This last week, I read a book (the one I reviewed in the previous post).
I’m a slow reader, except when I skim-read something because I have to for some professional obligation. I like to not only read and absorb every word, but stop and think from time to time, about the ideas offered me, the perspective I’m asked to share, the new things I’m learning, this vision of how life might really be.
So reading this book occupied a lot of hours.
I became aware, about the time my Kindle told me I was 82% of the way through, that I wasn’t breathing properly. Usual problem. I felt anxious. Why? Anxious because I was reading and I wanted to.
I was brought up to be conscientious, and fell early into the hands of devout Christians. At 22 I had become a mother. I am not great at managing money. I am an extreme introvert.
As a result of this combination, I feel chronically guilty.
Let me give you an example. This week, I am conducting a funeral. It’s work I like – an opportunity to make a difference at a time when people are very vulnerable; to listen properly and help sadness heal – but it’s psychologically costly. Spending time hearing the stories of the next of kin of the person whose funeral it is, I find myself stretched, stretching – s t r e t c h i n g – to stay there, to remain calm and focused, to allow their energies to travel through me like electricity. When it comes to the funeral itself, I feel confident in the work, but again it is so spiritually and emotionally costly that near the end often my voice begins to fade – it’s something that happens to me when a situation is too much for me; my voice gives out.
So I took on the funeral knowing that this week I have no other obligations similarly demanding. With space around the two events of the prior interview and the ceremony itself, I felt sure it would be okay.
Then, in between the interview and the funeral, my Badger asked me if I would go to the bank and cancel some direct debits – a transaction proving difficult online.
I said, no. How unco-operative that seems, when my days (by my choice and the consequence of those choices) are so empty and his (by his choice and the consequence of his choices) are so full.
How could I explain in a manner capable of being understood, how exhausting and costly it is, to drive through traffic, park in the town centre, interact with the bank clerks? It would soak up all the safeguarded power I need for the funeral. So I said no; but I didn’t explain.
This is the kind of thing that twists and wrings me with guilt. And I find it fuelled every which way I turn in the Christian Church. Preachers demanding dolefully week upon week, have I visited the elderly (not if I can avoid it), have I reached out to anybody (probably not), have I taken on jobs in the church (no chance). They ask, who am I, why am I here, do I believe. Well, as it happens, I’d been wondering that too.
I wonder about the sheep and the goats. In the story, the sheep don’t know they’re sheep and not goats, and the goats don’t realize they’re goats, not until it’s too late and the sheep are led out to lush pasture while the goats are sent off to be fried for curry. Away from me, ye evil-doers.
It would appear the criteria are, basically, how well did you do at becoming an extrovert. It all comes down to what you did with people. What I do with people is avoid them. They soon find out why if they push it. I am prickly, rude, impatient, too candid, easily exhausted, and I hurt people. Especially when they frighten me.
The human race wrings me. Here, in the little room over the street where I read and think, some of the time, in the houses opposite, in the coming and going of families, I hear children wailing, crying, pleading, and parents shouting, chiding, swearing at them. I hate it. If you were thinking of commenting about how you understand the way the parents feel, and how you find a little supportive word and some gentle encouragement is just what they need, forget it. I couldn’t even bring myself to speak to them, so much anguish is set loose in me by the way they carry on.
The more persistent people find, in the end, I just bolt. I remember one time in the days when I was a church pastor. I had just taken the funeral of a church member and afterwards the large congregation filed through in line from the sanctuary to the meeting place, where tables of refreshments were laid out for the social interactions following the ceremony. I tried. I stayed in line and walked towards the social place. But we were walking slowly, and passing an open door. A way out. I didn’t even give my feet permission. They just took me through it.
Everything I have to do with the church makes me feel guilty. That I read in the day time. That I have almost stopped doing housework. That I don’t believe in hell. That I find most preaching tedious. That I only like the hymns. That I don’t want to hear any more stories about the war. That I haven’t much money to give. I am not thrifty, or cheerful, or loving, or kind. I’m not at all sure I have enough oil in my lamp to keep burning until midnight. I fall asleep. I get bored. I wander off.
So restful the direct amber gaze of a vixen, only herself. So cheering the social visits of the crow who sits on the post and wants only to spend some time with me when he’s eaten his breakfast. So peaceful the quiet breathing of the cat curled nearby on a cushion.
I do want to go to heaven. I can’t bear the idea of hell. But I want, also to breathe freely on the earth, to read in the morning. I like sunrise and the night air. I like the shining of blue purple flowers in the dusk. I love the stars and the silent moon. I don’t want to turn on the lights and start up one of those conversations, like crossing minefields, dodging inappropriate remarks, pretending I don’t think what I do, so as not to give offence.
I love water. I love light. I love silence. I love the sky.