Do You Believe In . . .

Hello from a little room in the Cathedral District,

Sometimes we want to believe in possibilities; we hope that what we have is reasonable or valuable, but it is hard to determine if that is true. Perhaps it is the reality that a good part of my life is coming to a close, and there are changes on the horizon. Perhaps it is my propensity for needing to plan. Perhaps it is even my expectation that I can make a difference in a world that seems more chaotic and unpredictable, and more hellbent on its own destruction. As I have a rather oxymoronic combination of hope and melancholia, there are times I find myself confused, struggling to make sense of others. As I look back on my life, this has been a rather constant companion of mine.

While I do not remember anything of my parents as a small child, trying to understand why they would neglect two of their children to the point, they lost them – or a mother could give a third child away to someone to never know where they are (and neither do I), is not something that makes sense to me, no matter how much I try to figure it out. In spite of a few years of living with a grandmother, a woman I still adore, the majority of my childhood and even beyond into adulthood, I made every effort to believe that I had something worthwhile. That battle was both internal and at times external. Today as I walked around, it came in an overwhelming manner once again. What I felt was demoralizing and it welled up like a beast from my past. As I walked around, I found myself examining my own worth and struggling to believe there was something of value. Perhaps most amazing was that I was able to hide it and go about the day as if it were normal, and nothing was amiss. As I sat in the Cathedral I think I felt like someone in a corner who could disappear and few would know. It was an profoundly intense and lonely feeling. Perhaps again, it was because I was trying to understand what I am trying to do, what I need, or perhaps do not need, to do. I am wondering if everyone struggles with the concept, the reality, of retirement the same way.

Sometimes I think it was because I generally felt like I was behind where I should be in terms of development, whether it was that I was smaller than everyone else, whether my starting college after everyone else my age, whether or not it was that I found my way through a maze of possibilities before I ended up in the academy. And once I figured it out or it figured me out, it seems like I have tried to make up for lost time. I have worked and worked crazy hours, but perhaps that is what kept me from taking care of my own self. I have been forced in many ways to manage my health situation. To not do so might have been fatal. So in many ways, I have been an incredible success in that area. I have done well as a professor, or at least I want to believe that is the case. There is my own struggle in believing that I can always do better. That might be my most profound demon. Not long ago, through conversations, I was pushed to understand my solitude, something that has lasted for over twenty years, with little change. How did I manage that or more significantly they asked how and why did it happen? While I think I have a reasonable handle on the external factors, I am not sure I have a clear sense of how my inner self kept that isolation possible. While I am neither female nor Muslim, their practice of purdah (living behind a veil or a curtain) might be a good metaphor of the past two-plus decades. And trying to come out from behind that veil has been a bit frightening. I am not sure how I might manage it, or if I will.

What I have been pushed to recognize is this: my work has been my escape from intimacy. The walls built, unbeknownst to the builder, are strong, and in spite of the ability of someone to see into that, there is more fear from their gaze than I sometimes realize. Today has been a day where little things pushed me to consider my place in the world. There was a young man asking for change, and I ignored his plea. As the day continued on, all I could think was I should have given him something. Do I understand the struggle and the nature of panhandling? Indeed, I do, but perhaps there was more of a struggle for this person than I realized. I felt like the person passing on the other side of the road. Phil Collins’ song “Another Day in Paradise” has been running through my head ever since. “Oh my Lord, there must be something you can say . . .” It seems too often we fail to care. These things haunt me. And even in this paragraph, I realize that I have ran away from the issue . . . thinking instead of other issues or other problems. What is in store for me? Where will I go? Will it make a difference and will it matter? What I am most afraid of, even as I often reclusively protect my solitude, is being alone. I am not sure that I have ever admitted that, even to myself.

