Good early morning from my study,
In a little over an hour, I have to leave and take my niece to the airport. She has been visiting for about a week, with a short trip to New Jersey, and presented at my Writing for Multiple Media class the other evening. She is an amazing person. She is intelligent, witty, insightful, multi-talented, and one of the very few people I might trust as completely as we conditional humans are able to do. She is also my God-child, and somehow, I guess perhaps it is that difference that has made us close. I am not entirely sure. I will have to pull out a picture of her when she was small (three or so) and post it here if I can find it.
During the past few weeks I have been reminded of the frailty of life again. It is amazing to me as I was writing something else earlier this morning that I have come this far in life. What does such a statement mean? “What does it mean to be successful?” I found myself writing earlier. What does it mean to say, “I have made it.” Is there truly even such a possibility? Is making it something that needs to wait for the afterlife? Do we make it in this life? What is “it”? While the cliches about life abound and both poetry and writing are full of them, it seems that perhaps life has little meter or rhyme. One of my students, who has been accepted to graduate school will sometimes come into my office and say, “Dr. Martin, you seem melancholy today.” Or more than likely, she has just deemed me as such. What is interesting is she is correct. There is a certainly degree of melancholy that never leaves me. Is it because I was adopted and told I did not belong there? Is it because I have failed in two marriages? Is it because I struggle with a chronic illness and will never have a “normal” body? It is all of these things, and none of them.
I sometimes wonder, perhaps more often than I should, why does it all matter? and yet, then I find myself trying to work harder, be better, understand more completely, live more successfully . . . I keep striving to improve my existence and the existence of those around me . . . sometimes “one sentence fragment” at a time. Ultimately, I do believe it matters in the lives of those I touch. I do believe that somehow making their lives better, more manageable, more hopeful, more prepared is the right thing, the moral thing to do. As someone who works hard, and worked hard to get to where I am (and that is not to say I have done it alone. The names of those who have helped me is legion, and I do not mean that in an evil sense for those who would recognize that reference.). I think that is why I have always seemed to work in, be employed in, perhaps, thrive in, positions where I was around other people. Yet, in my older age, I have also learned that I appreciate my solitude. That is perhaps why it is a good thing that I might miss that which I have not had. It is not the missing, it is the not having. Sometimes, in spite of what people think, I am not as giving as it appears. So perhaps at this point, I am sounding a bit like a selfish bastard, if you will. No . . . it is not that I am innately selfish or even self-centered, it is that I am not sure I can believe that people will ultimately be there when the chips are down. Perhaps it is that I believe too deeply in Luther’s dyad: “simul justus et peculator”.
Perhaps it is because at this point I too wonder, in spite of an MDiv, in spite of my life being spared more times than I might even be aware, where is God in all of this? Or is there? While I find myself believing in the divinely inspired nature of the scriptures, I am not that person who believes the Bible to be inerrant or infallible. As a person trained in historical critical method of biblical interpretation. I do believe in the contextually of those texts, and I already understand that believing that does not have to get me to the point where I question God or God’s intentions. I am not sure I am questioning intentions or even existence. I am merely wondering things that push me beyond the easy “platitudes” of why something is the way it is. I am not content to merely ask the question of why do we find ourselves in the circumstance in which we do – neither do I find it comforting that things seem more temporal that I wish they were. The response that “it just is” seems to be the easy way out.
So at this point, of what am I certain, you make ask? My answer is “that I seem certain (note the qualifier already) that nothing is certain”. Is that qualifier a sign of hope? A wistfulness that is might be something better, and that if I search long enough or hard enough, or I merely have enough faith, it will happen? No . . . as I write this I believe that we are merely confronted with circumstances and those circumstances offer opportunities. Perhaps the more important question is what do we do with our opportunities and how do they affect us? I believe too many times we let our opportunities escape, either because we do not realize them or we are afraid to step up and use them. When people do step up and use them, we might accuse them of being selfish or unfair. I believe that people react or respond the way they do because of their own experiences. As I have been working on an article about the “rhetoric of place”, and if you have been following this blog, that is not a new focus, it is a reoccurring one for me, you know that I wonder about what give someone a sense of belonging. That is how I understand place.
