacing discordant drivel with white noise.
Unending thoughts reduced to whispers, not to disrupt the notes of melodious harmony.
Loneliness becomes respite, and alienation, a time of solitude.
I attended a workshop for my writers’ group this past Saturday. Our first exercise was to write a poem. We had just about 15 minutes to come up with something and write. One of the things the author taught us was to follow the rules of the type of poem we were writing. I had two problems: I don’t know the rules; and I don’t always follow the rules that I do know – especially in writing. I thought I would share what I wrote. Critiques are welcome.
4 digit code,
8 by 8 cubicle,
10 oz styrofoam cup,
contents at 180 degrees.
He sits and stares past a pile of papers on his desk, to a yellowing map of the U.S. Interstate system. Points of interest marked with Post-It Notes.
On this second anniversary of my first blog post…
This date reminds me.
The electronics aisle in Target reminds me.
The sign at Luther’s Barbecue reminds me.
The birds in the trees at Kroger remind me.
The loud intercom at Office Depot reminds me.
The parking lots at Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, and Applebee’s remind me.
Books and movies remind me.
Past writings remind me.
I am reminded in my waking and in my lying down to sleep, and in my dreams as well.
Signs on my drive to work remind me.
Songs on the radio and on my iPod remind me.
I am reminded by sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.
Reminders bring both joy and tears.
But can I truly say that I am reminded?
Does a thought have to be absent first, before remembrance can occur?
If so, I’m not sure that I am reminded at all, because you are always there – not just in the back of my mind, but as the constant companion and participant in all my thoughts.
And I imagine that for which I have no memory. So even in new situations you are present.
I cannot forget. And I have no desire to.
“Study to show thyself approved…” ~2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”
Beatrice Prior, and her brother Caleb, who was less than a year older, both found themselves at the end of a school year – both 16, and finishing the same grade in school. In the dystopian world of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series, this was the end of their formal education in society as they knew it. It was time for them to take the aptitude tests that all 16 year olds take at this time of year, which would determine which of the 5 factions they were best suited for. They were not to talk to anyone about the aptitude tests, or their results, after taking them. And the following day (not much time to consider the results) they would gather in the Choosing Ceremony and publically (and ceremoniously) announce their choice. They would leave the ceremony for training with the faction they chose without the opportunity to say goodbye, or offer an explanation to their family for their choosing. The rest of their education would come from their faction leaders. And, as good obedient Abnegation children, neither Beatrice not Caleb spoke to the other about their results, or impending choice, after their tests.
On the day of the ceremony, the Prior family (Beatrice and Caleb were the only children to 2 Abnegation leaders.) arrived together and took their places in the room where the Choosing Ceremony would soon take place. Beatrice was already a bundle of nerves as she contemplated the possibility of switching factions (though she hadn’t entirely made up her mind). She knew that her brother Caleb was Abnegation through and through. She, on the other hand, felt herself to be too selfish to be content to stay in the faction in which she had grown up. Although she was unsure, even as she stood waiting for her name to be called. As they called each “chooser” in reverse alphabetical order, Caleb would choose first. His choice, it would turn out, would make hers all the more difficult.
“Caleb Prior,” the announcer called. Caleb walked to the center and grabbed the ceremonial knife. He ran the blade across his palm, and walked to the bowls laid out before him. Each faction had a bowl containing something that symbolically represented them. He passed his hand over the bowl with gray stones that represented Abnegation, and held his hand over a bowl of water, letting the blood that had pooled in his palm drip into the bowl. Caleb had chosen Erudite.
By now, at the age of 50, I have taken several aptitude assessments over the course of my life (some legit, and many just for fun). But there was only one that I recall taking in high school. And, if my memory serves me well enough, I didn’t find it encouraging. I don’t know what test it was (That was over 30 years ago.) but I do remember not being encouraged to go to college. This didn’t surprise me, as neither of my parents finished college, and they didn’t encourage me or my siblings to go. I never planned on college. I didn’t see the value. I had world-changing stuff to do, and didn’t want to waste another 4 years of my life just so I could have a degree to validate me.
Sidenote: I’ve always been a bit idealistic and stubborn (My friends will not be shocked at this revelation.)
To this day, I have no idea what my IQ is. I do know that I am a Melancholy-Phlegmatic, and a C/S (in the DISC model), and an INFJ. I have taken all 3 of these type assessments multiple times over the course of the last 20-something years. And, though I grow and change, I always get the same results. Only the percentages may vary slightly. And according to the test on the “Divergent” movie’s website, I am Divergent. And after reading the books, who wouldn’t want that result?
