A week or so ago, on the Diane Rehm show, Barbara Bradley Hagerty talked about her new book, Fingerprints of God. It was a fascinating interview, but one point stuck out for me – and it wasn’t the focus of her book or the interview. They began talking about prayer and its power and the fact that many people believe so hardily and heartily in the power of prayer that if they go to church and pray their hearts out – and then get sick (as in terminally or chronically very sick) – they are left with a feeling that they didn’t pray hard enough. Because there understanding is that if they were doing it right, they would be okay. They take it on as their own fault.
How often do events happen that we, humans, take responsibility for, bear the burden for – when in fact it might not be ours at all?
There is a sweet philosophy floating around these days. It says that if you think positively and reach for good thoughts, Good will come to you. There’s a dangerous promise there, though, because we are left with the responsibility of thinking good enough thoughts. So, what happens when we think ‘good’ and get ‘shit’? Did we do it wrong? I mean, who else could possibly be to blame? What if we just can’t think purely positively? We didn’t do it right, we didn’t do it enough. It’s our fault that we didn’t get what we wanted.
This used to be me. In fact, I started writing this post – from the sentence above this and up – last week and I was living every word of it. I was struggling and blaming myself about a lot of things…particularly the writing of my book which wasn’t going so well, compounded by the fact that the big-time, big-house editor had a chunk of it and was remaining silent.
And then I had this epiphany. A real one, if you can believe it. I was talking to this incredible woman (whole other long story) and I told her that I thought I was addicted to pain and suffering. I believed that I was gifted (no kidding) with the tortured artist’s gene of despair and angst.
She said, “I’ve never met anyone who’s addicted to pain and suffering. You aren’t really.”
“Oh,” but I said, “I really am. Even when things are going really well, I freak myself out and get all upset…” and then it started to hit me “…and I tell the people close to me…” holy crap, really? “…so that they’ll make me feel better…” wah huh? “…Oh my god. I. Want. To. Feel. Good. I like it. It’s been my M.O. all along.”
Life as I thought I knew it has ended. Officially. Armed with this knowledge, I’m incapable of making myself miserable.
I have proof:
Two days ago, I got an email from said big-time, big-house, Editor…she doesn’t like or want my book.
I cried, I was sad. I’m still human, after all…I think. I shared the news with some key friends & colleagues who were stunning in their responses. But I never even went near the pit of despair that would’ve typically beckoned me inside: I worried too much, I wasn’t inspired enough, I let negativity creep in…and that’s why this tragedy happened. I did it wrong. I deserve the shit, every splatter.
Um, yeah. Of course, you did it wrong, you doofus. But not the wanting it or positivity or ‘prayer’ – it just wasn’t right. The book will be better if I do this (more on that later too) – it’ll be more me. And maybe she isn’t my Editor. And…and…and…. Alas, this is a growth process, this writing thing, and it’s meant to be savored and explored. It’s delightful.
I woke up yesterday excited, inspired…I read the Editor’s email again and opportunity was all I could se for miles and miles. I owned my part, made decisions, felt good.
Today? Even better…woke up at 4am…had to start writing.
Why am I telling you this? At least one of you will find it inspirational to know that change – magnificent, profound change – is possible. And that it isn’t our fault when things don’t go as we’d hoped. We really do the best that we can. Sometimes, we feel good, sometimes we feel bad…sometimes it doesn’t matter.
I’m not down and I’m not out. It’s a flipping miracle.
Image courtesy of Jon Hanson