Woke up too early again…

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Woke up too early again. My emotional mind taking over, telling me nothing will ever be good again. Sadly, these days, my logical mind seems to agree.

Grief over loss of love has weighed me down for months. I struggled under a heavy load of pain and despair, trying to step forward even as greedy, groping hands pulled me down into the earth. Sometimes I sink into the pit. But I cling to the edge, to the walls, holding on and refusing to drop further.

Slowly, slowly, I have been shrugging off the weight, climbing out of the hole. But now I feel heavier. Gravity has increased, pulling me back down into darkness.

I know I cannot control anything but my own actions and reactions. I say this to myself often. I cannot change what has happened. I can only respond to it as best I can. But anxiety is a seductive, narcissistic companion, curling around me, snaking its arms through mine, pulling my head toward it and whispering into my ear: telling me I am in control of it all, and thus I am responsible. Other people’s decisions were and are because of me, because of my failings. I am at fault.

Fear for the future–for my own and for my world–twists my insides to knots. The lump in my throat, the burning in my gut, the pain behind my eyes tell me I am not safe. And the seductive companion tells me I can change things, I can make it right. If only I knew the perfect word, the perfect deed. The act that will return things to right and bring my happiness back to me. The one weird trick that will save the world.

As my emotional mind becomes overwhelmed with the weight of responsibility, and my logical mind tries to reason its way out of pain, my primitive lizard mind simply panics. It screams at my brain, my gut, my blood, my heart: Prepare to run! Prepare to hide! Prepare to fight!

Or, perhaps, prepare to curl up and accept the end.

Sometimes I cannot decide which would be best.

 

For those who choose to base their entire worldview on a handful of verses in the Bible, here are some suggestions:

On Protecting the Environment

  • Genesis 2:15: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
  • Proverbs 12:10: The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.
  • Psalm 24:1: The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

On the Importance of Education

  • Proverbs 10:14: The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.
  • Proverbs 17:27: The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
  • Proverbs 18:15: The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.
  • Hosea 4:6: My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
  • Ecclesiastes 7:12: Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it.

On Helping Those in Need

  • Matthew 25:40: The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
  • Proverbs 19:17: Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
  • Acts 2:44-45: All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
  • Philippians 2:3: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.
  • Luke 6:31: Do to others as you would have them do to you.

On Equality and Human Rights

  • Psalm 67:4: May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth.
  • Leviticus 19:33: When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.
  • Luke 6:31: Do to others as you would have them do to you.
  • Mark 12:31: The second [greatest commandment] is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
  • James 2:8-9: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

(translations taken from the New International Version)

The Path

Once upon a time there was a huge, dark forest. Tall, twisted trees reached for the sun, their outstretched limbs sending the ground below into a cold, everlasting gloom. Primordial vines snaked around these trees and grasped at the air, searching for warmth, and light, and purchase. No breeze stirred the leaves, and the air was still and silent.

In this forest there was a path. Sometimes it went straight forward, and sometimes it would wind around the huge gray tree trunks, slinking under knotted roots and hiding in the litter of old leaves and twigs and dirt. Sometimes the path would disappear into a congestion of vines that twisted and grasped and struggled for light. But the path was always there.

And on this path there was a girl.

The girl walked forward, all alone, one step in front of the other. The girl was afraid of the forest. It was murky and gray and silent and cold, and the path was often hard to see. Sometimes in the shadows she thought she could see glowing eyes of unknown creatures. Sometimes in the quiet she could hear soft cries, and they sounded hungry and cruel. She did not feel safe. She wanted to hide away in the hollow of a tree. She wanted to turn back and find a way out. But she couldn’t. She had to walk the path. And she had to do it alone. No one else could walk it.

She continued on, one step in front of the other until she came to a vast chasm. She stood near the edge and peered down into the abyss, but could not see the bottom. She looked to the left and to the right, but she could only see the huge gray trees reaching up into the equally gray sky and fading into the distant gray mist. Nearby, the trees leaned over the chasm as thick grasping vines trailed off the edge and down into the abyss.

A glance behind her revealed only the darkness through which she had walked. She looked across and could see the other side, but it was so very far away. Was there no way forward? She looked down at the path and realized that it did continue across the chasm. But where before it was wide and relatively safe to walk, now it was no more than a narrow plank, stretching into the distance across the chasm.

