Wednesday, March 29, 2006

In the still of the night...

I stumbled across this passage this morning that I thought would be interesting to post.

A great anxiety has God allotted,
and a heavy yoke, to its sons and daughters,
From the day one leaves her mother's womb
to the day she returns to the mother of all the living,
Her thoughts, the fear in her heart,
and her troubled forebodings till the day she dies--
Whether she sits on a lofty throne
or grovels in dust and ashes,
Whether she bears a splendid crown
or is wrapped in the coarsest of cloaks--
Are of wrath and envy, trouble and dread,
terror of death, fury and strife.
Even when she lies on her bed to rest,
her cares at night disturb her sleep.
So short is her rest it seems like none,
till in her dreams she struggles as she did day by day,
Terrified by what her mind's eye sees
like a fugitive being pursued;
As she reaches safety, she wakes up
astonished that there was nothing to fear.
(Sir 40:1-7)

How often I've lain awake at night trying to fall asleep, with fears and anxieties coursing through my mind, often unrealistic fears and anxieties that I thought I'd long since conquered or buried. Why do these disturbing thoughts come bubbling to the surface when one is most open and undistracted, most vulnerable and eager to fall off to sleep?

It must be that the daily business of life (work, home, telephones, tv, radios, etc.) drowns out our fears during the course of our day and their tiny voices emerge when the world surrounding us has quieted down.

Remember the Anxiety Closet in the Bloom County comic strip, how it was full of the most absurd and humorous fears and anxieties like killer clowns or accountants. It is a relief to put a name and a face to what feels like such a personal experience and realize that even the most self-confident and unreflective narcissist probably has an Anxiety Closet of their own with the door shut and bolted and a chair pushed up against the door handle.

I guess one of the possible messages of the passage is that there exists the possibility that we will "wake up"--from our unthinking ways of acting? from our self-absorption? from our delusions about how the world works? from our prejudices and negative thinking? from our self-destructive habits?--and be astonished that there was nothing to fear.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Scaredy cat

Last month, my housemate, who swore she would never get another pet, brought home a cat. She looks a lot like Buffy who died earlier this year, kind of a light orange, and she is probably about 4 or 5 years old. Her most distinctive features are yellow eyes, darker orange rings on her tail and the lightest pink nose and paws...very pale and delicate pink. Because she seemed so sleek and elegant, I called her Serena and the name kind of stuck.

But she was abandoned and has an abandoned cat complex: alert and fearful. She hid under the couch on the first floor all of her first day here but "escaped" during the evening when the door to the room was left ajar. It took forever to find her but she was under a bed in a second floor bedroom.

She eventually found her way to the third floor, which I occupy, and she's been a fixture here ever since. I can't get her to leave! Every other day, I take her down the stairs and walk around the rest of the house to familiarize her with the place but I have to hold her tight against my body or she'll claw her way over my shoulder and hightail it back to the third floor.

I take her on these outings to reassure her: there are no dogs or other cats or small children in this is a pretty quiet and placid place...she should not be afraid. But she gets terrified just coming down the stairs from the third floor.

The whole situation is quite awkward considering that she's not my cat! The housemate, her owner, has been understanding about the whole thing since it seems like it is completely out of our hands. I tried leaving her outside my door and closing up my place but she just hides herself away and then we have to later comb every nook and cranny in the house, trying to find her to make sure she gets something to eat.

So far, she has made her preferences clear. But I'm hoping as she feels more and more secure and starts feeling confined in my small place, she'll venture out into the rest of the house and her owner will start connecting more with her. It's great to have her company but I think she'd be happier to have more territory to roam around in.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Holding on and letting go

Forgetting what lies in the past, I press on... (Phil 3:13)

I'm not given to quoting the Bible. Seriously. But I come across these quotes that make me pause which, I've found, is always a good thing.

I am overly tied to my past, both the good and the bad. I don't brood or obsess but I get sentimentally attached to events and things and people and ruminate, trying to squeeze some meaning out of them, learn some lesson.

I remember a friend calling me crazy when I was in my 20s because I had a file of all of my job rejection that time, I was trying to change fields and applied for a lot of jobs I wasn't exactly qualified for, dream jobs, ones that I had absolutely no experience in.

