Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Book of Roark

Okay so this year has sucked for pretty much everyone.  2012 needs a reset button.  I mean, I know shit happens, but at some point you start to feel picked on.  And there's a difference between making choices that turn out sucky and just plain bad luck.  For example, getting dumped by girl after girl or boy after boy.  Those are choices that turn out sucky.  It's not totally your fault.  It takes two to tango and the opposite sex blows.  But you still have some control over the situation.  You can change yourself or change the people you pick or change your methods for picking them.  All of these things can greatly affect the outcome.  Then there's just plain bad luck.  Like losing someone you love.  And that seems to be happening to my family a LOT lately.  What the fuck (get ready... there's going to be a lot of cursing in this epic of a post).

For example, a week after my sister died, my cousin Tony's dog got hit by a train.  Poor thing died in his arms.  Now... non-pet owners may not understand how awful something like that could be.  My cousin was actually really hesitant to even call us because he didn't want to undermine what we were going through, but as owners of three dogs and three cats who we've known longer than half our closest friends, we completely understood.

Then, a few weeks ago, my other cousin's husband got into a hang gliding accident.  He fractured his spine and lost feeling from the chest down.

This one sent my brain for a loop.  My cousin Beth is one of the most vibrant and beautiful souls I know.  It took her a while to finally find the love of her life, then this crap happens?  After all that OTHER crap?  No.  I reject it.

I mean, it was bad enough that for the last couple years, my family has been struggling with the effect the economy has had on our lives.  We had to sell our house, we've had to downsize substantially.  It caused a lot of emotional hurdles that each member of my family had to get over.  I don't want to go into too much detail.  My parents (especially my dad) are very open yet very private when it comes to their emotional struggles and I respect that.  But it was a long road and we were finally starting to find our footing again.  Then this happened.  Then everything else happened.

The Book of Job

The first week after my sister died, my parents visited a new church.  The sermon that day was on The Book of Job.  If you're familiar with this story, you know just how fitting this story was for our situation.  My parents felt like it was written just for them.  And it certainly ties in now with how I've been feeling lately.

For those of you who are not familiar with the book of Job, we have...

The (Suprisingly) Fairly Accurate Visual Aide (for the lazy)

Most of this version story is surprisingly accurate, except that God does give Job his stuff back at the end of the story.

The Accurate Summary

Job is a wealthy man living in a land called Uz with his large family and extensive flocks. He is “blameless” and “upright,” always careful to avoid doing evil (1:1). One day, Satan (“the Adversary”) appears before God in heaven. God boasts to Satan about Job’s goodness, but Satan argues that Job is only good because God has blessed him abundantly. Satan challenges God that, if given permission to punish the man, Job will turn and curse God. God allows Satan to torment Job to test this bold claim, but he forbids Satan to take Job’s life in the process.

In the course of one day, Job receives four messages, each bearing separate news that his livestock, servants, and ten children have all died due to marauding invaders or natural catastrophes. Job tears his clothes and shaves his head in mourning, but he still blesses God in his prayers. Satan appears in heaven again, and God grants him another chance to test Job. This time, Job is afflicted with horrible skin sores. His wife encourages him to curse God and to give up and die, but Job refuses, struggling to accept his circumstances.

Three of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, come to visit him, sitting with Job in silence for seven days out of respect for his mourning. On the seventh day, Job speaks, beginning a conversation in which each of the four men shares his thoughts on Job’s afflictions in long, poetic statements.

Job curses the day he was born, comparing life and death to light and darkness. He wishes that his birth had been shrouded in darkness and longs to have never been born, feeling that light, or life, only intensifies his misery.

Eliphaz responds that Job, who has comforted other people, now shows that he never really understood their pain. Eliphaz believes that Job’s agony must be due to some sin Job has committed, and he urges Job to seek God’s favor. Bildad and Zophar agree that Job must have committed evil to offend God’s justice and argue that he should strive to exhibit more blameless behavior. Bildad surmises that Job’s children brought their deaths upon themselves. Even worse, Zophar implies that whatever wrong Job has done probably deserves greater punishment than what he has received.

Job responds to each of these remarks, growing so irritated that he calls his friends “worthless physicians” who “whitewash [their advice] with lies” (13:4). After making pains to assert his blameless character, Job ponders man’s relationship to God. He wonders why God judges people by their actions if God can just as easily alter or forgive their behavior. It is also unclear to Job how a human can appease or court God’s justice. God is unseen, and his ways are inscrutable and beyond human understanding. Moreover, humans cannot possibly persuade God with their words. God cannot be deceived, and Job admits that he does not even understand himself well enough to effectively plead his case to God. Job wishes for someone who can mediate between himself and God, or for God to send him to Sheol, the deep place of the dead.

