It’s silly, I think, the things we are capable of forgetting.
For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dutifully tried to get in the habit of making my bed. Having a made bed looks civilized. I find I function better in mildly civilized environments, where at least some manner of order prevails. The effort of establishing this small ritual ensues. Repeatedly.
Because what I keep forgetting is that I entirely loathe sleeping in a made bed. For one thing, the blankets feel either heavy and tight (and I need room to feel relaxed), or else they feel thin and flat. No comfy nest of coziness. For another thing, I tend to get chilly at night. I lay still, and my bodily systems shut down; with that goes my ability to generate heat. I was at a pretty young age when I grasped the principles of insulation. The point is to keep air from moving, and the more air you keep the better. By creating pockets of air that don’t move, you capture all the energy (in the form of heat) and keep it from drifting off. Hence the waffle-weave of long underwear, the crimped fibers of wool, and the fluffy nature of down. If you smooth out all of your blankets nice and flat and civilized, you miss out on so many opportunities for retaining heat. If, on the other hand, you make sure each blanket is wrinkled in a different pattern from each other–why, you dramatically cut down on how many blankets you need to stay warm! (Right now I’m using 4 blankets. If I “make the bed,” I’m cold and don’t sleep well. If I leave a messy bed, I sleep well.)
This is about as close to the bare necessities as one can get–How To Stay Warm At Night And Sleep–and still I occasionally forget, and feel as though I ought to reform my slovenly ways. Other people around me are living with neat beds. Their neat beds are proper and dignified. Mine does not meet the standard of well-kept. Yet conforming to expectations decreases my quality of life–it makes me less happy, and actually function at a lower level. And still, I am prone to forgetting. A small thing, yes; but the fact that it is such a basic thing is also precisely what makes it so concerning.
If I can forget about things as simple as how I sleep best (despite others’ expectations), what else am I capable of becoming confused about? Is there any limit at all? Likely not. I think of how often the writers of the New Testament said “reminding you again” and “remind each other” and other things of like manner. Forgetting what matters is apparently part of the human condition, and so we’ll never be quite free of it here. Sometimes it seems like it devolves into a constant game of hide and go seek. Is this–any of this–really important, or having I been imbibing the importance of others again?
I’m not surprised when I find out what is important to me. I’m frustrated that I’ve forgotten again, for all I’ve really done is rediscovered what I already knew. Like a brute animal being trained, it is only by repeatedly smashing my head against the same thing, over and over, that I gradually begin to understand How Important a thing is. Part of the curse must be in never actually learning, and part of perfection must be in not forgetting what was once known. In complete honesty, it makes me angry. I want to learn new things, not be continually reminded with how poorly I learned the first time. And why am I so susceptible to becoming confused by the things around me? I’m angry about that, too.
One might be tempted to say that it takes someone with a very strong vision for themselves to maintain their single-mindedness in a world full of pressures and temptations. I am, however, going to suggest the complete opposite. I think it is the idea that one can “make” oneself that gets us so confused. If we forget that we are created, then it becomes our responsibility to shape ourselves. And that’s when we stumble over all the things that seem like perhaps they are right, even if for us they are so wrong. If we are created, then the task is to observe what is and to be faithful to it. If we’re making ourselves, it rapidly becomes confusing. A lot of what we see other people doing appears to be good, and we dabble on a little of this and a little of that, and combine it all with a lot of over thinking of “what life is supposed to be like.” But a duck is not concerned with living the life of a pelican, and a wolf never tries to be a house cat. They know what they’ve been created to be, and they’re not very concerned with what anyone else thinks of that or what anyone else is doing, even.
This weekend, I have been struggling with the idea of backing out of the TA position that was offered to me for next semester. On paper, it seems like a good thing. It would look good on my resume. I like teaching. The school is struggling to find TA’s (they need 3 for that class, and so far I’m the only one). Everyone says the students would really benefit from me being a TA. I’d get paid, at least a little. It would be very dutiful of me. Very responsible. Very just-so and neat and orderly. I feel as though I Ought to.
But I think the answer is No. Because, in reality, I don’t like the topic and have very little respect for the teacher, and it’s on a Friday afternoon which is otherwise class-less. Of all the things that I could do on a whole wide day off, would being a TA really benefit me the most? No. Definitively. I’d be signing up for making myself miserable because I Ought to, and in doing so, NOT doing any one of the hundred million other things that would be better for me. In the name of guilt. In the name of it being a reasonable, responsible, society-sanctioned, over-achiever approved activity. Because some people do that, and it seems like it’s a good thing, so maybe I should try, too.
You may have laughed off my unmade bed. We all have our eccentricities. You may have shrugged off the TA position. Different strokes for different folks; not the right thing for you at this time, and that’s fine. But you should see the look of horror when I tentatively float the idea that after I graduate, I don’t want to work full time. That, my friends, is real heresy. I might say fantasy, which would be true in that I don’t think most people think it’s possible, but it’s more than that. There is such an undercurrent of disgust, of insult, of condemnation. This is what people do: they go to college, and then they work full time. You can work more than 40 hours, if you like, but not less. You filthy heathen.
