As I look back on my life I can’t help but see how many frayed and tattered ends there are. Each strand represents a weakness – something that broke away from the binding of what is supposed to hold me together. I once had the eyes of an idealist. I could see possibilities in front of me like an immersive virtual reality game. Life had a playfulness to it.
Somewhere in the strange space between naïve youth and burgeoning adulthood a selfishness and greed possessed me. It came to me with the deceptiveness of that simple apple that became a curse for the human race. I did not see it or feel it, but I consented to it. Soon nothing became good enough and a rage against my own soul took root. I couldn’t have what I believed I deserved and other people were the problem. I had worked hard and didn’t see the rewards I expected come to fruition.
I failed to get accepted into the PhD program I desired after being encouraged to apply. I was rejected and essentially tossed out of the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church (USA). I failed to hold a marriage together. I failed to finish a PhD that I had originally started for free. Surely in each case there were elements I couldn’t control. People can’t be controlled and most circumstances elude our artistry to make the world fit who we believe we should be.
The realization that I couldn’t control others to make my world more accepting of my ambition snapped back on me like a popping balloon. An external envy of others became an internally directed private rage against myself. Envy became self-pity. Self-pity became depression. Then it all was wrapped in fear.
One question I have learned in the past year is, “Where am I responsible for these unpleasant outcomes?” In order: I needed to take the GRE more seriously by seeking out help. I needed to be more proactive and question the ordination process that the Presbytery of call did not follow correctly. I should have been more honest in my marriage and not engaged in infidelities. I should have stuck my job out one more year to finish the degree. I didn’t see it then but I see it now that at each turn I had a choice.
Underneath all of this was a failure to take seriously the fact that I had struggled with mental illness my whole life. Rather than get help I drank which only impaired my thinking that much more. My sister always used to say that these are choices. Of course I got pissed at the comment because I had transformed into something selfish and consensual to whatever indulgence was in front of me. Surely these weren’t choices because I deserved better!
Choice. Cause and effect. Ground and consequece.
Life moves in a physical space where we bump into each other, come into, and leave each other’s lives. We propagate the species with a complex matrix of cause and effect. But the calculus of cause and effect in the human spirit is far more complex. Most of us can’t see when we’re creating our own discomfort. Even others in our lives often can’t see it because they tend to be just like us.
At this point in my life I have exited many spaces that I used to feed my consent to my errors. These were my private spaces of indulgence and misery. I can now look at my past as an object. I can see the doors that are shut and locked from the other side. Many opportunities are now simply gone. That window of time to make things right is passed.
Now I face different decisions. Do I go back to try breaking down those old doors of entitlement? Or do I face the other direction with the prospect that I’m done passing through any other doors of opportunity. Maybe what I have now is all there is. Maybe I wont change the world or change others’ lives as I once aspired. Maybe i wont be an author, an artist, a speaker. Maybe I’m just a working, divorced dad trying to be decent every day. That might be all I have to offer the world. If that’s all there is, what right do I have to complain at what isn’t?