The girl did not understand. Was it safe? It was so thin, and so narrow. Would it support her? Could she balance? She was no acrobat. There was barely room for her to stand with her feet together. Why was this her path? It didn’t make sense. She grew more afraid. Was the path a trick? Was it designed so that she would fail, so that she would fall? Tears distorted her vision, and she found she could not move. She had to walk the path, but if she did she would surely fail. The only path she could walk, the path that only she could walk, seemed destined to kill her.

As she stood at the edge, staring at the plank, she heard the cries of the menacing unknown creatures that lurked in the shadows. The cries grew closer. She could not stay here. She could not go back. There was no way around. She looked up into the cloud-darkened sky, which grew blacker with the coming night. There was nothing else to do, but go forward.

One step. She paused as the plank seemed to give slightly under her weight. She took a second step. Stood on the plank. It held. She told herself not to look straight down. She couldn’t look ahead without fearing she would fall. She turned her face slightly down toward the plank, so that she could see just a few steps ahead. Then she took a third step.

Her steps were small. She wanted to run across, to get this over with as soon as possible. But her fear kept her nearly frozen. She could only move her feet, slowly, ever so slowly. One step in front of the other.

After a while the girl stopped and looked up. Her heart seemed to slip from its housing. Had she made no progress at all? Carefully, she twisted her upper body so that she could glance behind her. The edge of the chasm was mere yards away. She had moved forward, but there was so far to go. And in the shadowy mist that surrounded her, the other side looked even more distant than before she stepped on the plank.

Returning her gaze to the plank, she took another step. Then another. One step in front of the other. She willed herself not to look ahead, not to see how distant the other side was, not to see how hopeless it was. Her foot slipped a little to the side and she wobbled. The plank vibrated slightly. She froze, her breath caught.

Don’t fall. Don’t look down. Don’t look ahead. Don’t look behind. Just keep walking.

The girl took a breath, and another. She began walking again.

She fought the urge to look up, but it was too late. Her eyes widened, then filled with tears. A few feet ahead, the mist had thickened into a blue-gray fog, into which the plank disappeared. She was surrounded by the fog, her breath joining it in shuddering clouds as she gasped. How far had she come? How far did she have to go? She trembled, and the plank trembled in response. She clinched her fists and tried to stop her body from shaking, but the shaking only increased until she knew that she would fall. In a panic she dropped into a crouch and gripped the sides of the plank with her hands. Splinters dug into her palms, but she did not move. She could not move. To move was to fall.

But to stay was to fail.

After a few moments her trembling had subsided. Have to move forward, she thought. She leaned forward until she was on her knees, her hands still clutching the plank. Slowly, experimentally, she slid one hand forward, then the opposite knee. Then the other hand, and the other knee.

Have to move forward. One hand, one knee.

Can’t fall. The other hand, the other knee.

Her hands, torn by the splinters, began to bleed, and she had to grip tighter to keep them from slipping. Sweat and tears dropped from her nose and beaded on the plank. One hand, one knee. The other hand, the other knee.

The fog was nearly black, and so cold. The girl shivered and the plank shivered in response. Then she heard it.

A creak of wood. The plank finally giving way? Or something else?

Is the plank breaking? Is something behind me? Is something waiting for me? I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die. Her mind bounced from one fear to the next, whirling around in despair, until she found herself crumpled against the plank, her eyes squeezed shut, her face pressed into the wood. She struggled to breathe, her chest fighting the exchange of air. I cannot go forward. I cannot walk this path. I cannot make it. I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die.

She thought perhaps she should let go. Her bloody hands were barely holding on. She opened her eyes and found herself staring into the blackness below. It was waiting for her. It was right there. It would be easy to fall. It is impossible to go forward. I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die.

 As the girl lay there, suspended above oblivion by no more than a few inches of wood, she heard herself whisper into the darkness. “Please. Help me.”

Silence, and cold, and darkness surrounded her. Hope seemed lost in the fog.

Silence, and cold, and darkness.

And a hand clasped her shoulder.

She jerked upward, the plank swaying slightly, and another hand gripped her other shoulder.

She looked up. To her left, barely visible in the gloom, was a woman. To her right, a boy. Each held on to her as she carefully pulled herself upward. They did not let go until she was standing, until the plank had stopped vibrating from her movements. Then the woman reached down and held the girl’s left hand. The boy clutched her right hand tightly.

“Are you angels?” She whispered.

“No,” said the woman with a smile.

The girl was confused. “How are you standing in mid-air?” she asked.

The boy said, “We’re not in mid-air.”

The girl looked down. Though the fog was thick, she could just barely see that the woman and the boy were each standing on what looked like wood. She peered into the murk and saw that each was on a plank that seemed to stretch into the distance alongside hers.