When Jennifer, that is the niece of whom I wrote earlier in this post, was barely four years old, her father had already passed away. I was baby-sitting and a man came to their doorway. That salesman asked if her mom or dad was there at the time. She looked up with her amazingly beautiful brown eyes and said,” Mommy is shopping and Daddy died and he does not live here anymore.” The man was stunned. I came to the door and he stuttered apologies. I said, “it is okay; she is merely telling you about her reality.” She had accepted that her father was no longer in her life. A pretty astute acceptance for a four year old. Earlier today I told someone how I understood what it meant to be successful. I then followed it up with I have not been successful, but that I had accepted that. Acceptance is not fatalism. Acceptance is understanding the reality of our lives or in this case our existence.
I wonder if we have been conditioned to believe that there is some warranty, some promise that if we just do the right things it will all work out and we will be successful. I guess what I find myself believing is that we can do the right thing; we can have the right job or the right relationships, but none of that means we are successful or that “we have made it”. My father used to say, “There are no free lunches.” I find myself once again being my father. It is not a case that the warranty is broken. I believe perhaps (again I am qualifying) that there is (or was) no warranty to begin with. I tell my students that their tens of thousands of dollars invested in an education does not educate them; it does not guarantee them a job upon graduation. There is no what ifs, in spite of what we are always thinking. There is only life . . . there is only this. It is what we have. It is for that very reason it is valuable.
Perhaps it is our inability to even attempt to understand the difference between the conditional and the unconditional. Perhaps it is unwillingness to think beyond the surface. Too many are willing to go through their lives merely following what has happened or becoming the victim. While there are genuine victims, even then there is a choice (and certainly not an easy one to accomplish many times). We have the choice of continuing to be victimized or the choice to work to move beyond. Moving beyond is not allowing experience to make your decision for you. It is a difficult thing to work with or on, that is for certain. As noted, I could be the victim of this disease called Crohn’s and at times I have certainly felt like one, but that would make my life more difficult. It would make me more difficult (and we know that is not needed). I am all about moving forward. I am all about living with what I have been given. I am happy to go to school today and see what might happen. I am temporary, but I am okay with that. Knowing is most times better than not knowing.
The picture is a sketching of a picture from the day at Stomp with Melissa and Jordan . . . it is a nice memory.
My pondering for the day. Thanks for reading.
2 thoughts on “The Warranty is Broken”
“Acceptance is understanding the reality of our lives or in this case our existence.” This is a very powerful statement Dr. Martin. I have a feeling that I will be thinking about this sentence for a long time.
I often find myself asking the same questions about what it means to be successful, what it means to accept things as they are, and what everything means in the grand scheme of things. I have a problem with overthinking, and as I write this it is so late it’s early and I have to be at work in a few hours. I figured when I couldn’t fall asleep earlier, I might as well accept my situation and try to get some work done.
At times when I find myself wondering about my own existence, I am drawn back to one of my favorite books of the bible, Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I need to be reminded that my own personal conception of success looked (and sometimes still looks) a whole lot like chasing after wind. But the writing in that book is comforting not just because it is absolutely beautiful to me, but also because it reminds me that it is okay to observe the fact that our place in the world can be difficult to understand.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have had more family members tell me that they are proud of me than have ever said it before. To my own surprise, I have mixed feelings about it. The family members in question know me reasonably well, and know some of the hard things I have been through. It strikes me as odd that, knowing what they know, they have never congratulated me on making it through the things that have made my life so hard in the past. They are proud that I put on a backpack, wander between buildings every now and again, and sit quietly while someone talks in my general direction. Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to go to college, which makes me feel bad about feeling bad. I love my family more than I think they realize. But still, even though the school I was going to before didn’t have “university” in its title, it was still college. And just because I spent six years outside of a college setting after high school, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t attempting to claim an education on my own.
Yet, even acknowledging that I have mixed feelings about college, that my extended family can be frustrating at times, and even the fact that I, too, am generally a more somber person feels like a dramatic failure. The other week I was reminded of how badly I am at failing loudly when I broke something at work. I had prayed for humility earlier that day, and it seems God answers those ones pretty quick. I strive to be better at failing, better at getting back up, better at not letting my past define my present, and that is why I am thankful for your class, and the tremendous amount of grace people have offered me time and time again at Bloom. I have been confronted with difficult and serious questions about what I hope to accomplish, and I think there is a deep seated fear of failing, but perhaps more so of accomplishing something and still feeling somber on the other side of it. I am also afraid of wasting the grace I have been given, by my family, fellow students, professors, and by God. It is overwhelming sometimes to think about the distance between where I am and where I should be, and how that affects the people I love.
But I am going to keep getting up in the morning, putting on the backpack, going to work, and figuring out how to listen with a heart that is willing to be changed for the better. No more running away.
As always, thank you for your words. I am blessed by your presence, too Dr. Martin.