Monday, December 12, 2016
Almost Old Enough to be Young Again
As I've intimated from time to time, I am a prisoner of those bad things that have happened to me in my life. That's probably true for most of us, at least to some degree; I am sure not everyone, but most thoughtful people.
Thoughtful people are not free by nature; they have to make themselves free, and it's a lot of hard work. It's working with grace to be as free from fear as we can be in this world.
Fear? Yes, fear. The fear of the bad things, those things that made the bad feelings, those things that made us disappointed in ourselves and in life as a whole.
It seems to me that children are the only ones free from these things. This is not to say that autism and certain other things can stack the deck against kids. But when I think of childhood, I think of optimism, imagination, a sort of planning that looks an awful lot like dreaming to an adult, and of the ability to actually enjoy the good experiences that come by.
I am thinking of Christmas and my kids. I am thinking about the good times I have had in the past and how I miss my father and could never really appreciate him.
But, no, it's not never. As I said, children can actually enjoy the good things that come their way. For instance, I appreciated my father (and mother) when I was a child. Yet with every year and every hardship and responsibility that came along this ability to enjoy becomes weaker and weaker. It can get weaker. It did in me. In fact, like the good in Darth Vader, my ability to really enjoy good things withered up like a wart that's been dry-iced.
I'm not saying I am typical - I am far and away from that, as any reader of this blog will clearly know. However, neither am I a rare, special breed. I see the sadness and pain in people's faces. Most hide it better than I do, but they still have it. But my pain, or fear of pain, has made me better able, I think, to appreciate how important it is to have positive experiences, even if I find myself not really able to enjoy them as I should. Bahhumbuggers are people of my sort. But it's a choice. Even if someone were to rise from death it wouldn't be enough to change a person who didn't want to change (Lk 16:31). Belief in the Resurrection - for as much as preachers would have it on Easter - doesn't do this as a mere and easily come by intellectual acknowledgement. Rejoice - that's easier said than done. But it does make a difference. How much of a difference is up to you, I guess.
Sadness can keep us apart. I think of my family first of all. I can't be another person, but I have a duty to be the best this person I can be. Of course, people who suffer this way can't be saddled with this further thought, that their inability to be happy is hurting the ones they love. They should focus on the positive: they are perhaps rather more given to sympathy and compassion than others. So that's something.
But what I cannot be is a prisoner of fear. The best dads are the ones who choose to move beyond fear. Note it and work on it. The first difficulty is noticing it. Are we even all that aware of what drives us? And just because we think we are aware of it doesn't mean we actually are. We tell stories about ourselves, that doesn't mean they are totally accurate, including the unflattering ones. What do you remember about your past and why? During the first ten years of our lives we had about 100,000 waking hours. The memories we can call on perhaps account for 100 of them. Are we being fair to ourselves through our memories? Many of us are too hard on ourselves:
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
I am ashamed of many things, and proud of virtually nothing. That's kind of a bad sign. It's not only bad when people have no shame and only pride (narcissism). When we don't have a positive view of our selves, how can we appreciate the good that God's done in us? We see our lives as a mistake, rather than as graces. It is not as true that my life is a series of sins I have done as it is that it is a series of great graces despite all of that. Every human life is a miracle, whether we can see that or not, and we usually can't.
The problem is we cynically reduce all of the world's best experiences. We call Christmas a consumer-driven holiday. We call marriage just one of society's flawed institutions. We see babies as diapers to be changed, cries that keep us up at night, other mouths to feed, and virus-sponges. And so we choose against them. We call education useless, conformist or indoctrination. Patriotism is chauvinism and divisive. We call work pointless, unending and undignified. We say trips contribute to global-warming... We have a million ways to feel bad about ourselves, a million reasons not to celebrate life. Because we can poke holes in things, doesn't mean we should or that this negative take is a wise or a complete one.
We are both time-bound and boundless. Our limits and limitlessness impact those of our fellows. We do damage and yet provide blessings and healing. We impinge on the other's eternity and their time-bound memories. Onesies make me think of my childhood. So do bikes, Christmas trees, and 35 mm cameras. My parents made all of these things into blessings for me, channels of grace. And yet I caught my foreskin on my onesie's zipper (possibly more than once), fell off my bike, had to prop-up a tree or two with my frustrated father, and had to pose for annoying pictures upon occasion.
But when and why did I lose track of life's enchantment? My teenage years brought acne and insecurity. My twenties brought angst with love and financial and vocational crises, then worry about children. To the troubles that began in my twenties, my thirties added weariness and the near collapse of my moral constitution, that is to say, the near collapse of human perseverance. My forties, they seem to offer fresh opportunities - either to believe in a happiness in success that I always seemed to be denied, to lose hope and faith again in this promise, or to find a new way. But maybe the new way is the oldest way:
I feel at times that I can get back to enchantment. There are moments when I think that I can be healed of the scars that ruined me of this. I used to believe in the happiness that heroism could bring (up until about twenty), then that which genius could bring, then that which love could bring, then evangelization... then... and yet each day, or week, or month, or year, nothing but disappointment and the onset of the philosopher's skepticism.
When do we forgive ourselves our failures and finally accept that the world is a rather formidable thing?
Our life in this world is like that of the king who came up against an enemy with his ten thousand. (Lk 14:31) Initially, he was certain they'd be enough to give him victory. As time went by did any of his certainty remain? No. What remained - might it be called hope, doubt, wishful thinking, desperation? Does he sue for peace or does he redefine war itself?
What is the world? Can we believe that we had it right initially and that everything that led us away from that was a lie? Is the measure of truth the ability to enjoy a good thing? It's worth thinking about this over this nostalgic period that is Christmas. If I have been robbed of my good memories and my ability to enjoy the good, can I supply these things to others, namely, my children? I want to. Really.
I have never met a child as happy as my two-year-old, Maria. I helped to create that. By the grace of God I created something like 1/7 of that. With Anne-Marie and the other kids supplying the other 6/7s.