I was not an A student, or even a solid A-B student. School to me was just something I had to get through before I set out to change the world. My last 2 years of high school I got out at noon to go to work. I only excelled in classes that intrigued me. I did NOT consider myself to be very intelligent. But I was curious about many things.
I am grateful for a few people in my life that did encourage me to go to college. Even though I never really considered going until a year out of high school when I realized that I wasn’t exactly turning the world upside down, and wanted to go to school for what they could teach me, and not for the piece of paper. And it was another 2 and a half years before I actually went. It was more difficult going to college as a young, broke, and married, student who had to work while attending school in order to pay for it.
The Erudite faction believed that conflict was caused by a lack of knowledge. Therefore, conflict could be resolved by finding truth through study.
I am very grateful that my mother was always (and still is) a reader, and that she read to me as a child. I learned very young the joys of reading. That, combined with an insatiable desire to understand the world, eventually drove me to higher education. After Caleb declared his move to Erudite in the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice recalled seeing a stack of books in his room the night after the aptitude tests.
So…what leads a person who lives a simple life of service to others, to choose to complicate their life through study?
It’s one thing to embrace the simplicity of life in the sense of not accumulating stuff, or debt; or not stretching yourself too thin with duties and responsibilities; or not making mountains out of mole hills. It’s quite another thing to accept something as true just because someone has said it is. I’m convinced that we all have doubts. The difference is that some people will believe that the cure for doubt is faith. Just believe it even if it doesn’t make sense. Some things are just beyond our ability to understand. I have no trouble believing that my cognitive abilities are limited, but I refuse to impose those limits on myself or others. I believe that many people leave the faith of their childhood because they are not allowed the room to wrestle with their own doubts.
What makes some people continue believing in the “Great and Powerful OZ” even after the curtain has been pulled back. Why would someone take the blue pill and consciously choose to live a lie after they’ve seen the world that has been “pulled over our eyes”?
“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” ~Morpheous (from “The Matrix”)
Many people will refuse to read books by people they disagree with, or listen to contrary information to what they already believe, because it upsets their ordered world. Ignorance is often chosen in preference to the illusion of order, over chaos. Many people find comfort when everything can be placed into a black or white category. And they are willing to accept the variety of colors in the spectrum as illusory to maintain that comfort.
But I can’t unsee, unhear, unfeel. I cannot ignore. For some, doubt is like a barely perceptible sliver of something that can be swept under the rug. For me, it is the sliver that get’s lodged under my skin while walking barefoot. If I try to ignore it, it becomes infected and causes a great deal of discomfort and dis-ease. It simply must be dealt with.
Caleb had somehow been exposed to information that challenged him. As much as he loved the life of Abnegation, he simply couldn’t ignore that voice within him that told him there must be more. Black and white categories wouldn’t suffice. There are very few questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. He just could not accept something on faith without a diligent search for understanding. He was not turning his back on the life of service and self-sacrifice, or the people he loved. He just had to surround himself with the people that could help him find the answers he sought.
True Erudite should never be elitist. They should be known by humility and hunger. Never forget your prior ignorance (because you still have much) and get puffed up because of your new understanding. You believe what you believe because it makes sense to you now. But don’t get too comfortable. Chances are…you won’t stay there either.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” ~John 15:13 (KJV)
For some reason (other than the usual issues that cause procrastination) I’ve had a difficult time getting back to this “series”. Note to self: At least have a working draft of the entire series before posting the first blog to introduce it. I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve wrestled with what to say, and how to say it. But, until now, I haven’t just made myself sit down and type it out. To be honest (like Candor) I would probably scrap the idea for this post if I hadn’t announced a series, because it is not very timely anymore. I did that on purpose, you know. It’s how I push myself to do what I truly WANT to do, but have a tendency to put off because it won’t be perfect enough. If I tell you I’ll do something, then my integrity is on the line.
So here it is…the next installment.
We begin our tour of the Divergent social landscape with the Abnegation faction. We start here, because Veronica Roth began her trilogy here. Our protagonist, Beatrice Prior, grew up in Abnegation. And our introduction to the social structure that drives the story, begins with this, the selfless-server faction. And, beside that, Abnegation is the group with whom I most identify.
