Monday, June 6, 2011

the helplessness myth.

I got called 'helpless' recently. To be fair, it was kind of true, and to be fairer, this person didn’t say I was helpless, but rather, that I sounded helpless; I suppose there’s a bit of a difference there...right? I admit the conclusion shocked me. I have been many things, and called much worse, but although I have been speechless, socially awkward, and wildly unequipped, I have never been or been called …helpless. So what gives?

To be honest, I have been acting a little crumbly as of late; falling apart at random, crying a lot, staring at the elliptical trainer while I eat all the brownies. Perhaps it was the move; or the things at work, or the time away, or the lack of solitary quietude; or perhaps it was the polar shift from March to May that has me grappling. Whatever it is, something’s amiss, and I’m certainly not dealing with it bravely. My eyes hurt. I want a nap. Someone bring me a cake.

I went to see a production of The Great Divorce this weekend, once because I had heard it was a wonderful production, twice because it swallowed me so wholly the first time. Though there are a million lines that stuck to me during each performance, there is one conversation that I am thinking of now, and I have included it below. I am thinking of it for myself and for people I know; thinking about ruts and regrets and grudges. I don’t want to become something undelightful, unholy, or unwhole. In other words, I hope there is always some me left to criticize the mood, or at least to enjoy it.

So then, what can I say about that difficult mirror of a conversation? I can say this: I am certainly not helpless, but I can choose it without noticing; either I survive on the empathy of others or I choose to appreciate it when at last it shows; that choice is only mine. The danger is not in the weak moment itself, but how long I dwell on my own insufficiency. And this is the thing about helplessness; the myth, if you will: it is not, in fact, as involuntary a state as the word itself suggests. Though the circumstances can explain it, they cannot take the blame for it. I am not helpless; I am stumbling.

If I am a bleeding heart, it is because I am alive. If I cry first and laugh later, then I thank God for laughter and for tears, and I thank him that I can feel. There are shifts in life that take time to adjust to, they may take energy to breathe through, but they are in their best and worst the moments that make up a life. Passed time is important, yes; but the days that make up the months are just as valuable as the months themselves and so we cannot ignore them. What is done today is important, and what I choose to speak is just as weighted; my words will in part define how people see me. That being said, I was reminded through that conversation that I need to watch my words more carefully, run to God more quickly, and hope more incessantly. If I feel helpless, I can be thankful it is only a feeling and not a reality. I solemnly refuse to become....a grumble.

from The Great Divorce, pp. 75-78.

[Damned Woman, walking by, speaking quickly]: "‘Oh, my dear, I’ve had such a dreadful time, I don’t know how I ever got here at all. . . I made it perfectly plain because I knew what she was like and if I told her once I told her a hundred times. . . not after the way she’d treated me. . .I felt sure you’d tell me I acted rightly. . .'

The shrill monotonous whine died away as the speaker, still accompanied by the bright patience at her side, moved out of hearing.

‘I am troubled, Sir,’ said I, ‘because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation. She isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling, and feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would due her all right.’

-‘That is what she once was. That is maybe what she still is. If so, she certainly will be cured. But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler.’

‘I should have thought there was no doubt about that!’

-‘Aye, but ye misunderstand me. The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only… a grumble. If there is a real woman—even the least trace of one—still there inside the grumbling it can be brought to life again. If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.’

‘But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?’

-‘The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. But ye’ll have had experiences. . . it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine. . .'”

1 comment:

Mama said...

You remind me of me. And I love brownies. Praying for you. We need to talk...
Love you