Friday, May 28, 2010

Creative Destruction

"The Destructors" by Graham Greene captured me from the first sentence, as some short stories do, and I reread it every so often, to dig deeper into it and reexperience its events. It's about a gang of children that utterly destroys a townhouse, demolishes it piece by piece - from the furniture to the fixtures to the floors and ceilings and walls to the utilities to the roof and sides - till it is quite literally a pile of rubble. The de facto leader of the gang, T, directs the whole operation with fascinating resourcefulness. One of the boys asks T if he is destroying the house because he hates the owner, "Old Misery."

"Of course I don't hate him," T said. "There'd be no fun if I hated him. . . . All this hate and love," he said, "it's soft, it's hooey. There's only things, Blackie," and he looked round the room crowded with the unfamiliar shadows of half things, broken things, former things.

T's father is an architect, and T understands the significance of this house built by Wren, with 200-year-old panelling and a spiral staircase held up by opposing forces. T's housebreaking is a creative act - a creativity that receives additional power and force from the building's original greatness. Additionally, destroying the house is necessary to set Old Misery free from his prison-like existence within this beautiful home, with its "half things, broken things, former things" and his life savings hid in a mattress (which the boys burn, down to the last banknote).

During high school I studied geology with my dad, who has an inexplicable love for rocks. I resisted this study until I began learning about the rock cycle. Volcanic lava hardens and becomes igneous rock; over time this rock is given new identity by heat and pressure (metamorphic rock), or broken down and deposited into the earth over time to form sedimentary rock. Ultimately any rock is subject to the possibility of being remelted by a volcano or vent and transformed once again. I can't think of anything more savagely destructive than a volcano, earthquake, or flood, and yet these are the means by which rocks are completely transformed into new things. Same material, new identity.

One day I woke up and couldn't pretend anymore, couldn't take it anymore. I wanted to find something better, but in stretching toward hope I pulled the pin from a grenade. The universe cracked open, all its wrongness turned up to the light of day, people went stumbling around into potholes everywhere. Doing the right thing now seems so, so wrong.

Is this what God does - transform our lives utterly by burning away everything, dredging things up from the very bottom, heating and pressurizing and restructuring life's chemical makeup to make a new heaven and earth out of the old? Do we, and the universe, carry within us the very material that will be perfected and beautified at the end of things?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Void That Is Me

It sounds dramatic, doesn't it, when I say that I don't know who I am? But notice that sentence. It started off with some self-deprecation and an accusation: You probably think I'm just being dramatic when I say this. Because I expect you to think: Oh, she's overstating the case. How could she not know who she is? She has such a strong personality. She's just having one of those bad days or weeks or years. She'll come along.

One of the ways that I am learning who I am is by taking my own feelings seriously. Trying to leave off disclaimers like, "This probably sounds silly, but . . ." or "You're probably right. I don't really feel that way."

My counselor told me, "I admire you for staying with your pain." Taking my pain seriously is what got me into this mess in the first place. So it must be a good mess. It's a me mess. Somewhere in this mess of emotion and experience and what I've felt and what I was supposed to feel is me. If I take the time to honestly feel and follow my emotions, I might untangle the mess. And in the process I might discover myself.

Honestly, I never would have thought I would say stuff like this. I have always cared so deeply about my identity. I've stood on it, spoken it, written about it. This is who I am. But under that bold statement was this truth: If I don't define myself, then everything inside will be formless.

Diving into that formless void is so scary. But I know that if I go down far enough, my feet will find something solid, a little bit of land to stand on. And that's where I'll build from.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Still Me

My blog has a new name and lovely new colors, but it's still me posting. I needed a new way to express the questions I'm exploring and the person I hope I'm becoming.

A half-life is "the time required for half the nuclei in a sample of a specific isotopic species to undergo radioactive decay" (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.). In other words: At a midpoint in life, enough change has occurred for us to draw reasonable conclusions about something's identity.

I have reached the point of realization that the life I live is not full (another kind of half-life). In looking back and evaluating my identity, I see that much of who I am has decayed in a desperate, involved, time-draining attempt to pretend that everything is okay, protecting the half-truths I know and trying to please the half-God I worship.

Fact: Everything is not okay. Saying so does not disprove the Bible, it's not blasphemy, it's not heresy. Admitting my feelings does not mean that I am about to be swept away on a tide of dangerous self-deception. It doesn't mean that if I die at a moment when I don't like God, He's going to bar the gates of heaven. It doesn't mean that if my sorrow can't be neatly packed away in a box and labeled with an answer and eight Bible references, then my faith is inadequate.

It does mean that I'm finally learning who I am, and I'm trying to speak the truth of my experience without shame.