Have you ever convinced yourself that if your financial debt was wiped away, all your problems would be, too? I have. Several years ago, I became convinced the only thing standing between me and my dreams was money.
I don't fully understand how it works, but I too have experienced it firsthand. Writing a goal on a piece of paper is as good as writing it on our hearts. We give it a power it otherwise wouldn't have. We imbue it with special intention.
The beauty of nature is that she does not care about our schedules. Nor does she value the things we tell ourselves must be done so we can feel good about ourselves. All the things that press for our attention are fleeting in her presence.
Quietly and cruelly, minute by minute, one begins to measure what hasn't been accomplished instead of what has. To keep a record of all that hasn't worked and might go wrong, instead of all that has gloriously and miraculously succeeded.
It's not that I believe humans are perfect. A quick scan of the day's news will prove this. And I have found power and compassion in being able to name unhealthy impulses in myself. But surely there's a limit? Seventeen years after Traveling Mercies--and 2000 years after the Apostle Paul--and we're still ruminating on how awful we are?
"Was she burned out?" asked the man, upon hearing I left ministry. "It's more complicated than that," answered Micah, who was on his way back to work after a visit to the post office. Micah hopped on his British-made black vintage town bike and pedaled toward the University of Wyoming. There wasn't time to explain to the acquaintance standing on the city side walk how it is his wife came to loathe the term burnout.
I write this as one who knows the seduction of wanting to skip from being an amateur straight to being an established writer. The space between just starting out and having a mountain of work under our belts feels cavernous.
A good story, says story coach Lisa Cron, is about transformation. No one wants to buy a book or pay nine dollars for a movie ticket to see a guy give in to fear and drown (or nearly drown, depending on whether or not there happens to be a life guard savior to rescue him). We long to see him do the unthinkable. We need to see him do it because if he can walk on water then maybe we can too.
Scarcity does that, it crowds out all that is good and true. It convinces a perfectly reasonable adult that in a state as vast as Wyoming there couldn't possibly be enough land, or sky, for her to pitch a tent and watch the eclipse.
This was holy water, not only because it's a protected marine park, home to whales and seals and a vast world beyond our sight, but also because of the way it invited us to sit, be present, and return to gratitude.
Patience has never been something I possess, nor frankly something I believe is universally good. I was shaped by a church that says there is virtue in bearing one's burdens with endurance. The longer we suffer through, never giving in to anger or insisting on our own way, the more likely we are to achieve sainthood. Which, from where the little girl was standing, is a pretty shitty way to spend one's life.
"Are you OK with messy?" asked Rebecca almost as soon as we'd begun. I wondered if there was something about my appearance that revealed my pension for cleanliness and perfectionism. It's like she knew I had spent a considerable portion of our time camping in Wyoming two days before trying my damnedest to rid our tent, sleeping bags, and cooler of the sand from our beach campsite. Am I that transparent, I wondered?
Of course, not everyone in Jake's life sees the virtues of depth over ample breasts. "Come on, Jake," says his buddy in gym class. "You talk like you're hard up. You got Caroline, now she's a wow-man." It would be a stupid kind of funny if it wasn't still true thirty-three years later.