A Multitude of Infirmities, Part III: The Weapons of Dereliction

Everyone goes away.

In our lives we are forced to deal with death. Death – when the strings of a human instrument are cut loose, and all the music from that glorious vessel suddenly ceases to harmonize with our own melody. And for the rest of our lives we think on how sweet the lifesong with those long since passed players used to be. So the rapturous joy we once knew sours to ashes, and eventually the warm, golden light of memory mercifully seasons our sorrows into a palpable bitter-sweetness.

Death steals the spark of life, but it can never snuff out the fires the spark set alight while it burned brightly. Our lives may end, but the effect our life has on others, that is something that can endure long after we are less than dust.

Death is natural.
We understand it.
We walk hand in hand with it as an eventuality, though brooding and terrible it may be.

But there is a more terrible calamity than death and its name is abandonment.

Abandonment is the monstrous brother of death.

Death is a circumstance – Coming sometimes in the form of the midnight robber and other times in the guise of a metaphysical tax collector.

Abandonment is a choice – a mask of conscious delinquency that we choose to wear when love appears all too exhausting.

Do you struggle with the thought of people leaving you?

I know I do.

Every since my heroic, and beautifully hospitable Uncle Sonny died in 1993, I started coping with death and the emotional poverty it inflicts. When Sonny died I saw how it destroyed my mother, casting her into a depression that still has the ability to diminish her today.

When she talks about him now, over twenty years later, the wound still seems fresh.

I saw how his death wounded my Grandparents, Nanny Joy and Pa Lee. Nanny would talk to me about it sometimes while she sat on her enclosed porch while smoking a cigarette. This warm woman of incredible mirth would cast her eyes in some strange and distant fashion toward the ever lowering waters of Lake Leon – the pain of losing her son flowing out of her like an inexhaustible wellspring.

I saw how death changes people. I saw how it steals a portion of us away from ourselves when it robs us of those who help give us identity.

Human beings don’t have a choice in death. It’s why we do not hold dying against the dead.

We do, however have a choice in the effort we place in loving those around us. Which is why it hurts so very badly when the people we love choose not to love us in return.  That’s why abandonment is one of the most powerful tragedies we can inflict on someone else.

And if I’m not being clear enough about how abandonment and death are different, let me use a visual aide on what abandonment looks like.

This was found in a liquor store parking lot.

This was found in a liquor store parking lot.

 

I could have shown you the vast garbage mountains in India where first world nations have abandoned their care for their fellow man, and turned their home into a trash pile. I could have shown you the plains in Africa where a child with a swollen belly is dying of edema.

Instead, I wanted to show you that a parent chose booze over a child they created – a person abandoned love for the contents of a whiskey bottle. Because to them, their child stopped mattering more than the drink.

Human beings are their most cruel, not when they say “I hate you,” but rather when they say, “You don’t matter.” When we decide someone is irrelevant.

Irrelevant. What a horrific adjective when applied to the noun: human.

And it’s that arsenal of weapons, the weapons of dereliction that I am most afraid of. I’m afraid that people, no matter how hard and valiantly I try to love them, won’t love me back.
Not because I’ve wronged them, but because I’m irrelevant.

As human beings we need to matter. Belong.
We need to know that someone is waiting on us. Hoping to commune with us soon.
That there is a community with a hole cut into its fabric that is in our shape, and that only our unique form can fill it.

But when we tell someone that they don’t belong, we impose exile.
We wound them with the the knives of detachment.
We uncouple them from the connection that helps give them shape and purpose.

We neglect them.

We stop loving them.

And that’s where this infirmity of mine is chiefly rooted, because I feel loneliness and abandonment very deeply. It may have something to do with being the son of an alcoholic or having a clarity in solitude that I can’t find in the company of others most times. I am so afraid that if I’m not throwing my full affection at others they’ll forget about me. I worry that that the novelty of me will fade, and I’ll just be another mundane face in the crowd of faces my friend used to so dearly enjoy the company of.

A faded echo of a friendship.

Or that like the picture above, I’m afraid they’ll pick something else over me. Or worse, someone else, because I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t matter enough.

I know this is the part of the essay where I am supposed to make the hard right turn and bring you back into the fold of assurance. I’m supposed to tell you that no matter the height, or width, or depth of our troubles and anxieties, nothing can separate us from the love of God. That there are communities out there for us to fetter ourselves to, and find our deep purpose there and discover relationships which will keep abandonment in his cage.

The problem with that notion is this – everyone has a key to the monsters cage.
Abandonment is the nuclear option for human relationships and all of us have the capacity to push the button and rend a conflagration of hurt so tremendous that the emotional landscape might never harbor love again.

With that in mind, I suppose, I can only say that I’m going to love you, and that so long it is my power –  I’ll show you that you matter. I show you that you mean something to me. I’ll try to remove my armor of vainglory. I won’t drink a poison of loneliness. And I won’t raise the weapons of dereliction on you.