Job’s friends are offended that he scorns their wisdom. They think his questions are crafty and lack an appropriate fear of God, and they use many analogies and metaphors to stress their ongoing point that nothing good comes of wickedness. Job sustains his confidence in spite of these criticisms, responding that even if he has done evil, it is his own personal problem. Furthermore, he believes that there is a “witness” or a “Redeemer” in heaven who will vouch for his innocence (16:19, 19:25). After a while, the upbraiding proves too much for Job, and he grows sarcastic, impatient, and afraid. He laments the injustice that God lets wicked people prosper while he and countless other innocent people suffer. Job wants to confront God and complain, but he cannot physically find God to do it. He feels that wisdom is hidden from human minds, but he resolves to persist in pursuing wisdom by fearing God and avoiding evil.

Without provocation, another friend, Elihu, suddenly enters the conversation. The young Elihu believes that Job has spent too much energy vindicating himself rather than God. Elihu explains to Job that God communicates with humans by two ways—visions and physical pain. He says that physical suffering provides the sufferer with an opportunity to realize God’s love and forgiveness when he is well again, understanding that God has “ransomed” him from an impending death (33:24). Elihu also assumes that Job must be wicked to be suffering as he is, and he thinks that Job’s excessive talking is an act of rebellion against God.

God finally interrupts, calling from a whirlwind and demanding Job to be brave and respond to his questions. God’s questions are rhetorical, intending to show how little Job knows about creation and how much power God alone has. God describes many detailed aspects of his creation, praising especially his creation of two large beasts, the Behemoth and Leviathan. Overwhelmed by the encounter, Job acknowledges God’s unlimited power and admits the limitations of his human knowledge. This response pleases God, but he is upset with Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for spouting poor and theologically unsound advice. Job intercedes on their behalf, and God forgives them. God returns Job’s health, providing him with twice as much property as before, new children, and an extremely long life.

And finally, the TL; DR (Too Long; Didn't Read) Summary

There once was a guy named Job. He was blessed with a large family, wealth, and prosperity. He was a good, gracious man who fed the poor and never forgot to praise God.

The Devil bets God that Job only praises the Lord because of all the good things he has and that he wouldn't if God took it all away, so God gives Satan permission to do just that.

  • His livestock is stolen/burned up.
  • His house is knocked down, killing all of his children.
  • He is afflicted with horrible boils.
His friend come sit in silence with him because they know he's hurting.  Finally, when Job breaks the silence and curses the day he was born, they begin to discuss.  His friends suggest that Job must have done something to deserve God's wrath, but Job rejects these notions.  He laments that God lets terrible things happen to good people while wicked people can just as often live lives free of real disaster.

God finally interrupts with a bunch of rhetorical questions to highlight how Job's human brain cannot possibly understand the Lord.  Job realizes this through his answers.  This pleases God.

Job gets all this stuff back and then some.

What I Get Out of It

As I mentioned in my previous post about heaven, I'm not sure what I believe when it comes to God and religion.  

I believe in science, but I also believe there is much more to the universe than what science has been able to tell us so far.  I believe in energy.  I believe physics is more than just equations.  I believe that the human mind is capable of far more than we've been able to decipher.  I believe in the mysteries of the universe.  Yeah. That's a good way to put it.

I believe if God exists, he is far more complex than we've been able to imagine.  And he's not a dick.  I believe that if some version of what we could call God exists, he is simply a watcher.  To do any more would be downright irresponsible.  Futurama does an excellent job of highlighting this idea.  This is probably my favorite episode of this really excellent show so you should watch it anyway when you get time, regardless.

I believe that there has been enough evidence to suggest that we have been provided with tools to affect the universe with what we put into it (for example karma or "The Secret"), BUT all we can do is tweak it.  We cannot change it.  Does that make sense?

And despite everything, I believe above everything else that sometimes... Shit happens and life isn't fair.  That's not to say that we should say "FUCK EVERYTHING" and be completely reckless.  You can definitely impact the likelihood of certain things happening to us, and it's worth making the best attempt we can, but sometimes... we have bad fucking luck. And sometimes our luck is worse than others'.  Jenna had TERRIBLE luck.  We used to joke about it.  She almost always got caught whenever she set a toe out of line.  One time when she was in middle school, she flipped our golf cart.  She was taking it down our long driveway to the tennis court in her bikini with two of her friends.  It went off the driveway just a little, she overcorrected, and it flipped.  Jenna told me that she had a memory of tumbling out, hearing the golf cart bounce, seeing it FLY OVER HER, bounce between her and her friends, then skid off away from them.  I mean... She could have died then!  But she didn't.  And that's what sucks about so many of these types of losses.  It's a case where someone makes a choice or mistake that countless other people have made.  The only difference is that sometimes it doesn't end up okay.