"Why do you hang on to those things?", he said. "I'd rip them up". But I didn't, I held on to them, trying to read between the lines, to try to understand something about myself by what I had NOT succeeded at. They were also part of my history, albeit one that wasn't entirely pleasant, a marker of some period of my then short life.

I wanted to have them around to remember that I once strove to do something beyond the ordinary life that I was living at the time. Tried unsuccessfully, in this instance, but it is still wild to think about how different your life might be if things had gone in a different could have a completely different lifestyle, different friends, live in a different location, be in a different relationship.

What seemed relevant to me back then when I spoke with my friend was not that I didn't succeed but that I was able to imagine myself living another life, one different from the one I had. Whether better or worse wasn't the issue, it was the ability to imagine how different things could have been had the circumstances changed...I had been able to imagine that I could be out of the rut I was in at the time.

But holding on to the past can itself turn into a rut. You can get too attached to the past to the point where you live in the past, remembering past joys, old friends, and happy experiences instead of making new friends, creating new experiences. It is easier to live amidst your memories than work at creating new memories which takes effort at times, sometimes a great deal of effort.

When one is weighed down with baggage from the past (as I have been lately), forgetting the past and forging ahead might be the better course of action. Memories, God willing, will always be there but present opportunities may not. Maybe by letting go, putting the past behind us, one can be free of old notions of what "should be" or what IS possible and one can be able to take advantage of new avenues that present themselves.

Kind of sounds like something you'd read in a self-help book but at this point in my life, I'm open to any inspiration that comes my way, whether it is regurgitated wisdom or some fresh insights. Judge by the fruit, not the tree.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The spotlight

It's been about two weeks since I last posted. I was going to try to post something every day, then got busy with a new job. And then I read on another webpage that someone had actually read this blog and it threw me for a loop even though she was perfectly polite about it.

I mean, it shouldn't have shocked me. If I wanted to write for myself alone, I could keep a journal. But the fact that I haven't had any comments to what I was writing lulled me into thinking that I was only writing for myself and it gave me pause to think of someone else reading the words I'd put down.

That thought led to my mind freezing every day when I thought about returning to post something to the blog. I began to second guess myself, thinking, "what would someone else think about what I was writing about", "someone" being no one in particular, just a friend or foe or the unknown reader. I know an author is always supposed to consider the audience you are writing for but I have found it completely inhibiting.

Part of the reason for starting a blog was to get over this useless kind of paralysis, and be open and vulnerable enough to share my ideas, come what may. A lot of this blog has been "fluff", not serious contemplation or controversial opinions but it has revealed part of who I am right now and so the fact that I was able to do it at all I count as an accomplishment.

So, I'm going to try to revive it and keep going on, aware that there might (or might not!) be an audience for my words and just try to be myself...the insightful parts as well as the ordinary, mundane parts. I'll try to keep it interesting but, more importantly, I'll try to keep it honest and real. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rend your hearts...

...not your garments (Joel 2: 13)

I always loved this passage on Ash Wednesday. I think it means that true sacrifice, opening one's heart and soul to change is preferable to large, emotional displays of grief and penance, overly pious attempts to beat oneself up, psychologically speaking....where one wallows in despair rather than making oneself vulnerable to the realization that we are imperfect.

Ash Wednesday is seen as a solemn ritual, one where you reflect on sin/errors, ways we've disappointed ourselves, others, or God, and how limited is our time on this Earth. But it is also about second chances, of leaving behind the wounds of past, those done by us or done to us. As the song says,

We offer you our failures,
We offer you attempts
The gifts not fully given,
The dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction,
Give our visions wider view,
An offering of ashes,
An offering to you.
"Ashes" (Conry)

We burn our past misdeeds, the sources of shame in our lives, our failings, into ashes and, like a phoenix, "create ourselves anew", hopefully, into a person more faithful to one's self and one's community. This can involve discipline and sacrifice but also forgiveness and redemption, and the happiness that can come from having integrity and a clear conscience.

May this Lent bring you to a clearer understanding of yourself and your place in the universe.