In every holy text I’ve studied there is a universal theme – if you are faced with an impossible situation, the constructive and most accurate path is to proceed at your own expense. Those crossroads routinely come in small ways. However, there are times when I know I’m on a major threshold where seemingly everything is at stake and I want desperately to avoid loss. At that pivot point I must choose to not save myself.
No sacrifice saves. The saving way is never heroic and glamorous. The way is helpless, messy, human, humiliating, and acutely painful.
In the Hindu story of Sibi, a powerful man impulsively interferes with a flesh eating bird who has just caught a dove. Sibi denies the predatory bird its prey. Negotiating with the carnivorous bird, he agrees that the bird has the right to its food. Since it is not a scavenger, the bird requires living prey; the bird will accept no dead substitute. Sibi agrees to give the bird his own flesh equal to the weight of the dove. A scale is produced to insure that Sibi pays exactly what he owes. The little dove is placed on one side of the scale whilst the bird of prey watches. Sibi takes a knife, cuts off a sizeable piece of his own flesh and places it on the scale. The pans do not even register the flesh piled on the other side. In short order Sibi slices off more and more of himself yet the pans still do not equalize. So Sibi staggers onto the scale, chucking in the entire remainder of his own flesh. The scale suddenly balances. Sibi transcends – it isn’t that he was meant to die for the dove. He loved to the point of bankruptcy and in so doing he won the whole game.
The bullets to take are spiritual.
I can blame, fight, run, give up, walk away, accuse, deny, or otherwise avoid the hard choice, or I can accept that often I’m going to have to be broken by a situation. There is no nobility in this choice for me. I’m serving myself by making that choice. I cannot save myself and be saved. If I want to transcend, then from time to time I’m going to find myself facing events where I must not protect myself even though my terrified instinct screams for “mercy” or “another option”. Yet the way is to persist, to choose, like Neo in the Matrix, or Paul Newman as Luke in Cool Hand Luke.
Uncomplicated heroes are the sacrificial kind who get the applause as they step in with just the right balance of modesty and shyness and then solve some huge problem with their incredible luck, skill, or ingenuity. In real heroism no one’s watching, no one knows, and there’s no glory at all, only intense pain and then relief. Real heroes are not beautiful during the war; they are not “saving” others. They are determinedly loving, loving no matter the cost. They are not sacrificing. They are loving doggedly. It ain’t pretty. In fact it gets deadly dull – you’re grasping and you stink and you fuck it up and make errors and it’s just a mess but you fucking damn well persist and then, then, in the final hour when you are too damn tired and don’t give a shit, then, then the moment arrives.
In my life there have been, and continue to be, loci of intense agony. The darkness coming out of me from the past most often poisons my son and my husband since they are the most intimate people in my life. When I find myself once again with an issue that does not lend itself to any reasonable solution, a long, long ways into trying every possible option, I eventually discern that the Way is the only option. This means that I must agree to pass through my indignance, agree to pass through my very, very gratifying rage, agree to forgo my intense desire to walk away in order to prove I don’t need anything or anyone, and to finally, awkwardly, halfheartedly, agree to feel what I actually feel — rejected, helpless, trapped, lost, stupid, and lonely.
If I want life in my life, if I wish to avoid the death of my passions and relationships, then my decision must be to be broken, rather than to break. I must choose to be broken because some things matter a great deal to me – my son, my work, my family. I would prefer that I got to be a hero for someone else, make some supreme sacrifice like a god, and then be recognized as omnipotent, worthy of adoration and accolade. I would even prefer to “fail” – to just walk away. It’s never like that; the problems requiring me to be broken are always ones that jeopardize what I treasure – the ones and things that I love particularly. If I don’t want my beloveds to die, then I will let the circumstances break me, and when I am truly broken, something is transformed and transcended and the object of my passion is somehow beyond the reach of evil.
I want to bargain – yeah – I’ll do anything BUT that…. It has never worked for me, not one time, and I am brilliant at inspiring and communicating. But I’ve never once been brilliant enough to avoid the cure for death. The only cure is to decide to walk right into the darkness, to walk right into the pain with not one fucking clue where I am going or why this method works. In those moments the agony drenches me utterly, I am shattered, blind, helpless and alone. I want to feel entitled to “help” I want to whine about having to do this “by myself”. Hahahahaha. God says, “Damn right Doll, you are fucking expensive. You Matter. Act like it. Grow the fuck up. ” And so it begins again. I’m huddled in the bathroom, crying in the ugly way that you cry when it’s loud and weird and it hurts, literally.
Before I really understood this truth, the gutters of my life were littered with corpses – things that I chose to cast out, to break, to reject, to abandon because I lost patience, because I was unwilling to go all the way, I did not want to know if I mattered. I did not want to press the point all the way to the truth. I forged the chain that will testify against me after this life. No one and no thing that I fucked in any period of my life has somehow evaporated. All of that death I agreed to because I did not trust God, all that remains, and is real, and testifies against me. I can choose, for a little longer, to wear blinders, to barge through life and pretend not to see the havoc, the spiritual death I cause. Or I can acknowledge that there is no spiritual credit card. I don’t have the option of mortgaging, of borrowing against my own perfection. My spiritual debt is at the absolute ceiling.
There are times to stand up and say no, to stop abuse. There are times to cut things lose that are debilitating. And there’s bad luck. But, other times, and they are always clear, I can allow the agony to break me, to allow that horror, the grief of the truth hit me full on in the face thousands of times, and each and every time, if I allow this, if I do, something happens that I cannot control, cause, or understand – that is – at the tipping point God steps in. God steps in and stands with me, shields me from death, carries me. If I demand to be carried I shall never be carried. But if I agree to the pain, at the moment when all is lost, I suddenly know that all is NEVER lost.
To get to the point of no return is to bankrupt myself, and right at the edge of what’s provable and real and reasonable, or, sometimes, way the fuck past those alarming roadsigns, that’s where the miracle is, where God is alive and real and you can touch holiness not because you earned it but because it’s fucking there. To be all-in on every important matter in my life, committed no matter the cost is the only way to fully live. To live free means to hold nothing back, to dive in with everything knowing that such rash choices will break my heart. I long to have power, to force things. I will never have power. The power I have is to accept inconvenient truth, to love that which I love no matter the cost, no matter if I am loved in return.
The predator imposing rigor, and attaching terror and consequence to what I love is named Evil. The big weapon Evil brandishes is “death”. Evil says that I will die or I will lose everything if I persist. It lies. Evil seeks living prey. Evil demands life – this is the food evil requires since the fabric of evil is death. If I agree to be scared then I feed Evil. But if I love, if love is the core of my life, then it must be me, my heart that I hand to the hellish phantom, not money, not my fist or my attorney or the media or God forbid another human being – the only way to defeat death is to agree to the bargain it demands. I have to stand there with my knees knocking together, my whole body shivering in terror, and insist that I love. I have to look Evil in the face and call its bluff. It’s always bluffing. Only I can kill myself. Evil cannot kill me. So I say, Nah, you Fuck. I choose pain. I choose rejection. I choose poverty. I choose to be ignored. I choose to be considered a freak. I choose what I determine to be worth choosing.
The way that avoids death is the way that seems to promise death. No matter how much my heart breaks, I don’t die. It doesn’t kill me to agree to the truth. It hurts me to the point of agony, but it will never kill me. It might cost me all of my money or all of my dignity or all of my time, but the treasure, even if I cannot properly identify it, that treasure will only be saved when I love it more than I love my “life”.