No matter what you do or how you live, when it comes right down to it, life is random.  All you can do is try to affect your odds.

But even then, sometimes it's like The Hunger Games.  *SPOILER ALERT* Your name's only in once, but it gets drawn anyway.

So setting aside my differing views on the cause of this bottom line, the Book of Job and I definitely agree on that point.

Great. So What Am I Supposed to Do With That Fucking Bummer?

There are two types of people: People who have suffered great loss, and those who haven't.  

DISCLAIMER ONE:  When I say great loss, I don't just mean death, but let me be clear: Even if you've lost all your money and your house burns to the ground, there is a possible way to get back to what you had before.  It may be unlikely, but there's a way.  Great loss is the loss of the life you thought you could have had with absolutely NO WAY to get it back.  You may (and are certainly encouraged to) find a way to be happy again, but it will always be different.  So for example: Non-natural order death, severe and permanent physical injury/disfigurement, or intense emotional trauma.

DISCLAIMER TWO: I know this is going to be a very "first world" oriented reflection.  I know that there are people in the world that have an entirely different set of challenges and losses to go through every day.  Whenever I feel too awful, I look at this to get some perspective.

All things considered, life could be worse.  And I'm grateful.  But that only lasts for so long.  When it comes right down to it, I'm still hurting.  And I can only live and write in and about the world that I know (and what the likely readers of this blog know).  So that's what I'm going to do.

Okay back to my first sentence.  There are two types of people [in the society that we live in]:  People who have suffered great loss and those who haven't.  I'm not saying this in a condescending way.  It's simply that there are two separate sets of ways to deal with the fairly daunting life truth we just discussed.

For Those Who Have NOT Suffered Great Loss

Try not to panic.  Knowing that there is no way to escape terrible things happening can often inspire the impulse to say "FUCK EVERYTHING" and chalk life up to "pointless", but it's not true.  Like I said before, the choices you make DO affect your odds.  They matter.  But that doesn't mean you should hide in your house either.  It means live your life.  Actually no.  I means so much more than that.  It means VALUE your life. That also includes not feeling guilty that you've never really suffered.  You should only feel guilty if you're wasting such fortunate circumstances.

  • You are lucky enough to have kept all the people you really love in your life until they are supposed to go.  So love them and make sure they know it.  
  • You are lucky enough to have your health.  So treat your body with respect (and that includes not forgetting to let it enjoy itself).  
  • You are lucky enough to have your emotional well being intact.  So cherish and nurture the emotions of others.  

Life is short.  It can end in a blink.  What do you want to leave behind?  Take chances, let the little shit go, and for god sakes, get off the computer and go outside.  You know, ALL THAT MOTIVATIONAL POSTER CRAP.  It might sound cliche, but for how often these messages seems to be pounded into our skulls, you would think more people would actually put them into practice.

So go!  Be happy and let it be easy.  You're doing the rest of us a disservice if you don't.  Why are you still reading this?  This is a long ass post!  Come back later!  Go outside or call someone and tell them you love them.  Fuck!

For Those Who HAVE Suffered a Great Loss

The odds just weren't in your favor.  It sucks doesn't it?  I think Grey's Anatomy puts it extremely well (don't judge me - this show gets my feelings out):

"I had a terrible day.  We say it all the time.  A fight with the boss, the stomach flu, traffic, That’s what we describe as terrible: When nothing terrible is happening.  These are the things we beg for.  A root canal.  An IRS audit. Coffee spilled on our clothes.  When the really terrible things happen, we start begging a god we don’t believe in to bring back the little horrors and take away… this.  It seems quaint now, doesn’t it?  The flood in the kitchen, the poison oak, the fight that leaves you shaking with rage; Would it have helped if we could see what else was coming?  Would we have known that those were the best moments of our lives?"

Once the great loss has happened, it's like your on the other side of this wall and have no idea how you got there.  Everything is different, but also maddeningly the same.  And it only gets worse when you start watching the rest of the world recover.  You desperately want to get back to what you had, but now there's this little black cloud hanging over you.

So here's the big issue: People in general often have to remind themselves to be happy.  I mean, just look at the previous bit.  It's practically a compulsion for the average person to sweat the small stuff.  Now when I say happy, I know that you aren't going to be cheerful all the time.  I'm talking about the state of underlying peace that allows you to recognize and work with what life has given you with gratitude and joy, whether things happen to be going your way at that moment or not.  That overall satisfaction that you would not trade your life for any other.  And now that we're on the other side of this wall, we not only have to ACTIVELY work at being "happy" again, we also now have a legitimate reason to be sad.  We have the perfect excuse to let all our selfish and destructive impulses out.  And there are so few people who can actually call us out on it!  They don't know what we're going through.

