I was blurry when I was coughed up into adulthood. I was a muddle, a sort of odd conglomerate of myself and many adopted mannerisms and behaviors that I’d attached to myself as I scuttled through my life, terrorized. Those wrong bits of me clanged and rattled and were exceptionally awful. I married a man who did not love me and then had to extricate myself from that mess right away. In my mid-twenties I’d drifted to Los Angeles, living in a condo I owned near Santa Monica and writing a really shitty novel whilst living on my father’s money and therapy-izing.
I continued to do many things I neither enjoyed nor valued – entertaining, buying new stuff, cultivating a public image. I mostly did the one thing, though, that was me, that had always been me. I studied redemption, reading Plato, the Bible, lots of Russian novelists, Jose Saramago, E. Annie Proulx, Heidegger, Thoreau, Carlyle, and Hugo. I attended services on Wednesday nights in Beverly Hills. I’ve always loved to worship, and I find a great deal of meaning in the consistent liturgy of the Episcopal church. (Ultimately I met my husband there, one Wednesday night, and then I moved into a life that was at least peripherally closer to what was actually real in me.)
If I discovered something I knew to be true I was ruthless in following through with whatever direction my heart led. I was reckless, wasteful, and exactly me. When I knew that I wasn’t meant for condo life in LA I dumped my valuable condo and abandoned it for a little rent house in the valley. When I knew that my mother’s money was poison, I sold it all and dumped the entire set of files on that money down the trash chute. When I met a man who loved me, a man who, mid-marriage proposal said that since he was a school teacher we’d never have much money, I married him much to the disgust of my sleek LA friends, two sets of whom vowed not to attend our wedding as a sign of their objection. My decisions were abrupt, and the way I carried them out was graceless. I trusted God to deliver me, though I actually had not a single clue what that meant, and I’m glad I didn’t
That ruthlessness has served me. I handle things differently now at 50 than I did at 20. But my bull-in-a-China-shop tactics were for me the only way. I needed me to coalesce, to come into focus. The more solidly I clung to what was real, the more sure my footing became, and the less time I wasted on shit that was meaningless to me. My voice got firmer and firmer.
The focus, though, the lens, was God. I studied God, not myself. To know oneself happens by knowing one’s Maker, the Lover of Souls. The Chinese, during the 3 years I lived with those people, have a nearly impenetrable solidity that is rooted in their deep, embedded knowledge of the iChing and the Confucianist philosophies that serve as their God. They are not a confused people. They know who they are. One summer living in Thailand I saw the power of Buddhism, the immaculate strength of that belief system and the kind of people that it can produce. The years I lived in Qatar I saw, very much in the Qatari government, but also in the people I knew, a profound clarity among those who studied the Quran and lived true to its precepts. I already knew that true Judaism and Christianity produce true people too. Selfless devotion to any pursuit that promises nothing but itself, any such thing delivers redemption.
It’s silly to quibble about petty things, and certainly religion is a petty thing. A person seeking redemption, if they seek to be true and real to what they are, will find truth and reality no matter what lens they use to do so. If they dabble, if they use God or anything as décor or distraction then they will be silly people. People I have met from a broad spectrum of faiths and beliefs have proved to me that any authentic adherence to any particular lens delivers.
A few years ago a man wrote to me. He’d lost his marriage, and, partly, his children, when his wife left him for another man. He asked for spiritual guidance, about what was right and good. I told him that I cannot tell him how to be right or good. I am utterly certain that not a person on this planet is either right or good. I promised that I could at least point him in the direction of real and true. (He felt I was absolutely wrong and never asked for more advice, though he maintains a distant connection with me.) This is the promise of faith, that what you will become, if you subject yourself to the nearly intolerable process of faith (in anything), that you will become you.
Once I prayed, actually, more screamed at God to show me something beautiful. I was tired, feeling desperate with the truths I carry. God said , “You. I show you you.”
God says that to us all. We say, “Give me something beautiful.” God hands us ourselves and says, “This is beautiful.”