Yeah, I’m a bit troubled. Unsettled. Angry. Not at peace. Enraged.
I suppose any of those feelings are appropriate, and even if they aren’t, they exist. I think I remember that feelings can’t be wrong, just the actions they inspire may get us into trouble. OK. It still feels like a Category 5 hurricane is making landfall while an earthquake is occurring, a volcano is erupting, and an F4 tornado is raging, all within my cranium. Which is located inside a dumpster that is on fire.
Whenever I am experiencing this level of unrest, I have to do some digging to discern the roots of the feelings. What is eating at me? What gremlin is gnawing on the little patch of peace that I’ve been cultivating?
These days, I do not have to dig very deeply. I want to say it’s the racism, stupid. But, that’s not directed at me personally. In all honesty, this unrest starts well before I even get to that. It’s about me, and how I’m living, how I’m walking (or stumbling) through my life right now.
I am still rather proud of myself that I completed and filed my 2020 federal and state income tax forms. But that was a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still getting notices from the ACA saying that I have not verified my income. So, I have to call them. I have not done that. Not sure why I haven’t done that, because the mild shame of not having completed the required tasks is gone. That’s usually what keeps me from following through on stuff like that. But still, I am self-absorbed with believing that I’ve done something wrong, as usual. I’ve done something wrong, and I’ll be found out shortly, and there will be consequences. Next.
The next thing on the inventory list is that I’ve applied for a job. It seems like the absolute most perfect job for me, based on where my heart is, where my head is, where I am in life. It’s a justice associate position at the Unitarian Universalist Association, and is a staff position that involves writing and strategizing on justice issues for the organization. I have wanted to work for these people for quite a while, and to have an opportunity to do that, and within my community of faith, sounds like a dream come true.
I discovered the posting for this position quite by accident, and it was a tremendous surprise. I excitedly read the job description to make sure I met the requirements. Immediately, I retrieved my resume and made some revisions that were hopefully in line with the job description. I went back to the job posting, scrolling down to the application instructions, and found that email was their preferred method of submission. With the same level of excitement, I composed a wordy email, describing why I wanted the position and summarizing my qualifications, attached the resume, and hit the “send” button. Done. Good job!
So, that was almost exactly a week ago, and I haven’t heard anything from them.
I woke up around 4 a.m. yesterday morning, mainly to go to the bathroom for the 100th time, but something else was on my mind. Just a faint but insistent jingle in the back of my brain…like maybe I forgot something in the kitchen that was about to explode or catch fire, or I’d left the front door open. From some dark crevice of my mind, seemingly nowhere, thoughts of a cover letter came seeping in. I had not written a cover letter, but had included some relevant facts and arguments in the email that I’d sent. All of a sudden, I had the sinking thought that I had done everything all wrong.
Suddenly, I was fully awake (not conscious, but awake) and writing a cover letter. It took more than an hour to find an effective format and make a semi-coherent alphabet soup. A couple of re-writes and a couple of hours later, it was done. I sent the whole thing in a new and far less wordy email, this time attaching both resume and cover letter. I didn’t reference or explain the previous email.
So, I’ll wait to see if there’s any response this week. I still believe I’ve done something wrong, but so be it. I hope I can get an interview, or some consideration. It would be a really good thing if I got the job, money least of all.
The pay isn’t stellar, but it’s not bad, either; it’s way more than what I’ve got coming in at the moment, and it has benefits. It would be a fully remote position, which is exactly what I have been looking for. The big thing I need from this is a win, a victory, a success. Affirmation from the Universe that I’m on a viable path for now, that I’m in some kind of synchronicity with where I want to go.
So, that’s done. Still cursing and berating myself for not having realized that I needed to send a cover letter. I had gone through the job description so fast that I missed a bunch of information. I could have addressed some of their requirements in the cover letter, and/or on the resume’, but I didn’t. I am still my own worst enemy, but right this second I’m trying very hard not to call myself the most stupid person who ever lived.
Back to me. There are quite a few other feelings rolling around in my head right now, though, totally unrelated to the job application. I suppose the more constant source of the disruption in my psyche is the unrest that continues to manifest in the world around me. That’s beyond unsettling.
I was thinking earlier that I’m not sure about God, but I’m pretty sure about the proverbial Satan. Evil is afoot. Knowing that you are harming someone in a profound way, that you alone are causing their immediate suffering, that you are free to relieve that immediate pain…and you persist in causing it…that, to me, is the embodiment of evil. It is sadistic.