I like my field. I am convinced that God uses me through my work. It’s good work. I don’t have a problem with “work” per se, and I’m not condemning anyone’s work schedule. It’s just that I also know I’m an introvert, and that spending that much time with other people continually leaves me so drained I want to cry. I know that I don’t do well with rigid structure, and I like things to move and flex, not grind on unceasingly around the week, the month, the entire calendar. And I know that there are a lot of other good things I can do with my time.
Society says it’s okay to say, “I’d love to spend more time with my grandmother, but I can’t; I have to work.” It’s okay to say, “I wish I could be there to help my friends who are having babies, but I can’t; I have to work.” It’s fine to say, “You know, it might be fun to get and train a therapy dog and go visit nursing homes and hospitals. But I can’t; because I have to work.” But it is Not Okay to say, “I can’t work that much; I have to go help my grandmother, and be there for my friends and go cheer up the sad and lonely people of the world.” I would say it’s regarded as being silly, but it seems to be to be met with more heat than mockery.
I’m not going to go into a lecture about priorities and making sacrifices for what’s important; I’m not going to explain to you why you should be like me. I’m just saying, working 40 hours a week for a paycheck from someone else can look like a good and responsible and proper thing to do. As does making the bed every morning. And maybe for some people it is; and that’s their business. But no where does it say, “Thou Shalt make your bed every morning,” or “Thou Shalt work 40 hours+ every week to earn your paycheck from someone else.” It is, in this society, utterly shocking. That doesn’t make it wrong, and in fact, does not mean it isn’t what I truly ought to do.
And am I telling you that? Or telling myself? Not working for someone else full time is perfectly in keeping with who I am, and the idea doesn’t disturb me. But being so out of step with the world around me apparently does, because I’ve been investing a lot of energy into trying to convince myself that the 40 hour work week wouldn’t really be so bad; that I’d get used to it; that it’s just the way the world is; that I Ought To; that thousand and thousands of people do it; that maybe if it was a better work situation; that if I just found the right job; that maybe I’ll change; that I should Be Responsible; and any other thing I can do to drown out the persistent voice inside of me saying, “No. No! NO.”
I’m fighting my very own self to not let everyone in on the dirty little secret that I don’t want to live that life. It’s so shocking and so scandalous to people, and it seems so irresponsible. But I was a PTA before, and people live off that income. PT’s get paid twice as much. How hard is it to make that leap? Live like the PTA I was–I was never in this for the money, anyhow–and actually live a life? Oh, but your student loans, your student loans! I know. 3 years and a lifetime of debt. But once you make your peace with the idea that you’ll be paying them back for the rest of your natural life or until someone decides to forgive whatever is left (whichever comes first), you realize that it actually has very little bearing on how you live your life. They are student loans, after all; the terms are much less stringent (quite flexible, actually), perhaps in part because you can’t foreclose on my education and suck it all back out of my ear. There’s nothing to reclaim, so why not just accept a steady stream of interest repayments for about, say, forever?
But you’re Supposed To. You’re supposed to want more; you’re supposed to want to “better yourself;” you’re supposed to want to get things done; you’re supposed to accept the lifestyle of the daily grind. Only ridiculously rich people are allowed to have to luxury of setting their own priorities; the rest of us are Supposed To put our time in. Who do you think you are, to dare to not put in the hours everyone else is? If it was your job to visit people in nursing homes, then okay. If you just want to go do it “just because,” without getting paid for it, instead of working hard like the rest of us, then no. And if you don’t want to work for the man because you have too much else you want to learn, too much else you want to create, too much else you want to enjoy? Suck it up, buttercup. Being an adult is all about doing what you don’t want to do.
Society accepts learning if you are paying for it and getting a piece of paper; society doesn’t accept learning if it looks too much like having fun. Society accepts volunteering, if you do it through sanctioned organizations with proper sign-up times; society resents it if it looks like helping family and friends. You can pursue your dreams, as long as they look like working really hard and not even having any time left to pick your toenails; but you can’t pursue your dreams if it looks like having a perfectly normal hard-scrabble (medium-scrabble?) life where you wonder how long you can keep your car running and wish it wasn’t so expensive to get your teeth cleaned at the dentist but at least you aren’t spending your entire life counting down till Friday.
Some of us make our beds. Some of us don’t. I think that perhaps all of us, deep down inside, know who we are. We just don’t always remember. Other things press in. The immediate seems to make the most sense. Things that seem important, reasonable, responsible, prudent, sensible, acceptable, or even just attainable–tumble down in a continual avalanche. It’s a struggle to keep climbing out from under it all, shaking it off, and saying, “I’m sorry; I didn’t have time to do the homework; I had to be outside.” It’s the truth, but it’s so much more unexpected than saying, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be outside, but I had homework.” I don’t expect people to accept it, so I don’t tell them, hiding that statement inside of me. It’s not a question of who you decide you will be; it’s a question of remembering who you already are. It’s paying attention to, and admitting, and remembering all the things that kill you day by day, and all the things that pour little golden drops of light into your life and make you breath deeper and sleep sounder.
You know who you are. Do you remember? What are you going to do about it?