Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A lesson about second guessing

I was lying in bed last night thinking about this summer. I was thinking about how much harder it was than what I had imagined. I chose to stay where it was familiar because of love and because of safety. I chose to work in the same place because I love the people and the work, and because I thought it would be easier than striking out on my own and forging a new path. I chose to stay, and the other week I was on the phone with my friend and I blurted out, "DID I MISS IT?"

And once I'd started the words flash flooded into the afternoon: Was that the sign, Lisa? That I got that job offer and that I could have been in DC and I could have been free to explore that city and it could have been a summer about all of that, and was God telling me to go? Is this hard because I messed it up? 

Lisa sighed a small sigh on the phone and said, "I'm sorry, love. I'm sorry it's hard." And I started to cry, because what if in the end the desert doesn't have a beautiful blossoming orange tree? What if this summer is just hard, with the good hidden away in years that haven't arrived yet? What if I can't decide what to do, and what if all of this writing has been running around in circles in the dark, and what if I chose wrong..., and the ship I ought to have been sailing on breezed out of the harbor months ago?

As I stared up at my ceiling last night and listened for the night wind, an owl called out into the dark, and my mind kept spinning with how choices are never what we think they're going to be when we make them. I chose what I thought would be simple, easy, clear, and it turned out to be difficult, and murky, and full of half-begun thoughts and hopes and dreams.

I opened my book of Rilke's letters to this one, Letter Eight, and I remembered how much I long to become a person who could speak and live these words.

You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change... Your life, dear Mr. Kappus, which I think of with so many good wishes. Do you remember how that life yearned out of childhood toward the "great thing"? I see that it is now yearning forth beyond the great thing toward the greater one. That is why it does not cease to be difficult, but that is also why it will not cease to grow.

Why do I do that, Rilke? Why do I rush to slam the door against confusion? Why do I barricade myself in the safety of imagining that I must have made a mess of everything, so I don't have to look the difficulty in the face and wait for an answer?

Didn't I say I wanted nothing so much as to change? (Yes, I did. Often.) And didn't I say that I wanted to yearn toward great things? (Yes, I did that too.) So why do I now say, I shouldn't have done that. I should have done something else. 

We say it because hindsight is almost as confusing as it is clarifying, and the might-have-been burns brightly. It's alluring to imagine all of the ways that a summer away from home would have been more exotic and exciting, full of new office dynamics and new people, full of blogging about adventures along cobblestones and over mojitos at the W. When I was making this decision, I asked Him to make it clear. Make it clear where You want me to go. Make it clear what You want me to do. And now that I chose, and the summer unfolded full of wrinkles, snags in my quietness, exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the future - I see the glimmer of the might-have-been and I guess again. 

And I could keep doing that forever, go right back to my decision to be at this school. And then my decision about pursuing poetry as ferociously as I did, or writing that paper about Daisy in The Great Gatsby that was my first real moment of academic amazement, or going to Waring, at all. I could retreat into the possibilities that sailed without me, into the roads not taken, and imagine what my life might have been.

But however bright might-have-been shines into the present, there is nothing for it but to keep choosing what is here, what lives in my heart now, and trust that it will not cease to grow.



  1. Notice that all of that came out of a moment of shear panic, which underneath it all, is coming from a place of fear. You're feeling afraid that you missed out, afraid that the opportunities might not be there later, and afraid that YOU made choices to mess it all up. But nothing good in this life comes out of fear. And just because you feel afraid, doesn't mean the world (or God) has closed its doors. Opportunity to use your amazing gifts is not a one-stop shop in this life, friend. Opportunity extends itself over and over again, in beautiful and surprising ways, because...quite frankly... God is beautiful and surprising.

  2. Yes! And why do we wish for ease for others, too, as though that's the kindest thing? I heard a radio announcer say today, "No traffic, this evening, and hopefully it will stay clear for you all for an uninterrupted drive home." Okay, so that's a reasonable well-wishing, but knowing that difficulty is necessary for growth...don't we want growth for each other too? I'd like to pick your brain about this more. So soon!

  3. I love your writing, Hilary! :-)

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  5. thanks for writing about this hilary...i love that rilke quote and can relate to it as well. looking forward to seeing and talking with you soon!!


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