I have had a really rough last few days... and it has been, as it so often is, mostly a product of my internal state. My interaction with J.C. on Friday ripped a scab off a really deep wound, and exposed my underlying confusion about the purpose of my life.
Yeah, I'm a little dramatic sometimes.
Here's the gist: I have fought --and fought hard-- to find contentment in my life. I wasn't raised to be happy with the way things are, and I've always been drawn to people who were either beat up by the world or determined to save it, sometimes both. My folks were fairly dramatic people, and always trying to figure out why they were here, and subject to big highs and deep lows. So that's me, too... but I've been working hard for years to be ok with my life as it is, and the times when it's worked have been really rewarding and brought me a lot of peace... even though I still struggle with my sense that I should be doing something, y'know, BIG. Cuz y'know, I'm special and all that.
Well, as I've been attesting to on my blog, the whole contentment thing has been workin' for me lately. I mean, I'm still ME, and I complain a lot, particularly about work, but basically I've been walking around with a little song in my soul. That changed Friday... maybe it had already been changing, maybe it's going to be a fight every day of my life. J.C. is this Larger Than Life Washington, DC type... a defender of liberty in Latin America, political analyst, crusader... people call him from media outlets to ask his opinion on current affairs. He has a tattoo of the word "liberty" in ancient Sumerian on his back. I mean, dude is HARDCORE. He's travelled a lot, too. Almost been arrested for his political activities in some far-off places.
Being around him, I felt myself drawn to him with what I can only describe as the familarity of addiction. There's hardly anything that seems to satisfy me in some sort of morbid way than being around really interesting people and beating myself up for being so f'ing boring and cowardly by comparison. I'd given my testimony at Convergence about exactly this... trying to be healed of the compulsion to "save the world", since no one, NO ONE on this earth has the capacity to effect such massive change on their own, and the best work that is done to this end is done in the real sacrifices of everyday. I really believe this, but there is something deep inside of me that I haven't answered, that is still pointing me at me and saying "coward", "fake".
Maybe it's just the Old Accuser, doing what he does best, trying to knock us over --and knock us over hard-- at just the point when God is starting to do His best and most holy work in us.
As a way of pushing J.C. and my nagging feelings of worthlessness out of my head this weekend, I plowed ahead with the intention of finishing Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, and I am almost at the end of it now. If you've never read Jayber before, then a quick summary is that it's the story of a man's love affair with the place of his birth, and his chronicle of the goings on of that tiny township near the Mississippi (I think) River. It's a really beautiful book, for all the usual reasons that Wendell Berry's books are beautiful... his attention to the tiniest of details, the ring of truth and authenticity to all of his descriptions of places, people, and events.
It's the people in the book I've found the most compelling, though... the people, committed quietly to their shared lives and to one another, bearing with each other through trials, boredom, death, illness, and all manner of minor irritations and pettiness. Their love for and dependence on one another rings true. It's what so many long for, and lack, in Northern Virginia and DC... at least from where I sit, and I'm certainly not the first to note it. Sitting at Convergence on Sunday with a table of other Southern Virginia expatriates, most of whom are quite a bit older than me, I felt it most particularly. I've known these folks for just a short amount of time, but they feel so familiar. They tell their stories and I listen and I tell my stories and they listen and we all pay attention to the details of each other's lives, because we are all aware of the blessing of the other, of the immense value of simply being with one another. Listening, really listening, is a form of caring for someone... sometimes the only form we can really manage for whatever reason.
The juxtaposition of the two men --J.C. and Jayber Crow (who have the same initials, come to think of it... and of course they share these with Jesus Christ, but I won't try and read into that too deeply) -- and the struggle they represent within me has pulled and pulled at my attention over the last couple of days as I've read. I am deeply committed to being where I'm at, because it just doesn't make sense to live somewhere else. However, part of being where I'm at is being surrounded by people like J.C., who poke and prod at my peace with the seeming hugeness of their lives and their intellect. I am by no means an unintelligent person, nor am I without a sense of my responsibility to the world and to make the best of what God has given me, and people like J.C. really make me feel guilty. The question, of course, is what is truly the "best" usage of my gifts.
My Dad --who has driven an 18 wheeler into all lower 48 states, Canada and Mexico-- has this great phrase: "Wherever you go, there you are." It's one of those great, obvious Southern phrases, meaning no matter where you go, you will still be you, dealing with your own faults and failings and struggles. You will still be merely human, and you will still bring your own particular brilliance and your own particular bullshit to whatever situation you inhabit. I've found this phrase comforting for a long time. I can't NOT be me, and to be me includes to embody my values. When I stop embodying my values, my soul gets sick, and I begin to act inauthentic. I begin to die a little.
Somehow, I have to figure a way to embody my values, all of them. MY values, not someone else's. J.C., for all his adventurousness, lives a life that would be contrary to my values. I care about individuals, and I believe in the power of committing to a community and to a line of work that serves others. J.C. sees himself as serving a cause that is above all others. He has his vocation, and it has its downsides as well as its moments of glory. So do I.
I'm not Jayber Crow, either. I don't live in Southern Virginia and I likely will not return. I love the South, but I am not fully at home there, not fully satisfied to be a biggish fish in the small pond. I am, rather, just me, doing my best, here, now, where I'm at... and this has to be enough. The present is God's gift to me, and I want to be able to see it that way.