“Baby kissing mirror image.” Uploaded to Flickr on July 29, 2005 by roseoftimothywoods
So I was at a baby shower today, with friends. It may shock you to discover it was a peaceful, fun and lighthearted hang out session with people I love, surrounded by yummy sweet (yet oddly healthy) delicious food, and great story. Babies, young mother stories, presents, strawberry wine, mimosas, and chasing the guys away with threats of tasting baby food.
There were hand made blankets, adorable plush animals, and cute but gender neutral clothes (mostly). The games were silly but low key, and fortunately not disgusting or overly embarrassing– or worse yet, Calvin Ball for the status conscious.
But it is really amazing, in some ways, that I had such a good time. Only because in that circle, Life is literally Good.
There were no snarky comments about saying goodbye to freedom, or even grousing about the tough parts of child rearing. Because we already know these things. They don’t have to be rehashed when you are celebrating the coming of new life into the world. There is hope, there is gladness, and it is unvarnished joy.
And joy is different than happiness. It is a firm foundation, and acknowledgement of goodness at it’s core, and is mostly comprised of gratitude. Gratitude for friends. Gratitude for the gift of life, gratitude for the bond of family. Because the friends you invite to these sorts of events, to even meet your embarrassing family members, are pretty much family you have chosen. It’s the acid test to reveal our origins to the people we want to impress, that we can go beyond impressing and to the truth of what we are.
What we forget is that when we are at our best, we are telling truth about ourselves, even as we confess our sins is also truth about who we are. Because life is beautiful, even when it sucks. Suffering and death are not the whole story. And that is the devastating truth that the philosophically WISIWIG totally miss.
Otherwise, cynicism would be pro-survival. It’s not. It leads to death as surely as holding your breath too long. You can do it until you turn blue and things get dim, but eventually your lungs will force air back into you with a kick of your diaphragm. And there’s a reason for that. And it’s not some mind control conspiracy going on in your genes.
So, you might be asking yourself– “So you believe in all this candy coated nonsense. Why on earth would a baby shower be depressing, even potentially?”
Not to put too fine a point on it… I turned 39 this year. My husband and I do not have children. We are quite pleased with each other, and there’s nothing wrong with our marriage. Do the math. I haven’t actually hit menopause yet, but the odds are not great for little ones of my own.
YOU would think that the more modern, hyper-critical “reality based” snarkfest with a side order of irony would be more the spinster+1’s style. You’d think I’d get estrogen poisoning, or maybe flee with the vapors. Nope. This morning, dire predictions of hiding in the bathroom, crying haunted me. But it didn’t happen. Why?
Because I did not have to be ashamed of my pain. Because I did not have to hide, it faded with a touch of sunlight. Their joy eclipsed whatever sob story I may have entertained and wiped it all away. It’s a gift; I can’t take credit for that. That it was possible to welcome a bit of hope, even in my place of pain… speaks of something greater.
Not necessarily hope for myself, but hope in the eyes of young fertile friends who understand love and joy in the first place.
It reminds me that not everything in the world is up to me. That God will cheerfully take up all burdens, and offer me rest in his Love. If I could bottle it and sell it, I’d be a billionaire. But I’m okay with that being impossible. The world would be a fairly horrible place if you could turn real joy and love into a commodity. Love’s not a zero sum game; it is created out of nothing.
The most cheerful people I’ve ever met have suffered the kind of hardship I cannot imagine. One was an Indian fellow, a math prodigy. He went to all the best schools, he won competitions, and contributed value to some of the worlds toughest problems.
Then, at 18, he crashed. Most math minds do, sooner or later– but the average is at about 30. One of the distinguishing features of Einstein is that he functioned in that headspace until he died. Most mere mortals are not graced with that longevity.
If you lose this thing you have focused your whole life and livelihood around– especially in a place like India, things go from great to crap in an eye blink. He was thrown out and disowned by his parents. Most teens here would think that’s a good thing, but they’ve never seen the streets of Calcutta. Or understand how caste and relationships work in India. Basically, if your parents give up on you, so do your friends.
His crash had been epic. He lived with the Little Sisters of the Poor for a while. To give you an idea of how low that goes, the LSP’s primary mission was to give AIDS patients a place to die with dignity. Fortunately, after these nuns intervened on his behalf, his grandparents made him an offer.
“Go to America. Seek your fortune.”
So, he came to America, and decided to dwell in my high school home town, and wound up being a physics teacher. A brilliant, top notch instructor– beached in an inner city school. Yes, he taught AP Physics, but, also intro classes for remedial students.
It’s the sort of job with a high burnout rate. Yet, he seemed to be the happiest man in the world. It was that simple joy at existing in the world, a delight with the little things in life, that spoke to me of the depth of what he knew the world was, and could be.
The more you see, the more you know that what is seen can’t be the whole story. Because context is everything. How can you know you are really seeing what’s in front of you if you don’t have that context? What’s the bigger story behind the mess, financial struggle and challenge that child rearing brings? What’s the bigger picture behind a man who found a greater challenge with teaching teenagers a new way to see the physical world around them, and infuse it with the math he could still do and take joy in?
Those things are all immaterial. We tell each other stories about how they exist, and those stories are far more valuable than just making us feel better. Purpose isn’t just a panacea, it too points to that superstructure that shifts reality into a comprehensible whole. But then, mathematics and all ideas are metaphysical, too. If they don’t exist, where does that leave us?
This is where we get the concept of Vocation. Like child rearing, it is giving more than yourself back for what you have given. It sending joy forward into the world to make existence even better.
Because living out a joyful life is more than just amassing a lot of happy times. It’s even more than fulfilling a plan, or having all the dominoes line up just right. That is great when it happens, but it often doesn’t. There’s something more, and it’s there, and it doesn’t generally depend on outside circumstances, or even finding that place where you are home. To make things confusing, when you find joy, it can seem like all of these things have happened. It is a process we call love.
The only way I know of how to explain how all of this happens is to describe it’s opposite.
The best way to be miserable is to enforce a reality that isn’t there. The excellent map of this is one who molds reality by manipulation, to make it what she’s already imagined. Always applying pressure to those she knows, she gets everyone to bend to her vision.
Yet finding faults, there has to be a reason why it did not turn out as planned, and so victims must be established and villains proclaimed and vanquished. Running running running, just to stand still. It is depressing, exhausting, and ultimately futile. The classic image of the Bridezilla, or any individual regardless of sex, who must deny what is to make what should be.
I have often been guilty of this. The maps are useful because they show not only how this malfunction operates in terms of output, but also how one can fall in.
However, the way out is not to give up goodness, truth, or on ideas themselves. The only way to accomplish that in this life is to trust in God. This is only a small lowly sliver of what Aquinas meant when he said, “God is… Existence Itself.”
I did not stay home today. I decided to give up on my own predictions, and just to see what would happen. I adjusted (with help) what I could offer by what I was capable of, and let the rest ride. Whatever I felt this morning, I decided to not carry it with me into my friend’s home. So I took in a fruit bowl, rather than a lot of baking I really didn’t have time — or the energy– to do. I let the day decide what it would bring.
Because you can only change yourself, and have no control over outcome of most things. And forcing desired outcomes internally necessarily means denying reality. This leads to buying into those dangerous thought eddies that lead to more pain.
The best you can do is trust, and set sail. Then trim the sails and aim for the best possible outcome, enjoying every small moment as a gift.