Monday, May 24, 2010

That quiet desperation

I remember reading Thoreau's Walden in college; wandering through our heavily wooded campus to pause and sit beneath a tree and drink in his thoughtful prose. And though now, some 40 years later, I know he was writing about his time away from the hustle and bustle of city life, I only really remember two phrases: "Beware of any enterprise requiring new clothes" and "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

Though it is the first phrase that seems to crop up most often, and has certainly taken more thoughtful consideration over the years (as in, why do I feel I need to go shopping for something to wear to this occasion? Is there something in me that feels unacceptable? Am I trying to be something I'm not? Do I really WANT to be someone other than who I already am?) it was the second that came to me this morning at the end of a deliciously long period of meditation and reflection (my first really good one in what seems like WEEKS.)

Initially it came to me because I was praying for one of my daughter's friends, who has just returned from several months working in a third world country, whose father is dying of cancer, and who turns 21 next week. Any one of those three aspects of his life could be overwhelming; the confluence of events would seem to me to be almost unbearable -- if it were me, I think I'd be in an agony of inward twisting and turning.

But I was reading this morning about the inner self, the self others rarely see and we ourselves only barely begin to know, and it began to seem to me that there is at the heart of most people I know -- even the ones who appear to be most happy and successful -- a kind of desperate loneliness, a sense of struggling against insurmountable odds in some arena, whether it be the loss of a loved one, an empty marriage, a hunger for affection and relationship, a devastating disease, an enervating job, a sense of valuelessness, a need for a job or a home, a sense of purpose and direction, a space to call your own...

As someone said to me recently, it was a little easier when we were growing up: most everyone in my generation attended church as a child, and there were easy answers. God and Jesus were there for us, and looking after us, and would protect us and answer our prayers for all the missing and broken parts of our lives. But for many people the promise of that has faded, and it's not always clear that there's anything left of the oldtime religion to nurture and uphold our weary disappointed selves.

So what are we left with? Some of us are lucky, and have found some other sort of faith that somehow awakens joy and solace through building a compassionate connection between the self that lies within and rest of this universe we share. But for those who believe they struggle alone, how do we -- how do I -- support them without coming off as preachy or evangelical or some sort of know-it-all? Because, though life is good right now, I struggle, too, to stay connected and cheerful and calm, to be "Joyful, peaceful, loving and kind." And I'm not sure I have any real answers even for my own questions and challenges, let alone those of others.

I think in the end all I have to offer is a listening and caring presence. The only way I can really help is to mimic the listening and caring presence my faith allows me to sense around me; to carry the tender support I feel that sustains and bolsters me out into the world and to share it as best I can. But I can't really do that alone; it's more like channeling it through -- which is why I need these quiet periods of reflection and meditation. I think those quiet moments offer me a chance to clear the channel so the gift can pour through again. Because, left to my own devices, I quickly run out of steam, and get so caught up in my own desperation I have nothing to give to the desperate souls around me.

So I'm grateful for the quiet time I got this morning, after this last grueling week -- with luck, it will help me be a better companion for all whose lives touch mine today.

We'll see...

1 comment:

Maureen said...

This is a wonderful post, Diane.

Mark Nepo posted this morning a poem titled "Centering Clay". He ends it by urging us to ". . . hold the clay, like / the sum of your time on / earth, in the center for/ as long as you can."

Those of us who somehow manage to find a way to "hold... in the center" give hope to others, I think, open them unto the possibilities of seeing beyond the desperation. And we, too, need to be able to have in our lives "a listening and caring presence". I find mine often here, at Louise's, at Joyce's, at OurCancer.