I cannot see where such evil has any redemptive value, if such a thing exists. More to the point, how can someone who perpetrates such intentional and emotionless acts display morality, or even humanity. They appear to walk like everyone else, talk like everyone else, but their hearts are unlike most other.
I understand, or at least comprehend, there is evil in the world. There is suffering, there is pain, there is immorality. I understand that human beings do hurtful things – hurt people hurt people. That is part of the essence of humanity. But we can shift our perceptions, change our convictions, our course, and do something different. We can back up, make amends, apologize, stop the harmful action. This is how we came to be here – trial and error. Nothing more profound than that, no matter what we think.
But there are some amongst our ranks who see nothing wrong with harming others in the realization of their own self-interests. Or even for less substantive reasons – just for the fun of it. Sociopaths have no conscience. Psychopaths have no conscience, and no remorse. Perhaps these are simply aberrations found randomly in the human genotype, but what is my responsibility in that dynamic?
My UU faith speaks to me of respecting the inherent worth and dignity of all beings. In principle (fun fully intended) I have no issue with that. Unless…there is perpetration of evil. Does evil give me a pass on respect? On recognizing the worth and dignity of the evil-doer?
Is it good enough to have respect for a person’s inherent worth and dignity in my head, in my heart, but shun all proximity, even non-physical? Is it good enough to proclaim my respect for people who do the most horrible things to others but refuse to be in their company, in the same physical space? Is there supposed to be suffering associated with practicing this acknowledgement of a monster’s inherent worth and dignity?
I think of Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun who became know for her anti-death penalty stance. She established a profoundly spiritual relationship with an inmate on Louisiana’s death row, Robert Lee Willie. Willie had been convicted of the rape and murder of a young woman, and sentenced to death. Sister Helen came to know him as a person, as a man, as someone who knew that he had done a horrible thing and understood he could not make viable amends for that in our system of justice, other than to surrender his life. He could not bring his victim back, no matter how sorry he was. And he understood he was going to die.
The point of the nun’s relationship with this murderer, as I see it, was to prove there are really no absolutes in life, and that even within the persona of a heinous murderer lies some connection to that Universal power greater than ourselves. For her, that power is God, Father and Jesus Christ, Son. I don’t know what it may have been for Robert Lee Willie, but the case might be made that he encountered his own sense of humility, an understanding that he was not God, Father or Son or executioner or anyone capable of making the decision to end someone’s life.
But he had done that. He had ended someone’s life, in a brutal and merciless fashion. How do you truly atone for that? How do you look back on that and recognize your own humanity, let alone expect to be forgiven by human or deity? If so, does that mean an irrefutable shift in his character or spiritual constitution?
And what of forgiveness? When I have been wronged, the hurt outweighs any philosophical exploration of the power of forgiveness. No matter what well-meaning people want to insist when they urge me to forgive those I repel because of past betrayals, I continue reject those who have perpetrated profound hurt and suffering upon me. Forgiveness, proponents say, is for my own well-being. In my estimation, Keeping these less than trustworthy perpetrators out of my life is for my own good.
When I am wronged, and betrayed on the deepest levels, I cannot see. The rage explodes, uninvited, unbound, like an ageless volcano that has been waiting a several million years to blow its top and spew molten rock a mile high. There is no reason, there is no moderation. The rage is a blinding, all-engulfing and thick coating of simmering bile that spews putrid lava, which I imagine smells like brimstone, or Hell.
I cannot see, and I cannot feel. Feeling is the last sensory input that remains, but once the lava and the dense fog of the response have battered me, there is only numbness. The pain is still there, and the pressure of everything I want to emote but can’t. Again, it’s like an itch I cannot scratch. Sensation with no satisfaction. I am searching for some vent, some air hole; I am trying to breathe but the air is suffocatingly hot. It burns my lungs, but there’s no solution for that.
I am burning from the outside in, while combusting from the inside out at the same time. My brain feels hot to the touch, but that seems irrelevant because my fingers have been reduced to numb stalks. I am running. Running inside my head. Running for my life, but there is no gust of cooling wind, no rush of air. Trying to escape, but there is only more terrain, a flat and unforgiving surface of pebbles, rocks, boulders, visible only as each foot descends.
Not running any longer, stumbling, staggering. Not erect any longer, but hunched, half bent at the waist. Not conscious any longer, but zombie-like, wide eyed, a collection of involuntary instincts. There is no fight, only flight. There is no thought, only reflex. There is only the escape.
Escape. Escape from what, I wonder? What is the threat?
