I’ve been kind of silent here. I just haven’t had anything to say. Or at least, anything worth saying or ready to say. Or better, I don’t know what’s worth saying and what’s not, which equals the following post. In fact, I might advise you to skip this one, and not waste your time reading this long self-absorbed rambling (and it is a rambling this time). Other posts here are much better than this!
Quiet desperation – reflecting on life since college
“Most men live lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them” – Henry David Thoreau.
That seems to describe me a lot right now. Quiet desperation. I have wanderlust again. Since my teenage years, I’ve loved to keep moving – packing lite, experiencing new things and places and people, trying to find something true and authentic about this world, about life, about God and God’s world. That’s how I panned out as a teacher overseas. But even here, now, things feel stuck.
Funny, when I graduated college I had this deep-seated, hard-to-explain, gut feeling. A feeling that my fate was locked into a certain, determined destiny. That I would fall into a chain of events by the mighty hand of God, events over which I had no control. But that was okay with me. A few months after that fateful graduation ceremony, it didn’t seem like that happened. Rather than being caught up in a great adventure, I was bogged down in an unfortunate, random waste of time, even until now. A few of my friends are finishing grad school this coming spring, and I’m nowhere close.
But as I contemplate what has happened since college, I’m starting to think this God-directed chain of events did happen; it was valuable. Just unexpected…
After graduating in 2010, I had a thrilling time in Thailand, got a CELTA certification there, then come back to the US trying to figure out a living. I did beekeeping a few days a week initially. Got a part-time office job earning just above minimum wage, then another part-time job doing homecare a few nights a week for a quadriplegic gentleman. But I was living in quiet desperation. I wanted to be in school full-time, and or find a set mission in life to launch into. Everything was temporary and in a state of flux. I was discontent then, but right now I miss the mobility I had. I lived in three different places in seven months, and spent a few overnights a week somewhere else for homecare. I practically lived out of my leaky car. It did leak! There was always a roll of paper towels in the back to lay out on the seats whenever it rained.
I see the value of that time, and I regret not enjoying it more. I was sort of like a vagabond, hanging out with friends, finding work here and there, fulfilling my bent for poverty (see below), and enrolled part-time in seminary (taking Hebrew from my favorite Greek professor). The FGA alliance I trip I went on by bus gave me a wind of inspiration. Working in homecare was a tremendously humbling and meaningful experience. My office job, as much as I hated data entry, brought many nice conversations and I had a hilarious boss who let me wear flip-flops and flannel shirts to work. Those 11 months of spinning in San Diego taught me a lot.
But then I ended up here in Kurdistan! Out of the twenty places I applied in so many countries, I got a job here, which was perfect for me in numerous ways I won’t enumerate now. I have a great job, great pay, great coworkers, and the work of teaching is meaningful. I’m living in this spacious apartment for free with utilities paid. I’m getting the money I need for paying my loans and/or going to school again. By the looks of it, life is good. And by how it worked out, more God-ordained than I initially thought. But I feel out of place…
The not-really vow of poverty
I’ve always been tight on money since graduating High School and going into “the real world.” Going through college was tough, as it is on most people. In the summers I worked 60 hour weeks so I could focus on my education during the school year, and filled the semester with plenty of extra-curricular and side-jobs too.
Somewhere along the line, I made a certain commitment, or mindset of some sort. I didn’t think about it much at the time, but it was forged in experience – I didn’t have a lot of money, but as I worked with homeless people every week, I saw people with a lot less than me. Furthermore, in my summer Thailand internship experience, I was shaken by poverty far more severe than the American homeless. In my Church History class at college I was disgusted by the obscene corruption and unholy greed of the Catholic Church yet profoundly impacted by St. Francis of Assisi and other monks who made vows of poverty and devoted their existence to helping others. I watched the movie on St. Francis “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” twice, humming along with that song “For Sister poverty we give thanks / For brother want we give thanks.” By choosing poverty they showed their authenticity. They’re not in it for money, but for weightier things like love and mercy and God’s glory.
I made a commitment, or a bent, very slowly over my college years, which was basically this: I will never be monetarily rich, but live simply. I will use the money I earn to 1)Support my simple existence 2)To help others, and 3)To finance my further education to enable my gifting to help others further.
It’s not really a vow. It’s not really poverty. And I didn’t follow it perfectly. But it did influence how I lived and thought. I made a rule for myself to not eat out unless I was going with someone else, thus if I’m to spend the extra money on take-out I will use it as an avenue to share life with another person. I didn’t always follow this. I was often a combination of alone, hungry, or lazy, and going to the Taco shop was too easy, assuming I happened to have cash in my wallet. Oftentimes having a lack of money helped me follow my commitment a little better!
Fast-forward to now – I have a professional white-colored job. I don’t go to work in a frayed work shirt anymore, ready for bees, as I used to in summers; or show up like I did to the quadriplegic’s home in my winter San Diego uniform of cargo pants, flip-flops, beanie, and sweatshirt. Now I show up in dress-shoes, button-up shirt, and slacks, making more money this year than I ever have in so short a time. I don’t know what to do. My lifestyle has burgeoned accordingly in some ways. I’ve been buying more music on itunes now. I’m buying clothes that fit me instead of waiting for random hand-me-downs. I eat out more. My apartment seems so huge and I have a room to myself… I don’t even pay my own rent! I’m not comfortable with this. I’m changing my modus operandi, not because my bent has changed, but because the opportunity is there due to this new environment. I’m no St. Francis right now. This is something to work out yet…
Dark Nights and Flashlights
As the Rooster sang in Disney’s Robin Hood, “Every town has its ups and downs. Sometimes ups outnumber the downs but not in Nottingham,” or in this case, this particular life recently. I’ve been through some rather low points lately. It reminds me of the idea of a “Dark Night of the Soul” perhaps, to quote the medieval mystic St. John of the Cross (I keep referring to medieval mystics. Billy Graham! There, I broke the trend). A lot of it is re-opening questions on things, re-examining various beliefs. I’m starting to come out of it… or better, I at least my soul has a flashlight now. I am really seeing a good view of how messed up I am, as if I’m taking advanced level course. In college is it was “How messed up Paul is 101” but now it’s “How messed up Paul is 307.” I better not find out there’s a 401, or I might cry. Anyway, “dark nights” like this are a valuable experience – I re-thought many things, was further shown my own ignorance and deficiencies, am more careful in coming to conclusions, basing beliefs on better foundations… stuff like that. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” as the old saying goes.
But the really unfortunate thing is I’m lagging in the close communion with God I once had. Sometimes no matter what you do doesn’t work, and you have to wait it out, knowing your perceptions are flawed and God exists outside your mind, walking with you even though you don’t know it. He never left, but I’m trying to figure out how to get to enjoying God’s presence again, which de facto leads to enjoying life again. God and life are inexorably connected. The less awareness I have of God the less awareness I have of life. I’ve also found that absence from God leads to nihilism pretty quickly. And nihilism has got to be the most un-inspiring philosophy of life ever (Don’t be a nihilist. That’s my advice for the day).
What to do with this blog…
I’m trying to figure out what to do with this thing. I just know I need an avenue for writing. If not, I’ll go crazy… maybe write on walls or something (oh, already did that, but it’s okay, I erased it). I can’t figure out a title I like, so they keep changing. Right now it’s called “Paul’s Blog,” which is very dull and uncool if you ask me. I want to get focus away from me and onto the ideas that are so much bigger than me. But, it’s changed a lot since I started in in December, 2009 (I was still in college then), and I’m unsure of what direction I should take it into. If you have any ideas, I’m all ears. That is, if you’re still reading this boorish monologue!