Lately, I’ve been sad because I can’t make sense of my life. Usually, I do feel that my life makes sense, but not so much now. This is most likely because I was blessed to be born into a healthy marriage, a financially stable home, and have adjusted pretty well to normal life.
Although, of course I despise normal life in some ways. That is why I’ve been sad. As compared to my life up to this point… staying in one place for a year, legally living in a building, grocery shopping weekly at the same place, and working for steady wages (with no end in sight)... aren’t my ideas of fun. Along with my best friend Jacob, I’ve cultivated a life in which my future is usually comprised of uncertainty, as are all futures in reality. I’ve just grown to dysfunctionally prefer uncertainty, and see normalcy as boring. My bad.
Here I am in Virginia Beach and I’ve taken to cleaning air ducts during the day and trying to cope with it at night. This sort of back-breaking work is something I’ve seen exemplified my entire life, and I realize it has immense value. However true that may be, I can’t help but feeling that this isn’t what I’ve attempted to work towards. While I’m jogging up and down stairs multiple times a workday, I’m often asking myself “If I had to do this forever, could I?” That question just yields sadness because I imagine myself doing that work forever, and then without answering my own question, I silently conclude “I won’t.” Then, I run up and down the stairs a few more times carrying a vacuum, a tool-bag, a ladder, and whatever else we may need. I’m forced in all this, to make sense of everyday life and hopefully to even enjoy it. After all, I can’t escape my overly analytical self, or my intense set of emotions. So I’m working hard to catch up with the life I’m already living on a daily basis.
And what I’m finding, is that I cannot make sense of my everyday existence as quickly as it happens. I must work, I must eat, I must sleep, and I don’t have time to write about every occurrence or poeticize reality in real time. This is exactly the opposite of college and seminary, times when I was able to absorb information, take a job a few hours a week, and process life into meaningful abstractions like a machine.
My assumption up until this point has been that I will not be happy unless my life makes sense. This is a very simple assumption that I’m now working overtime to shed. After all, I’ve met some emotionally thriving dogs, as well as very intelligent and emotionally deprived professors. Emotional intelligence is it’s own form, and a beast to be reckoned with at that. Simply knowing what chemical creates happiness doesn’t fire them off, assuming you aren’t using drugs, which isn’t sustainable in most cases, or good, arguably.
But, laughter has come to me and beauty has surprised me. I’ve begun to be forced by the constraints of a workday to search for goodness within what I’m doing. Sometimes, while unclogging a dryer-vent, I find myself unable to move while wet lint is being slung at my face. Once, so much lint came out of a dryer-vent that we had to cover nearby vehicles with a drop-cloth. Needless to say, we were also covered in lint. I’ve been forced to crawl under muddy decks, or into spider-infested crawl spaces. At other times, I have been in an attic for 30 to 40 minutes on a day in mid July with Wilbur, my coworker. This generates anger, delirium, laughter, and then camaraderie in that exact order. The odd thing about terrible experiences, is that during them, I always want to escape. But, the moment I've have found my freedom, I feel proud. Of course, this is because I will have survived without a fatal spider bite or a fatal mud-knee syndrome, whatever that would be. I think this is the way most people feel. As long as suffering has a clear end, that does not extend into your future affairs, you would not undo any hardship. Of course there is PTSD, and other regrettable situations brought about by war or disease, which should not be trivialized.
Then there is Wilbur, and that of course is not his real name, but he asked me not to use it, and I wish there were more people named Wilbur.
Wilbur has been through much more than most people in his life by his age, which is 23. Wilbur, grew up in Richmond, and became addicted to Heroin as a teenager. He has since, been clean for 2 years, and often refers to situations that remind him of when he “was using”. This experience has made Wilbur a wise man, and suffering such a horrific past has put everything into perspective. His time of drug use was marked by self-hatred, theft, reclusiveness, and more. Now, Wilbur is resolute and has already begun the process of recovery which doesn’t just mean no longer using drugs. It means, revamping his perception of himself, and recreating patterns of life that are responsible, healthy, holistic and ultimately joyful. Wilbur has become an honest, resolute, confident and humble man. I would trust him with anything I have.
One day, after Wilbur and I spent over an hour in an attic, we finally finished our itchy work. Wilbur’s shirt was as wet as if he had been sprayed with a hose, and so he took it off when we got in the truck. I settled into the back of the truck, facing backwards as we buzzed down the road towards our next job. Then above the diesel roar, I heard something I did not expect… the string section. Wondering why I heard Cellos and Violins, I looked towards the front of the truck to find Wilbur had turned on the Classical radio station. I inquired “Wilbur, did you choose this?”, to which he said “Yea man, I love Classical music.” This was a matter of fact for him, and he felt no dissonance in this reality, it simply was. So, with his shirt off, and a cigarette hanging from his lips, 23 year old Wilbur navigated us down the road to the sounds century-old compositions and traffic. Smoke was floating past his face in the truck cab, and in that moment, I was captured.
All of the events that had led this young man and myself to this moment, were incalculable. I could not quantify or make sense of the moment, but I almost cried and then I laughed. Sure, smoke isn’t good for your lungs, but its better than Heroin, and it floats through the air with such disinterested grace. I don’t know why Wilbur likes Classical music, but it was something I never would’ve guessed. It is extremely particular. In that precise moment, I knew it did not matter that I could not make sense of it's history, or even ask and answer the right questions quickly enough to define it. It was just a time, and it was the truth of Wilbur and I’s particular stories intersecting.
Beauty is not only symmetry and cultivation, it also has something to do with strangeness. Oddness and Beauty have their unusual nature in common, they are striking and rare. This moment with Wilbur was beautiful and rare, and I knew it was beyond me to understand it, but not to experience it.
So, life is happening, it is unraveling in fascinating and particular ways. Reality is constantly being lived, and only becoming a “story" as it dissolves into the past. These particularities are only shocking or fascinating because they do not fit into our categories neatly. One of the undeniable values of "being present" as all our yoga-masters are encouraging, is that we are faced with a complex reality. Categories are helpful because we need to survive, but they also inhibit our ability to take life as it sometimes comes. I guess all I’m saying is, shed categories when possible, embrace confusion because it is unavoidable, welcome strangeness because it is real, enjoy particularity, glean from suffering and learn to recognize beauty. Even if it doesn’t make sense.