“Where did you come from?” she asked.

“I’m walking the path,” the boy replied.

“So am I,” the woman said.

The girl said, “But I thought I was the only one who could walk this path.”

The woman smiled at her again. “Yes. You are the only one who can walk your path. But I am walking my path. And he is walking his.” She turned away and nodded toward the fog. “And they are each walking theirs.”

And now the girl could see, ever so faintly, other people in the distance. She looked from side to side and saw them on her left and her right. The woman held the hand of a man to her left. The boy held the hand of another boy to his right. And each held the hand of another. One beside the other, continuing into the fog.

“But I didn’t see you on the path; I didn’t see your planks here. I thought I was alone.”

The boy shrugged. “So did I. Probably so did everyone. But I guess sometimes we need help. And so we can find each other, and help each other.”

The man beyond the woman spoke up. “We may walk our paths alone, but where we need it most, they meet.”

The girl said, “But aren’t you afraid? What if we fall?”

The man said, “I was afraid. The chasm is so deep. I knew I would fall. But now, I see that this plank is part of a wider path.”

The girl looked at the planks and saw that they were only separated by an inch or two. If everyone walked together, no one could fail. Even if someone were to fall, the others’ planks would be there to stop them, and the others’ hands would be there to save them.

The woman said, “Are you ready to go forward?”

The girl nodded. “I think so.”

“Good,” replied the woman. She took a step. The man beside her took a step. The boy took a step. And the girl took a step.

And another.

One step in front of the other.

Together they moved forward, across the chasm, into the mist.

Soon twisted shapes emerged from the fog, and the girl saw that they were trees. The edge of the chasm appeared. Sighing in relief, she stepped from her plank onto solid earth. The path stretched before her into the trees.

The woman and the boy and all the others stepped from their planks and paused at the edge. As the girl watched, the people in the distance began to fade away. She looked up at the woman in alarm.

“I think this is where we part,” said the woman, and she too began to fade. The girl shook her head.

“Please don’t go,” she said, clinging to the woman’s hand, “I don’t want to be alone.”

The boy, now barely visible in the gloom, his hand cold in hers, said “We have to walk our paths alone.”

The woman nodded. “But if we need each other again, we’ll find each other. Our paths are separate from yours, but we each go forward.”

“Keep walking, and we’ll be walking with you,” the boy’s voice faded away as he vanished.

The woman smiled and whispered, “Keep walking. I’m walking too.” And she, too, disappeared.

The girl stood there in the dark forest, shivering from the cold. Tears dampened her cheeks. She looked back at the chasm and saw that the fog had thinned, revealing the vast gulf across which she had walked. The planks were no longer there.

I made this far, she thought. I can keep going.

She studied the path before her. It led forward, winding slightly around the trees, under roots and leaf litter and dirt, through clusters of twisting vines and into the distance. It was her path. No one could walk it but her. Walk it she must. And walk it she would.

She took a step. And another.

One step in front of the other.

Okay

My eyes are burning, but I am “okay.”
My heart is shredding. I say “I’m okay.”
Inside I’m wailing, but outside “okay.”
I’m retching, I’m bleeding, I’m always “okay.”

“Okay” is my armor, “okay” is my shield.
“Okay” is the wall between me and the world.
“Okay” is the answer when all others fail.
“Okay” I may say, but “okay” I don’t feel.

My spirit falters, but I’ll be “okay.”
I feel like I’m dying, but I’ll be “okay.”
I’m crawling through embers, but I’ll be “okay.”
I’m searching for refuge, but I’ll be “okay.”

One day I will laugh and I’ll feel I’m okay.
I’ll rise from the ashes and know I’m okay.
I’m broken, I’m shaken, but still I’m okay.
And someday I’ll stand and be more than “okay.”

I fear not for myself

I fear not for myself:

  • I am straight, white, and cisgender, privileged with a high level of education and a stable job with full healthcare benefits.
  • I can love whom I choose; live my life freely according to my religious views; and walk in public without being targeted as an “Other”.
  • I can afford doctor’s visits, medical tests, surgical procedures, prescription medications, and birth control.
  • I have been fortunate enough to avoid being sexually harassed or assaulted.
  • I have not been demeaned in the workplace or in public because of my gender.
  • I can use a public bathroom without fighting for the right to do so.