I make-a the jokes... But in all seriousness, it's a pretty easy thing to do.

When we lose big, we have to deal with all these big emotions: Denial, Bargaining and Blame (these two often go together, depending on the type of loss, which leads to...), Anger, Depression, Acceptance, Guilt... And all these big emotions often distract us from another emotion that affects us far more profoundly than we think: Disappointment.  This emotion is so often downplayed compared to all the other things we're feeling, but we underestimate just how CRUSHING that emotion can be.  We've not only lost someone we love or a part of ourselves (emotionally/physically); we've lost an ENTIRE LIFE we thought we were going to have.  We don't just lose what we hoped for, but we lose basic essentials that we should have been allowed to expect.  We don't just lose privileges, but what we thought were rights.

And that shit can mess you up.

So we're presented with a choice:  We're either going to be happy someday or we're not.  It's the same choice that everyone in life has to make, but now the stakes are so much higher.  The lucky sons of bitches on the other side of that glass wall CAN make that choice, and it will probably make life a lot easier for them, but there's also a pretty good chance of falling into happiness accidentally.  We no longer have that option.  We can no longer afford to be lazy when it comes to analyzing where each negative emotion we feel is coming from, what we want versus what we need... basically being self-aware as hell.

<--- THAT! o_O  

Again.  I make-a the jokes.  But I've figured out that happiness for those who have lost close to home is not something to be taken lightly.  Because it's SO EASY to just let go and be miserable.  Because you have SUCH a good reason!

You see it all the time.  A recovering alcoholic relapses, a marriage falls apart, a parent keeps their child's room a shrine and becomes locked in time, or something as simple as letting our worst selves come out and dwelling in our unlucky break.  We have such a strong urge to self destruct.  It's like we're waiting for a reason.  Maybe it's because these impulses were always there, maybe it's that whole "Life is random?  Well FUCK EVERYTHING" thing, maybe misery just enjoys company, or maybe it's because all those other big emotions I mentioned are making us feel guilty for still being here when someone we love can't be.  So we make sure that time is good and miserable.  I suppose the reasons depend on the type of loss, but it's all unacceptable, regardless!

Why on earth would anyone WANT to stay unhappy?  I suppose it's because like I said, being happy is now going to be an epic struggle.  It's going to be downright exhausting for a while.  I get it.  But it's a battle worth fighting.

But if you can't find a reason to do it for yourself, do it for the ones who love you.

For those that have suffered a loss through physical/emotional trauma... Don't forget that the people closest to you have also lost something too.  It's not as bad as what you've lost, but it's still something huge.  The people who love you - spouses, parents, children, even friends - imagined a life entwined with yours.  That person you were and that life you would have helped shape has also been suddenly snatched away from THEM too.  And chances are, they aren't even going to let themselves feel it since your loss is so much worse by comparison.  If you can't fight for your happiness yourself, do it for them.  Better yet, do it WITH them.

These statements can also be applies to those who have suffered a loss through death, but there's yet another player to consider for this type of loss. I've said this over and over: How would Jenna or whoever you lost feel if they knew that not being able to be with you ruined the rest of your life?  Awful.  That's how.  That's like punishing them for dying.  Not to mention it's spitting in their face by wasting the time you're lucky enough to still have.  I'm not saying you have to be happy over night.  I don't know if I'll ever have the peace I once did, but dammit, I'm going to fight for it anyway.  I HAVE TO.

Okay, Okay!  Damn! What's Your Point?

Yeah I know.  I got a little intense and lecture-y.  But let's reflect on what I think is the most important statement in this rant: We're presented with a choice:  We're either going to be happy someday or we're not. 

A CHOICE.  The whole point of the beginning of this post (which feels like another lifetime ago doesn't it?) was that life is random.  You can't control what misfortunes may befall you.  You can only affect your odds.  But the good things...  Now that's all about perspective.  It's about not only recognizing, but also accepting the moments where everything is okay.  And basking in those moments as long as we can.  That's something we can actually seek out.  That's something we actually DO control - At least to some degree.  And frankly, after these last couple months, I'll take what I can get.

My cousins are already on the right path I think.  Tony and his wife got a kitty.  Beth and Eric are still working hard at physical therapy, and the last I heard, Eric is regaining some sensation in his legs!    But that's the Roark family for you (and Jenna was no different).  We keep pushing forward.

We choose happiness.


1 comment:

  1. Amanda,

    I love you with all of my heart. And I'm proud of you. And I believe in you.

    And most of all, I want to have happy, awesome, ridiculous adventures with you.

    Thank you for this post.