A Consistent Baseline

Sometimes the world seems unfair. Sometimes people are cruel and malicious without reason. Sometimes we feel lost in a vicious rinse cycle, and can’t seem to find the timer that tells us when it will end. Sometimes the best intentions and kindest words lead to devastating outcomes. Sometimes we try our best to be good and act morally just, but the world continues to throw wrench after wrench into every single plan we seem to muster. Sometimes it takes 20 minutes and three heavy sighs before we ever see the sunrise.

The are moments, days, whole weeks where I accept that the world is a fire-pit of suffering, and we are all coals seeing who can burn the longest, competing just to end up with the same fate at the end. Other times I feel I’m living a real life story of Job, where the Devil seems to be throwing everything he can at me to test my faith in life. I set down my cross, and attempt to write as my own personal way to ease the suffering that seeps through the soles of my shoes with every step. But as I do, my mind wanders, craves distractions as if it is unwilling to run it’s fingers back over the wounds a second time. Often, I put my head down, pick up my cross, and begin to burden the weight of Being, because the thought, the reflection and the realization of the shallowness of daily life seems too inconsistent, too volatile to plant my feet in.

I began writing to create a safe haven for my solace from the outside world. I used it as a sort of reflection pond, a tool to stare into the depths of reality and ask, “What are you?”, and into myself, and ask, “Who are you?” I started a website, and an email list as an anchor of consistency, to create an audience of whoever was willing to sort through my thoughts with me, and maybe share what seems to plague my prefrontal cortex. I find though, as time passes, that the suffering of life stubbornly finds its way into my crevasse of solace, and that what was once an epilogue for my freedom, has slowly become the shackles, and I, the prisoner.

It is in these moments, in the dark mornings before the sun rises where I try to force myself to understand that I am not the anomaly. That I, in fact, am not Job, and the world is not out to ruin me. At least, not me specifically. That this just may be the baseline of life, and everyone, everywhere is face to face with their dragons. That we all have mental barriers, physical obstacles, or psychological trenches, not just I.

When I was in my younger days, I used to loathe the ‘support’ that came with the line: “You’re not the only one.” I never felt that way, and I never would accept it. I felt as though I was the sole survivor on an island of hell where everything was out to get me. I denied every old-aged piece of wisdom of how everyone goes through the ringer of heartbreak. I separated myself from the statistics of children of divorce, and I removed the empathy that came with seeing another’s pain. I was the only one suffering.

Obviously, I was too naive to understand the eternal baseline of humanity at that point, but I think there was more to my denial: I was unwilling to accept the strength of those around me, and the weakness of myself. Understanding what I do now, I find surprise a common emotion that the world, being filled with people who are all on varying stages in their fight with the darkness, is not in complete ruins (despite what the news likes to tell us). If the pain and obstacles that crippled a younger me are all too common, then either A. I have a lot of mental resilience to nurture, or B. We, as humans, are far more resilient and anti-fragile than we give ourselves credit for. While there is truth to the former, I think the answer lives in the latter.

It seems that the suffering that creeps into interactions, activities, and environments, in fact is, contrary to popular belief, part of the interaction, activity, and environment. It comes hand in hand with life, there is no divorcing the two. If I would have known this when I was younger, hell, if I would just accept this now, then the effort and energy wasted attempting to find endless enjoyment, and the angst that comes when I can’t achieve it, could be spent on better things, such as finding endless meaning.

I once read a book called, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie that stated: ‘You can’t be at the top of the needle without getting pricked’. I scribed this line into every piece of paper I had, and I consistently restated this every time I felt slighted by the world. Now, as I sit here, overlooking the first two paragraphs of this essay, I see that the true line should be: ‘You can’t be on the needle without getting pricked’.

Pricking is consistent, as it just comes with the territory of living. The shackles that chain me to my once paradise of freedom proves that. There is no great without sacrifice, and the pressure and schedule that comes with forcing myself to churn out written reflections is just a prick I need to accept. The moment of shallowness I feel in my gut when I witness those who I share the depths of my work with unsubscribe from my site is another prick. As is attempting to put yourself out there and feeling rejection, or being hurt in relationships, being shaded by friends, being distrusted by parents, and failing in an endeavor. This is what happens when you choose to get on the needle, and if I can accept that it just comes with the territory, suffering would ease.

It sounds easier than it truly is, as it is hard to accept that maybe life is a consistent baseline of obstacles and tests. It is hard to accept that we may never reach a point where we plateau and the consistency of stresses sits behind us. It is difficult not to look around and see everyone going about their daily lives and not feel as though you are singled out, you are living an ongoing crucible where trial by fire is the morning activity. When the days seem like a repetitive cycle of “Why am I doing this?” and “What is the point?”, it is easy to lose faith, easy to dig yourself a metaphorical hole in the ground, using the excess dirt as a shaded shield from exterior stresses. It is easy to assume the world, the government, our parents, our boss, our friends, etc are out to get us because we are (insert adjective here). But is it harder to tell ourselves that these bumps are part of the ride, that there is nothing ulterior going on besides what is universal existence. It is harder to accept that we may have to carry the burden of our crosses our whole lives, that we may never fully get over what plagues our hearts, that we may never erase all of the cracks on our souls, that some pain may stick around way longer than we want. It is a very un-romanticized truth to tell the youth we watch grow up that:

“If you recognize the sad truth that some people never stop hurting from a loss, then you’re ready to find new ways to live a meaningful life...Accept that there are some losses that never stop hurting.. Get used to living with a heavy heart, and try to build a better life… the only sure way to stand up to misery is to live a full life in spite of it, not defined by it.” -Michael Bennett

The Devil bet God that he could, through his own actions, influence Job to lose faith in living. God denied, stating that Job is a good man, who, despite his suffering, would never lose the faith in Being that he carried around. And so came a hail storm of suffering, where tragedy reigned supreme and everything that had an ounce of decency in Job’s life turned to ash. This is how we feel sometimes, as if there is a higher power intent on making our lives as difficult as possible, intent on implanting seeds meant to sprout into dissatisfaction and disarray. When we are burdened by tragedy, when we feel as though something we loved has been lost, we often scream up at the Gods, “WHY ME!?”, losing our faith in the universe as a consequence.

zBut, as we see, tragedy is a consequence of living. There is nothing wrong, or anybody singled out. There is no expectation of happiness that is being trampled (except maybe individual expectations, which need to be re-analyzed). Being born, being thrust into this life puts us on the needle, and, as we know, we can’t be on the needle without sometimes getting pricked. When Job’s life began to crumble, and the devil threw every trick he had to make the man falter, Job looked around, and then up at God. I imagined he made a slight grin, as he asked, “Why not me?”