Abnegation, as I described in my introduction for this series, “Thoughts on Divergence” part 1, is the faction that countered the selfishness of the world by denying themselves all but the basic necessities in life. They dressed simply, and modestly. Beatrice was only allowed to view herself in a mirror once every 3 months when she got her hair cut – and then, only in short glances. They were not to spend time thinking of themselves. They had no need for large homes, or closets, or dressers to keep their stuff. They didn’t accumulate things. The simplicity in their lives and dress might be analogous to the Amish or Mennonite communities in the American North-east. They were often mockingly referred to as “stiffs”.
Abnegation had the charge of governing the land, as they had no personal or political aspirations, but simply a desire to serve. Yes, there really are people like this. Although no one is completely immune to the draw of power or money, some are pretty close. Think of Mother Theresa. It’s just that, in our world, these people seldom get elected to anything, as they have a disdain for the political machine. Real-life Abnegation is more likely to work quietly (even secretly) behind the scenes to be agents of change.
Children born into Abnegation are raised in what might look like poverty to those on the outside looking in, but would likely be richer in relationships, and have a better understanding of the interconnectedness of all people. But all Abnegation children have the opportunity (and responsibility) to choose to remain Abnegation, or choose another faction, at the tender age of 16. They may choose to remain Abnegation for fear of the unknown, discomfort with change, loyalty to family, or because they believe it to be the best choice for life. Those that choose another faction after having grown up Abnegation, may do so because they feel that another faction may hold better promise for righting the world’s wrongs, or they could be disillusioned with their parent’s faction. It may be an act of outright defiance, or just a search for belonging and meaning.
It might be a stretch to say that I grew up Abnegation, but I can identify with it fairly easily. We were not a poor family, but we were not a family of means either. We didn’t celebrate much. We ate out very seldom. I remember 2 family vacations my entire childhood. Both were short, and cheap. Our get-aways consisted of a trip to see grandparents for Christmas, or occasionally in the summer.
But most true to Abnegation was that my parents were (and are) servers. They modeled service to me with neighbors and members of our local church. Even now, my 77 year old father will drive his little John Deere riding mower down the road to cut someone else’s lawn when they are not able. And he does it at his own cost. He pays attention to people, and perceives when they have a need. And he is a driving force to the benevolence of his church congregation.
As I learned of, and fell in love with, the example and teachings of Jesus, as a young person, I committed myself to follow his example in my own life. What I found was that Jesus didn’t only “lay down his life” in his death, but in life also. To lay down our lives is to put the needs of others ahead of our own. It’s to defer, to give up personal rights at times, to live sacrificially that we might benefit others rather than ourselves. It is to give ourselves in service to others. You might say that the goal is to take care of the needs of others and trust that our own needs will be met. Life is lived in pursuit of equity, not in competition.
One of Beatrice’s issues is also one of my own. She had a love for the Abnegation way of life, but struggled with her own selfish desires. She wanted. She had a need to experience more in life. She wanted to be a little more dauntless and carefree.
One of the battles I’ve had to deal with in mid-life, is the feeling that I gave up too much. I had a long list of “I have never…”s that I may have even been proud of. And, as I stood at the middle of my life looking back, I felt cheated, to be honest. I felt like I prioritized others’ needs so much that I found myself depleted, and wanting more. I focused on the cat’s comfort, when my legs were going to sleep. (see Why Disturb the Cat?)
I’ve come to the realization, though, that selflessness and selfishness are not polar opposites. You don’t have to be one or the other. Actually, though you may be able to be completely selfish, it is not possible to be completely selfless. At least I don’t think so. We all have desires, whether or not we act upon them. And it is possible to have selfish desires that you choose not to act on, out of deference for others. One of the reasons I’ve been pushing myself to get this entry written and published today, is that today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. It is a day that we celebrate the mothers who selflessly give up their own time, resources, and energy to care for their children. They often do without new clothes, so their quickly growing children stay clothed. They give up their rest to keep house. They sacrifice time with friends to wipe noses, read nursery rhymes, and rock their children. They invest themselves in their kids.
It’s not that they have no wants. It’s not that they don’t want to have nice things, go out, have fun, and be pampered. They keep wanting those things and more. That is, in a sense, selfishness. However, their love for their children cause them to repress their “selfish” desires for themselves, and focus on serving their children. Is that fair to say? I’m not a mother, and feel a slight trepidation to assign these feelings to such saints. However, I know these things are true of me. I wish I weren’t so selfish, that I had no wants but to serve others, but I am, and I do. The best I can do at times is to repress those desires, to ignore them if possible, and to defer my wants for someone else’s.
Like Beatrice, I love Abnegation, but I have some Dauntless longings.