When I find myself trying to believe that there was good in something, or in the someone, when that relationship was probably never a good thing (and I do not say that with any sense of malice), there is an issue. And I know undoubtedly, I did no better the second time, why would I even imagine wanting someone to be at my side again? Perhaps I am more clueless than I want to believe. And yet, I believe that loving someone is what makes us whole . . . it is what makes us grow and prosper. So why is it so difficult? Why is it so frightening? Much like when I tell my students how to write, and then I am reminded I should take my own advice, there is a parallel with relationships. I used to tell couples that being married would be the most difficult job they would ever attempt. I still believe that to be true, but in a much more thoughtful way than when I was that younger parish pastor half my life ago. I think, more than I want to believe, I was a failure as a spouse more often than not. I think there was so much more I could have given or have been willing to understand. I think this is my most profound failure as a person, and it now seems that it is the most consequential. I am amazed at my ability to want something and then I wonder if I unconsciously push it away at the same time? I have told some of a conversation with my graduate school counselor and his advice to me. When I called him the fall after COVID began, I told him that his advice was still ringing in my ears. We laughed about it, and there are elements that still cause me to smile, and yet today, it causes my eyes to well up in tears.

Sometimes, we are pushed when we least expect it to understand ourselves. Sometimes we are required to reassess what we have done, even in our distant past. Sometimes, we need forgiveness, which on one hand we have received, but on the other, the other will never forgive. Perhaps more importantly, can we forgive ourselves? This is where my childhood haunts me. If I was not good enough, worthy enough, valuable enough, why might I believe I am now? Again, please do not worry, I will work through it like I generally do, but on this rainy evening, it is proving to be a difficult task. I am reminded of another song that pushes me to rethink my lack of response today. It is a song by Everlast. The lyrics are tough, but honest. The reality of our inhumanity to others is front and center in this song. It haunts me as my actions did today. It haunts me as I struggle to understand my future . . . where it might happen, how it might happen, and if it will happen alone.

As always, thanks for reading.

Michael

Published by thewritingprofessor55

I am a professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and the director of and Professional and Technical Writing minor, a 24 credit certificate for non-degree seeking people, and now a concentration in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric. We work closely to move students into a 4+1 Masters Program with Instructional Technology. I love my work and I am content with what life has handed me. I merely try to make a difference for others by what I share, write, or ponder through my words.

3 thoughts on “Do You Believe In . . .

  1. Dr. Martin

    I too struggle with wanting something so badly but subconsciously push it away time and time again. As a gay man growing up in rural PA, I’ve always struggled with the want/need of feeling loved. Yes I had a strong support system from my family, but it just never felt enough. I grew up watching tv shows and movies portraying high school kids falling in love over and over again, but I never got to experience that. I never got to experience so many things that my friends have. I didn’t even get into my first real relationship until I was 20, but it was long distance. He lived over 3 hours away and I only got to see him a few times before things ended between us. To this day I yearn to have someone like that in my life, but blow away my chance’s almost every shot I get. I tell myself, “I’m a senior I don’t want to commit to someone when we don’t know what we’ll even be doing in 6 months time.” But in reading your blog post and writing this, I’ve realized I’m scared. Scared to put myself out there. Scared of rejection. Scared of getting my heart broken again. And I don’t know if or when I could ever push past my anxiety. I’m young and free to do whatever I want (within reason of course) but some nights I lay in bed and wonder, will I ever get over my fears and find somebody?

  2. Dr. Martin,

    I truly believe that everyone doubts their self-worth in the course of their lives. Circumstances may differ, but the idea of questioning if our lives have contributed to the world in some way is, I believe, a very human quality. I can assure you that you are not alone in this feeling, even though it comes in a later season in life than some others may experience it. Personally, I too am coming to the end of an era; in a little more than six months, I will be a college graduate. This looming deadline has, in some ways, made me begin to question whether I have done enough during these past four years. However, I am lucky to have people in my life that get me out of my head and give me perspective on issues like you mention above. For instance, my father expressed that I should go actively pursue my passions before time has a chance to take my youth and opportunity from me. This is something I never would have thought I would hear my father say out loud, although both my parents have always been very supportive no matter the time or situation. Regardless, this interaction brought to light the intense need to seize opportunity. I’m realizing my biggest fear is regretting what I didn’t do because of fear; whether that is the fear of not fulfilling my own expectations or failing or looking stupid. Life is too damn short.

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