One Thousand Words or So

Where I’ve Feared to Tread

First up: I was wrong about the Madeleine L’Engle quote. I had shared it here previously, on October 3rd. I have since made a little note in my book about sharing it here, so you’ll likely not have to read it again, unless you want to, and at that point, perhaps you should get your hands on Walking on Water. It is well worth the time invested, and at only 200 pages, the investment isn’t huge. The dividends, on the other hand, might be.

Today is one of those rare(?) days in which my mind is just bursting with things I want to mull over and write about. I see connections everywhere I turn, and it all excites me. In person, I tend to talk, telling stories from my own experience, trying to—before I get interrupted—share all I feel compelled to share. The other night at dance class, a mom I’d not talked to before was the unfortunate recipient of my mile-a-minute words.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t communicate well verbally. My mind, like my mouth, seems to move too fast, and I can’t really convey what I’m trying to make understood. Given that, all the past criticism I’ve received (from seemingly everybody: you’re crazy; how can you believe that? slow down; take a breath; you think everyone is just like you), has made me careful about what I share. I edit every thought and very often end up voicing none of them. In fact, the people I do share with (in gusts of about 25,000 words an hour) tend to be ones I don’t know, like that mom at dance class, because they are not prejudiced against me. They may get overwhelmed (another criticism I often hear: Cheryl, you overwhelm people), but they’re not thinking something like, Here she goes again.

Okay, with all I want to write about, all those things that are sparking in my brain, I want to stop right here. I want to go back and delete that last paragraph. Why did I write it? Why am I opening up like this? I never do. It’s too dangerous. But then again, when I started this blog, I promised myself that I’d not give my inner censor control, that I’d kick her to the curb. She’s not needed, because there are plenty of other censors in my life. So, I’ll add just one more thing to this train of thought (train wreck?): the one thing about all the criticism and questioning and insulting that knocked me off my feet. It came from people who had known me for a very, very long time, and among all of them, not a single one was willing to trust me on whatever it was I was sharing, on whatever it was I had learned, explored, or discovered. Hadn’t I proved myself to them? I was surprised and disappointed that none of them was willing to look back over all the years they had known me and just trust me. It’s what I would have done with them. If a person had earned my respect in one or two important matters, that respect carried over into just about anything they espoused. I might come to find out that they were wrong, or eventually I’d come to disagree, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt because of who they were. I see now that it’s possible that I was being presumptuous in assuming that I had earned their respect in the first place.

This state of affairs gnawed at me for years and years, but I’ve learned that other people’s thoughts and opinions about me are not my responsibility. I still work to edit myself before opening my mouth, and I have a long mental list of subjects that are off limits with certain people, but now, my holding back is not inspired by spite. It is simply the best strategy for preserving my own peace of mind and heart.

Most importantly, I’m come to understand that people are the way they are because of human nature, and pride is a major component of human nature. If our first instinct is towards self-preservation, everything else will flow from that, but thriving is better than simply surviving, so we go above and beyond: trying to control everything and everyone around us, clinging tightly to what we know and resisting change, not wanting to be duped, patting ourselves on the back for every accomplishment, and smiling smugly and thinking I showed him! whenever we win. Overcoming these tendencies is impossible without the grace of God, and every single day, I find myself falling far short of the person I’d like to be. Pride always rises within me, and overcoming it even a little is a near-constant battle, but it’s one that is worth fighting. Pride has been called the deadliest of the seven deadly sins, because it tells us that we can do it all ourselves. It says that we don’t need to rely on anybody else, least of all, God.

A few years ago, I read “Gimpel the Fool,” a short by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and I came away thinking, This is what it all about, but how will I ever get there? In the story, Gimpel is constantly being duped by everyone in his small village. He is cheated, abused, and ridiculed, but by the end of the story, when those who exploited him realize that their eternal souls are in danger, but his isn’t, they start to question who is really the fool.

At one point after reading the story, I read a blog post by Father Stephen Freeman on a book called Laurus, and I’ve wanted to buy it ever since. Yet, I haven’t, even though I seldom hesitate to put my hand in my pocket for a book. Why is that? Which aspect of my Dysfunctional Reader Syndrome is responsible for this? Written by Eugene Vodolazkin and set in Medieval Russia and Europe, Laurus tells the story of a healer whose powers fail with the most important person in his life, the woman who dies while giving birth to his child. Ravaged by the thought that his beloved might be in hell because of him and humbled by his own limitations, Laurus spends the rest of his life working to atone for his sins and redeem the soul of the woman he loved.

Maybe more than anything, what I’ve written here today is a reminder that I need to try harder, and since art and literature have proved over and over to be my best weapons in the war on pride, it’s time to get my hands on Laurus. Dosteoevsky’s Idiot and Anne Shirley will have to wait.

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