Monday, December 5, 2011

Turning Points: Running

To understand this you'll probably want to read the first installment and the second installment before you read this one.

I started running with a baby step, by moving to Denver.

I had thought  the move from a college town to a large city would give me some anonymity. I was wrong. How tiny those 30 miles were became clear when I went to a bookstore the day after I moved in. I found on the store bulletin board the hideous Rocky Mountain News article, plus two different notes, from two different bands looking for a bassist, asking if anyone knew how to contact me. The clerk recognized me and was excited that I had moved to the city. If anonymity was what I wanted, I was going to have to try a lot harder.

What Denver did give me in the months I was there was nothing I expected to get, and that was a very different kind of circle of friends. I fell in with a group of women who were, largely, Christians.

It wasn't the first time I found myself in a circle that was largely composed of Christians. In fact, I played bass and occasionally percussion in a Christian folk band in high school. I could play bass, and they tolerated my professed atheism. They had regular paying gigs, and I more than tolerated the regular income. Later, I had a number of anomalous friendships with Christians, and sometimes spent time around their Christian friends. Their Christianity looked like a Greco-Roman mystery cult with a Jewish twist, and I wasn't interested in fairy tales.

Maybe it was simply that I had become romantically involved with one of the women (I'm a lesbian, and yes, these were lesbian Christians. They exist, you know.) But what I saw impressed me. Not enough to become Christian. The story of Christianity, the stuff Christians are required to believe as true, still looks to me like a Greco-Roman mystery cult, no matter how much easier it would be for me to find a way to believe the unbelievable. What impressed me was that they sincerely sought to know their God which, when stripped of the fairy tales, amounted to seeking with their whole hearts the same sort of transcendent Truth that I knew was there to be sought.

I had spent a decade trying to bury the nature of what happened that night at the window under fervent declarations of atheism. But I knew. I couldn't not know. I wasn't exactly a believer in God. God as an individual personality made as little sense to me as Mediterranean mythology with a Jew attached. But neither was I an atheist in any meaningful sense of the word.

In fact my own profession of atheism more closely resembled the stories I saw Christians tell themselves to tame, rationalize, and ultimately, diminish, transcendent, ineffable Truth, the presence of which was so undeniable, so intimate, that one could almost taste it if only one were to  pause for a moment to do so. Atheism was my own not quite credible personal mythology that I used to tame and manage and diminish the present Presence. And so I ceased professing to be an atheist and, in emulation of my friends, became a seeker.

My friends had known "who I was" when they met me. Perhaps it was some illusion surrounding that, or perhaps it was the beginnings of the effect which they were having in me. But they had (very much mistakenly) begun to attribute to me virtues like "wisdom".

I of course took an immediate, outsized, pride in my putative wisdom. And it was that pride that set me up for the turning point I described some time ago in another post, More About Being Hard Core. At that time I obscured some things about myself and glossed over some of the details. So, here is what I wrote then, with added details:

At the time I was a middlish fish in a mediumish pond, famous in the region I lived in and showing some potential in a field where, if successful, I would gain significantly more fame. And in the circles I moved in, I had a reputation for being “wise". I was excruciatingly in love with my fame, and very impressed with my “wisdom”. I believed, somewhat correctly, that my fame and my wisdom came from my spirituality.
I wasn't oblivious to the connection between a drastic turnaround in my life and the moment at the window. I couldn't be. Neither was anyone else unaware of something happening who knew me at that time, though I told very few people what that mysterious event was that had made the difference. Of course, now that I was openly spiritual, even that could be reason for a little more ego.
I was so impressed with myself that when a friend of a friend approached me, I spent the afternoon more or less talking about myself (not always overtly, but there are many indirect ways to insure a conversation revolves around oneself).
My romantic involvement with one of the women from this circle of friends had just ended when one of the women at the periphery of my circle approached me (I still feel some obligation for vagueness here as the woman who approached me was at the time also a good sized fish in a different pond, and for all I know she still is as I don't keep up with the goings-on in that pond).

If it were possible to break up more often than one actually had romantic involvements, that would have been me at the time. I didn't like rejection, but it wasn't a new thing for me. Still, it seemed, in my twisted take on things, that "wise" people were "humble" people, and "humble" people had to put up a big show around their failings, just so everyone knew they were "humble". And so I did. I talked about the breakup at every opportunity, so that the world might know how very "wise" I was. When this woman approached me, I just kept on rolling with my Proof of Wisdom train wrec Show.
Finally, when the individual had to leave, they mentioned that they were in the midst of a serious crisis, and I realized that that had been the reason this person had approached me.
 She was depressed. She was talking about self destructive acts. And I, with my Proof Of Wisdom Show, was an ass.

I certainly could have excused my behavior with “the person should have spoken up sooner”. A few years before, probably I would have. But over time, what would once have been tolerable ceases to be tolerable, if one takes spirituality seriously.

What i had done was so obviously awful in fact I couldn't make up excuses for it. I couldn't even wrap my mind around it at first. I was stunned.

A few hours later, though, the shock wore off, and I could see what now lie exposed, like gangrene uncovered when a bandage had been removed.

And later that day, as I was brushing my teeth, I got a look at myself in the mirror. I saw the puffed up ego, full of pride, that had just made itself useless to a suffering human being that had been looking for a little hope. If I had had the capacity to listen, the individual would have been able to speak, but my head was so full of praise for myself I was incapable of listening. I was an asshole....
Had it been possible for me to instantly plummet to the building’s basement and bury myself there, face down in the dirt below the foundation, I would still not have been as low as I felt in that moment. As it was I knelt down on the spot, in an almost equally appropriate position, next to the toilet (I generally do not kneel, but sit at a desk, when I do spiritual things, but given that I felt like a sinner, I think my Catholic education kicked in).
That, and "prostrating myself in front of a toilet" was much more expressive of how I felt at that moment than was standing upright.
I prayed to the Ultimate to do whatever it took, that I wanted to be free of the horrible person in the mirror, and I prayed as hard as I ever had. I meant every word of it. I wanted to change, and I wanted whatever it took to do it.
Prayer was always awkward for me, as I didn't (and still don't) believe in a being with individuality that, though omniscient, needed to be told what to do. In that moment, though, it just didn't matter. I had seen a monster in the mirror, and I cried out.

No comments:

Post a Comment