Monday, April 7, 2014


Existence of God: You know what? Sure. Let's just say yes.

I believed for awhile that this -- figuring out the objective reality of a higher power -- was the project preoccupying me. But I've come to think that it's actually kind of a distraction. I think the more important related issue is, how much does my specific life matter to me -- the details of it, the things I want to have and do.

If my answer is, a lot, then some days are good and other days are scary, because under everything I can pursue and attain and accomplish is this underlying purposelessness. This can all just go away -- the son, the health, the job, the mind. There are people for whom the inescapable impermanence of everything is itself what makes life beautiful and meaningful. Those people are clearly more evolved than myself. I think, my son is going to die, and I don't feel any quiet awe at the brutal beauty of life. I think, fuck that noise. Whose bullshit idea was this? What I want is my son living, not a thought-provoking Christopher Hitchens essay on impermanence.

If the stuff I have is what comprises my life, than however fortunate I am now, this is all going to end badly. At some point, each of these little loves I have, each thing I love that is specific to me, will go away. And while maybe the answer for me is to be grateful for what I have now, given that having these things forever isn't an option, well, what is the answer for this patient who is unable to move, with feces draining out of her body into a wound bag? What is the answer for those people whose child won't stop seizing and will never respond to their voices again? Why live those lives?

There's no understanding of the world -- secular or spiritual or overtly religious -- in which I get to avoid the reality that I will lose everything I love, either today or tomorrow or someday. God may be good, but God will not keep my kid alive. To claim that God will protect my child specifically in the face of all the mothers who attempted the same claim and then buried their children is not faith, to me. It's cruelty and arrogance. What I get -- whether from God or from luck or completely at random -- is today, my child, alive. And what I get to learn is how to allow that to be enough for me, as far as my expectations of my specific existence, my life, extend.

The bigger distinction I see is whether that can be enough when other people are suffering, their kids not alive right now, their bodies not working, their loss not an abstract reality for another, shittier day, but an overwhelming crisis right now. How do I fill the space in my own, immediate, impermanent life, while also attending to the lives of others?

This is the only aspect of God about which I feel sure -- the imperative to collude with Her as long as there are needs to be met around me -- and yet it is the aspect which I seem to save for last, as though I can coddle myself onto that spiritual plane. Once I've done naval-gazing, then that kid in the hospital; then the hungry/naked/sick/imprisoned.

Is it possible that my faith has been suffering lately because the most immediate path to Christ -- the one where I do what He said I should be doing -- has been reimagined (by me, I mean) as the outgrowth of some more abstract transformation that I'm expecting to happen while I go about doing me? That a healthy connection to a higher power is interrupted by this self-helpy, Eat-Pray-Love paradigm in which I can drink enough lattes, be "kind enough" to myself, and somehow emerge in a position to participate in God's work?

To be fair, I've been preoccupied with my own life lately because I believed that was what I had to do in order to manage it, because the process of actually becoming a nurse -- the night shift and the mistakes and the fear of being fired, all of it -- feels so much harder than anything else I've done. And doing it while being a mom and while being sick -- I just feel like my life's become a huge expanse of Can't With This. And then, of course, there are a lot of voices telling me to slow down and focus on the immediate task of making this work transition and regaining the ground I've lost, health wise, because the reality is that I'm not handling my life well at the moment.

This advice makes sense if I understand my individual self, the temporary and specific Amanda, to be the most important aspect of who I am; patch myself up and then approach other distinct individuals in need, to give them something I have.

But maybe that's wrong from the outset, that preoccupation with an individual self and the specifics of that self's experience. It seems to me that the more myopically I fix my vision on my life and my priorities, the more exhausting and particular they become.

It's possible that there is no scaling down that would make my life feel manageable. There's only the recognition that apart from this self -- over which no amount of weight loss or resume construction seems to give me control -- I also exist, as part of something more important than my current identity and desires and accoutrement. 

I could lose my job. I could lose my son. There is no thing to which I can safely attribute value; though it's romantic to say I couldn't live without [x], it's also meaningless, because to really believe that is to dwell in the reality that at any moment my entire life could fall apart, and to either ignore or "come to terms with" the reality that all around me, lives are crumbling in exactly those ways.

But I can say: thank you today, for this thing and this thing and this thing, and thanks, too, for whatever comes next. Thank you for the evident all-goodness I'm experiencing today and the less familiar all-goodness that I have faith is going on next, and outside of me. And who needs help now, and what can I do? Not because I feel an individual obligation to those people, but because I believe it is by attending to those immediate particulars that I access as taste of what exists beyond what is immediate and specific to me.