I fear for those who are not like me:

  • Those who are condemned for who they love.
  • Those who are viewed as “Other” due to their skin color, religion, language, or gender.
  • Those who are victimized, injured, or killed because they are different.
  • Those who work so hard at low-paying jobs but cannot afford to feed their families or treat their health problems, who need the social safety net to survive and who are labelled as “lazy,” “leeches,” or “Welfare queens” for it.
  • Those who need to see a doctor, have a medical test or surgical procedure, or use a medication and cannot afford any of it
  • Those who are called “sluts” for using birth control.
  • Those who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped, who are not believed and do not seek help out of fear of reprisal.
  • Those whose histories of abuse, job loss, or addiction have driven them to a desperate life on the streets, whose pleas for help are answered with arrests, beatings, or death.

I fear for children:

  • Children who are deprived of food, shelter, or clothing because their parents cannot afford to support them, no matter how many hours they work.
  • Children who are deprived of the love and attention of their parents because those parents have to work two or more jobs just to survive.
  • Children who have been told their parents are bad people because they are not straight, white, or cisgender.
  • Children whose existence is one of abuse and suffering because the same society that fights (often violently) for the rights of the unborn blocks efforts to support them once they are born.
  • Children who will never escape the trap of poverty because funding that could be used to improve their schools is instead used to build weapons for a bloated military or to try to take away rights from others.
  • Children who need medical care or dental care to set them up for a healthy life, but cannot get it because their parents can’t afford it.
  • Children who have been bullied because they are different from their peers.

I fear for our world:

  • A world in which scientific consensus is too frequently ignored in favor of emotionally-charged talking points.
  • A world whose well-being is strongly influenced by the choices our country makes, whose populations may feel threatened by this most recent choice.
  • A world in which our country has to exist alongside everyone else, and yet our future leadership promotes a nationalist, “us versus them” stance.
  • A world with dwindling animal populations, increasing pollution, and worsening climate change that have already impacted the physical and economic wellbeing of people in this country and across the globe, while our future leadership believes that these things either do not exist or do not matter.
  • A world with people who look to us for hope for a better future, inspired by the “American Dream” and the call to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…,” who have now been told that this dream is only for those who conform to specific racial, religious, economic, and gender statuses, and the tired and poor may never breathe free here.

And I fear for those like me:

  • Those who conform to the “appropriate” race, religion, and gender identity, but want to stand in solidarity with their fellow humans who do not.
  • Those who struggle to stand up for their beliefs within a community in which their beliefs are the minority.
  • Those who want to make the world a better place for every person, not just people who look, worship, and love the same way they do.

A final thought: A society is only as strong as its most vulnerable member. If we do not help those more vulnerable than us, we weaken society for all. Jesus said that “whatever you [do] for one of the least of these, you [do] for me.”

We must continue to fight for the “least” of us:

  • That their rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (many of these rights so recently gained) are not lost.
  • That they really have equal opportunity for success and happiness: social support, education, and healthcare.
  • That they are not forced to live in misery due to laws passed by the least vulnerable and most privileged members of society.

I fear. I hope. I fight.

Values

Been thinking about my core values. Or trying to — it’s hard to think past anxiety and depression. But I believe it’s so very important to live an authentic life. I have spent too much time being afraid to be myself 100% of the time. I don’t want to live that way the rest of my life.

I can’t do anything about the state of the world. But I can do something about how I live in it.

I know that I value human rights and personal autonomy — the right of every person to live his or her life according to his or her values, in the way that brings him or her the most satisfaction and contentment. If a person lives his or her life without causing harm to others, he or she should receive no condemnation from others.

I value human lives — thus I believe that it is important for every person to have access to medical care and comprehensive health education, regardless of that person’s social or financial circumstances. When every person is given the opportunity to understand how his or her body and mind works, and what its needs are, he or she can make the best decisions for his or her physical and emotional well-being.

I value education — providing every person the tools and skills to encounter, understand critically, and utilize whatever information he or she needs, and to gain from it the knowledge and wisdom to be productive and happy members of society. From ignorance comes fear. And fear is a powerful weapon for those who know how to wield it.

Likewise, I value reason over emotion. “Feeling” that something is true does not make it true. History, the physical and social sciences, and the arts and humanities have recorded all that humanity has learned. Ignoring that record of knowledge in favor of (often highly-charged) emotions leads to a society governed by fear, hate, and anger.

Instead of fearing the unknown, embrace the fact that there is so much left to learn. Instead of hating those who are different, try to understand them and empathize with them. And instead of letting anger control you, view the world with compassion.

Every person has his or her own path. Instead of blocking the way, try lighting it.