A google image search on “you can do the thing” (including the quotes) will turn you up an assortment of memes in the format:
I am a Tiny [X]. I believe in you. You can do the thing.
Potato. Cactus. Octopus. You name it.
I’m sure there are others and probably, as with anything internet related, you will eventually reach some that are not appropriate for polite company. I avoid using stock and unattributed photography whenever I can craft my own images, so please forgive my late contribution to the genre:
My heart is full right now with stories that are not mine to tell, from friends old and new who are doing, or have just done, or are about to do, some very difficult things. It is a time of hurting, of waiting, of grieving and letting go. I am holding all your unspoken stories gently, with hope and love. May you all find comfort and may all manner of things be well.
This quiet corner of the internet does not get a lot of traffic. It’s a busy day when my hits go into the double digits. Lately I have been getting regular traffic on this post, which I wrote last summer when I was entering what would turn out to be a very difficult time.
I have no idea who is reading that post, or the others from late last year, whether they have stumbled in looking for photographs of thundereggs, or are trying to figure out whether to sell me Search Engine Optimization software or generic prescription meds, or if occasionally someone is clicking through to read my words because they find something of value there. I flatter myself to think it is the latter, at least once in awhile.
Because it is a season of difficult things, and the anniversary of other difficult things, in this darkening corner of the year I find myself returning to my earlier words myself. It is now three years I’ve ben blogging here, three years since I yielded (reluctantly) to the call to enter ministerial formation. I had no idea then what I was getting into.
I still don’t. I keep going because walking, eyes open, into the fog and the unknown is just… what I do.
So things break. Spectacularly so. What happens after?
After the fall, after the shattering into a thousand shards, after the unbecoming of what might have been but isn’t going to look exactly that way any more? What happens in the stillness that follows?
What happens after the fall? Isn’t that the oldest story of all our ancient stories? The story where we open our eyes and it is not all over – yet everything we knew is changed and wrong and gone and somehow we are still here and something happens next but this was not in the script and now what?
Maybe we cry. (I cried.)
Maybe we curl up in a ball and wait to die. (I did that, too, for awhile. It didn’t work. I’m still here.)
Maybe we grit our teeth and plow forward, determined that the mere end of the world isn’t going to stop us from whatever we were trying to do. (Okay, maybe I did some of that too. Maybe I did a lot of that.)
Aren’t all of these normal, human reactions? You betcha.
Ten thousand ways to run away from pain. Our psychocultural framework is that pain isn’t supposed to happen, that bad things – death, defeat, disease, any of the big uglies that leave us reeling – are a deviation, a perversion of the rightness of the world, something that must have a moral cause or some way of being controlled or avoided. If bad things happen, we must have caused them – something we did, or something we didn’t do. If only we do all the things right, we will be spared.
Bullshit. That’s just bad theology.
(It’s a normal, human reaction, mind you. But bad theology.)
It’s bad theology because the world isn’t perfect. Not even close. Because there is no combination of organic greens and exercise that will stave off every illness or heal every injury. Because we do not always “bounce back.” Because relationships falter and environments degrade and people change too, in reaction to their experience, and it’s not always for the better. Because bodies – and minds, and institutions – are not immortal, not invulnerable, not perfectly resilient. Because when we base our assumptions of how the world is on how we think it perfectly ought to be, we are inevitably disappointed. Sometimes bitterly so.
What happens when we step back into detached absurdity and – just for the heck of it – reframe our understanding of the world and how it fits together and who we need to be within it in such a way that “All fucked up!” stops being a problem urgently in need of a fix and transforms into an operating parameter, something that we run into and work around and run into again and again?
What if “broken” is the baseline? What if it isn’t perfect because it could not ever have been, because there was – and is and can be – no such thing?
I am being slowly reminded of things I used to know – the complex relationship between purity and perfection and beauty and fragility, how the things which are most interesting are not always the strongest or most flawless – and how those which are strong or flawless are not always the most interesting or beautiful. If I can learn from these stones the admiration of complexity, of fragility, of quirky individuality then perhaps I will eventually learn to apply these lessons more broadly.
It is easy to despair, to get trapped in the abyss between what is perfect and what is possible, to compare the messy inside of our specific situation to the polished surfaces that we see around us. (I do this too.)
It is hard, much harder, to reimagine of the fundamental nature of the world. I feel like this is an edge, a boundary of some kind, and that I am taking a risk by thinking “out loud” on the internet where, well, someone might read it and see my vulnerable human self in all its imperfection, with its cracks and structural liabilities, its softness and its jagged edges. Being human is messy and complicated, and learning to tend and to work within our limits and vulnerabilities runs up rough against our merciless cultural perfectionism that labels gentleness as cowardice and imperfection as failure.
It hurts, to catch our loose threads on the sharp edges of others’ expectations and feel ourselves pulled out of shape. It takes time to mend the tatters, to gather up the bright shards of our possibility, to sit with them and figure out what can be made with this, the aftermath of destruction, as our raw material. It takes focus, too, to fixate on what is possible with what we have and from where we are, to set aside the vision of absolute perfection – whether of health or beauty or achievement or power or any other measure – and deepen into the particular moment we have, its opportunities and its limitations.
It’s hard. And the result will necessarily be imperfect.
I made this image for a particular friend and colleague who will never convince me that they are not one of the people who has it all together:
Anyone who thinks I have it together is beautifully mistaken.
Where I am finding myself in conflict a lot, in recent months, is around these deep assumptions that we have to do things right, we have to do things now, and we really have to do everything right, right now.
Oh my world, my beautiful broken world, my earnest loving well-intentioned people. We can’t fix everything.
And that’s okay.
It doesn’t mean stop, either. It doesn’t mean do nothing. It doesn’t mean lose hope.
There is a quiet liberation in the stillness that follows the shattering fall, in the realization that there will be no putting things back the way they were before, in the awakening that follows. The pieces are scattered and broken, but look how they shimmer in the light.
The other thing of which I have been reminded is that, given enough time and the proper conditions, even shattered stones can mend, become whole – not that which they were, not exactly, but something more, something different. There is a yearning in the structure of the crystal itself to grow into its characteristic shape; if that shape is broken off, the stone will – in its own slow time – form again into the pattern that is its nature. Or perhaps like the veins in jasper or the center of a thunderegg, the cracks will be filled in with something entirely new and beautiful.
In time. In the fullness of time.
For now, in the messy, complicated middle of things, what we can do is gather up the beautiful and tend to the broken.
I feel like this is not much, not enough, not anywhere near enough. But I am committed to doing what I can, from where I am, with what I have, because the alternative is despair. And this is what I’ve got.