The threat, as much as I can interpret, is that I will die. This pain of betrayal, rejection, negation of my innermost self will cause my death. It will kill me, horribly. This is the total blackout of rational thought when an episode of rageful dissociation is occurring. So, I fully understand crimes of passion. I fully understand that passion is not limited to love, or sex addiction, or broken marriage vows, or money. It depends on one’s level of attachment to such things.
I think my mother could have killed my father at one point. Anybody can kill. Anybody. I don’t think the same was true for him. It’s not that she loved him so deeply and could not do without him, or allow anyone else to have him, it was the betrayal of all that she held as truth in the world – that if you follow the rules, you’ll get what has been promised. If you do what is expected of you, and sacrifice accordingly, you’ll get your reward. That is how life works. Follow the rules and you can’t lose.
But she did lose. She felt that she was following all the rules, and she lost. I would contend that she didn’t follow all of the rules, but she believed that she was doing everything to the letter of the law. And the letter of the Church. And she did not get the rewards she believed were due. To her credit, as bitter as she was at one point, she never fully gave in to that rage, that betrayal of trust in the Divine. She was not a pleasant person for a while there, and she was kind of mean, but she maintained her faith as she had learned it, and she went on. Nobody died.
So, there’s yet another question I have about inherent worth and dignity…in the context of those who, in my opinion, surrender their worth and their dignity by doing harm. Knowingly doing harm. Often, intentionally doing harm for no other purpose but their own sadistic amusement. But, going a level deeper, is that line between good and evil dynamic, such that if you choose to cross it, you can cross it again at some other point?
What forces make it possible for some people to consciously retreat from that line separating humanity from depravity, bringing the good matter in contact with the anti-matter? What causes one person to cross the line, with or without hesitation, while another pulls back?
In recovery work, we are told that if we are spiritually fit and maintaining a good relationship, or connection, with a power greater than ourselves, we will withdraw from the temptation to drink as though from a hot poker. We are also taught that willingness is the key to establish that connection. So, I must be willing to stay on the proverbial sunny side of the street, that no matter how enticing the Dark Side may seem. Interestingly, that willingness seems quite fluid some days.
God, or Buddha, or Alla, or whatever flavor of divinity floats your boat, is the key to maintaining one’s humanity, and refusing to jump headlong over to the Dark Side. Maybe, on a less esoteric plane, it’s the resignation that you are alone in the world, that Hell is what you have. There isn’t anything else, so whatever you do here matters not. Ultimately, You matter not.
Perhaps that is the point of redemption in the Christian context – you have a spiritual awakening and understand that you are not the only sentient being of consequence in the world, and that change in perspective reunites your soul with the Divine. Um, Ok. That sounds good, but is it that simple?
It sounds like forgiveness is on some greater, cosmic level – you didn’t believe, you rejected the prospect of being connected more or less equilaterally to other beings, rejected the reality of being human. And suddenly you’ve seen the light and all is forgiven? I suppose that is why there’s a death penalty. There are consequence, says the human in the black robe.
I don’t know. And that is the point. I don’t know. And neither does anyone else, because we are not divinities. We have not been through a death experience and returned to explain what happens. Every organized religion and belief system know to human kind may well be wrong. We could be mutant aliens from some other universe, refugees from a place for which we have no frame of reference. Maybe that explains our obsession with territorialism and immigrants.
This is necessarily getting to be an absurd line of discussion, but only to prove how much choice we have. We do not have to believe what some guy, or some woman, says about the Divine from the front of a house of worship. (And we certainly don’t have to give them our money to do that).
So many humans truly believe they have no choice about what they believe, and they must work to change my choice to not believe. They are just saving my soul, however, so I shouldn’t be upset. My response to that is…you worry about your soul, and let me worry about mine
Once again, this kind of contract elevates a human beyond their pay grade, and certainly beyond their level of spiritual competency. Perhaps that is inherently human – attempting to be more than we are equipped to be. Always wanting what we don’t have. Like me wanting to be a roller derby star when I didn’t even know how to skate.
It’s human nature, I suppose, to compare our insides to other people’s outsides. If Big D. has an Escalade, and he is cool and gets all the attention and all the respect and everybody wants to be with him, then I’ll get what he gets if I just get the Escalade. Maybe I’ll just steal his – all that other stuff I want is portable, right? Um, no. Not so much.
For now, I will attempt to stay in my square, in my little corner of the Universe. It’s a really big place, so I think I have some room to bump into the walls and fall down a couple of stairwells if I can’t find my way. I suppose my work is to make sure I know where I am, keep the floor swept, and open the windows. That is all.