When the levee breaks

Sometimes all the crappy stuff kind of hits at once. I’ve noticed this. Life has a rhythm; sometimes the drummer setting the beat is Sorrow or Calamity or Hardship.

My train of thinking today has been all over the place. It started actually with feeling all the things rather than thinking them. Sometimes I have to feel my way through from beginning to end, let my emotions catch up to my head. That’s always a weird out-of-body experience, as if my brain and my gut are about a quarter turn out of step. Like trying to watch a 3D movie but without the little glasses to bring everything into focus.

Two things happened yesterday that left me feeling the drumbeat of loss pretty hard.

The first was the passing of a friend, the mother of one of our former students. Her laughter was pure light; her smile could set planets afire. She was merry, tough, beautiful, hilarious, unashamed, unafraid, badass, witty, and loving. Their family hosted gatherings at their roomy log cabin house for groups of our students since we taught their son.

And cancer removed her light from this world yesterday. Fuck cancer. I knew it was coming, had heard that hospice was involved, know how this story always ends, but it still stings. And what I feel is nothing compared to the loss felt by her children, her husband, her siblings, her close friends.

Second, I’m struggling here not to accuse the Universe of just plain aggravation and cussedness. As a friend commented, “Sometimes you have to decide whether you’re going to cash in your ‘Calvinist chips'” – i.e., whether all that talk about trusting God to order the pathway of life is just talk when the pathway doesn’t seem very orderly.

I know in my head that sometimes the path is complicated. Or sometimes you have to fight for your calling, to take hold of opportunities, especially at work. But what I’m feeling today is the sense of disappointment that comes from proposing an idea (at work) and then losing the opportunity to implement it. I know it could work out anyway; what looks like The World’s Worst Timing may be a providential boon. But my mood is out of sorts. I wanted things done “my way” and instead I feel like a living, breathing example of Irony.

And I could add a third event – the recent pileup of people in our life who need help, real help, in ways we cannot provide. Homelessness. Lack of income. Underemployment. Poor or nonexistent health care. Little access to good jobs. No path out of poverty. They come to us because the other support networks are non-existent or have broken down. And there’s little support to be had. Either you’re born into a family that takes care of you when you’re down, or you end up living in your car and trying to subsist on french fries. And I’m supposed to do something about this?

This is why I’m writing – not so you can join me in feeling bad that the world sucks, but joining me in recognizing that it’s a lot easier to sit here and feel bad about the world feeling bad than to do anything meaningful about it.

Truth is, I like my life to be comfortable and neat. I want decisions to be clear, categories orderly, people neatly classified, questions answered.  I don’t want someone calling me because they need to crash on my couch right when I’m going through a job transition.

I don’t want to face the fact that the choices I make with my salary, whether I buy myself a Starbucks or give that money to someone I actually know who needs it more than I do, are moral choices. They reveal what I value more than the words I use to describe what I think I value.

What –and who– I love is revealed by what I do, and I didn’t want that lesson hammered into my skull today along with everything else I’m struggling to feel my way through.

But there it is.

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