Because you’re worth it.

 

Advertisements

A Multitude of Infirmities, Part II: The Poison of Loneliness

Part II: The Poison of Lonliness
by C.S. Humble

Hell is other people.
– Jean-Paul Sartre

“What is hell? Hell is oneself.
Hell is alone, the other figures in it
Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from
And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.”

– T.S. Eliot

One of the challenges of living life at its top is that no matter how high the peak of joy, the anticipation of the great drop into the abysmal valley seems to cut a red line through whatever boon God above has delivered unto you. There is no kind word that doesn’t have a rejoinder of sorrow, no blessing that doesn’t seem to have a hidden cost. For it is true to say- no matter how brightly the sun may shine through the glory of the mid-day, the midnight is coming. And the midnight is always spent alone.

For me, the late hours -when the hands of the clock seem to turn most slowly – are spent here, in the solitude of a brightly lit screen accompanied by the soundtrack of each singular keystroke. This is the time when stories fill my head, the moments when dragons seem most real and there is no noble knight for me to call upon, or become, to slay the mighty monster; these twilight episodes where there is no St. George to slay the perilous foe.

These are the hours when the maw of darkness opens and devours me whole. The times when I eat most heartily from the fruit of the poison tree – when I imbibe the poison of loneliness.

As previously discussed in Part I of this series, Pride is the root of all my infirmities. Because I am a man firmly rooted in the soil of my own perseverance, I cannot endure the sinking devastation of personal inadequacy. And in truth, when I come to the end of my own abilities – when the powers of my own intellect and authorial stamina fail me- I’m left with nothing by which to keep myself upright. I, like many people I believe,  think that because I am not enough for myself I cannot be enough for anyone else. And so begins the great cycle of destructive thought that I’ll never be good enough for anyone.

I’ll never be as steadfast as people need me to be.
I’ll never be enough, in any regard.
I’ll never be worthy of love.

Saint Paul, through Christ Jesus, teaches us that Love is a thing given, not earned, and that is a concept that I struggle with. My pride – no, my vanity – refuses to accept the notion that there is a benevolent force who has liberated me from the shackles my own infirmities. Because how can there be a love strong enough to shoulder all the falseness, all the anger, and all the weakness which exists inside the human heart?

How can their be a balm of righteous care that can sooth each and every stain that I, let alone all the world, has amassed over our sordid and bloody history?

How can there be a fountain by which all humanity can come and be cleansed?

I think I’m finally starting to realize the answer, and I want to share it with you. Here and now, in this fragile moment –

I think that the defeat of pride can only come through surrendering. I think that submission to love is the only vehicle by which we are able to accept the Messiah grace of Christ.

Pride is the strong man who, with closed fist and drinking heavily from the bottle of loneliness, stands firm in the face of being always outnumbered and outgunned and says, “I’ll be the last son-of-a-bitch standing.”
Submission is the man, who dearly wants to be strong, but in his sobriety sees his weakness, and thus bends to his weary knees and says, “I am the bastard victim of a thousand self-inflicted wounds, and I cannot bear to stand any longer.”

Loneliness is a poison, administered to the self by hopes that we are capable to do for ourselves by our own means.

But if we were capable creatures, unto ourselves, then why do we yearn for the shoulder of a friend when the tremendousness of life bears down on us with all it’s stark ferocity?

If the prideful man is so strong, then why does he look for the hands of others to help him rise when he has fallen?

And how can solitude be such a wonderful companion, when in our solitude all we desire is the gentle, comforting hand of hope to guide us out of the valley of bleached white bones we have buried ourselves in?

When we cloister ourselves away from community and the caring fellowship of others, we aren’t proving that we are strong. Rather, we prove that we are afraid. But we don’t fear loneliness.  We fear vulnerability. We fear the knowledge that others will see us as we truly are – not firm, but brittle.

For the prideful man, such as I am and have admitted to being, the poison of loneliness is an easier drink than the elixir of life, which is fermented and aged in the submission to the strength of others. To realize that to love is commanded, but to be loved in return is divine.

And that is a divinity higher and greater than any mountain top one might attain by their own strength.

Learning to accept the love and care of others is to put away the drunkenness of self-reliance and find the moment true sobriety in this –

The care and affection of friends and lovers is the wellspring of life, from which flows the deathless power of God’s ceaseless and eternal love.

And so, what falls to us – to me – is the choice:

Do you drink of the familiar poison?

Or shall you imbibe from the cup of submission, wherein lies the fine wine which sustains the soul?

After that examination, love seems more potable now, more than ever.

I am lonely. In this way, confessed to you, I am infirm and lame.
But, I rejoice in this: “love covers a multitude of infirmities.”
Yours and mine.