Thursday, November 29, 2012

the feeling of never being out of the woods

Ever since I was young (as in substantially younger than I am now) I tended to think of myself as a bit of a fuddy duddy.  I wouldn't have said I was an "old soul" because I didn't exactly think I was wise beyond my years and there's that proverb about how you should let another praise you and not yourself.  The phrase I preferred to think of applying to me was (and is) "old at heart" in both bad and good senses of that term.  In the good sense, for me, I found it easier in my teens to relate to and converse with people older than me.  Call it an interest in transforming any potential relationship with someone older, male or female, into at least a possibility for apprenticing in life.

In the bad sense ... well ... perhaps it would be in the form of a kind of pessimism ... .

Maybe pessimism isn't quite strong enough a word, actually.  A friend of mine has joked that if he's like Superman I'm like Batman.  He likes to see the positive side of things and how people are basically good and can be trusted.  Me ... heh heh ... you may have already begun to see the comparison work itself out.  But I'll proceed anyway.  I tend to have a grim view of human nature.  We are not so smart and we are often dumbest when we are sure we're brilliant.  We are not as rational as we think we are in our most "rational" moments. 

There are things in life where how things work out can seem to be the opposite of what might be implied.  I've joked that Arminians emphasize how free we are as individuals in the ordo salutis but they can be emphatic about the need to find God's best will if you've grown up in Wesleyan settings of any stripe (let alone a Pentecostal/charismatic scene were working out your divine destiny/spiritual gift/place can be obsessive.  Calvinists, notoriously, posit that you can't possibly choose God of your own accord and that the Lord must intervene on your behalf for you to even make a choice.  Yet many Calvinists go through life blissfully unconcerned about what, exactly, God might want them to do.  So long as it's not something expressly forbidden in the Bible and you want to do it, don't bother working out whether or not you "should" do it.  If it works, great, if not, well, that happens. 

By extension a counterintuitive application of my kinda gloomy view of the human condition is a desire to give individuals the benefit of a doubt.  Maybe I'm wrong about something and maybe this other person knows all kinds of stuff I don't.  One of my siblings described this disposition in contrast to people who are optimistic and trusting about people but become withdrawn and upset when hurt or disappointed.  This optimistic sort could be described as a sensitive optimist, where as the sibling and I could be described as "friendly pessimists".  We have a view of the human condition generally that can be grim ... but since you're here and all that's no reason we can't get to know each other.  As I put it to a friend years ago, I tend to anticipate the worst so that when the worst doesn't happen I can be pleasantly surprised.  The friend said he always assumed the best whether for outcomes or expectations of people and that this was why he would get so morally outraged over his disappointment.  Moral outrage is the sort of thing that falters the more a boy cries wolf so I'm not usually eager to get angry about people.  THings ... I can have a bad temper about.

Well, part of this disposition is a feeling that you're never really out of the woods.  The trees may have thinned enough that you can see a prarie or a lake.  You might even come to the lake but you're technically still not out of the woods.  Even in my teens and twenties the inevitably of death was not something I was able to put out of mind for long.  Life is short and fragile.  I had ambitions and dreams and so on like many a teenager would but in my teens the spectre of End Times stuff meant that any ideas for a lasting legacy were mooted by End Times stuff.  I may have cast off dispensationalist futurism in my mind but perhaps at some emotional level the feeling that everything a person says or does can get swept away into nothingness by the end of life on earth can stick with you even when you don't necesarily want it that way.

I've had a rough few years, possibly some of the worst years I've had.  I don't stop considering, from time to time, that things can still get worse and that death could be around the corner.  In the setting I used to be in I heard a lot, and I mean a lot, about people building legacies.  From someone who went through Ecclesiastes about three times the emphasis on legacy seems weird because Ecclesiastes goes on at some length about how death destroys legacies overnight and names are forgotten in scarcely two generations, maybe even within the generation itself.  But adventures in Ecclesiastes is for some other time.


steve said...

"I've had a rough few years, possibly some of the worst years I've had. I don't stop considering, from time to time, that things can still get worse and that death could be around the corner."

Sorry to hear that.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I tend to be gloomy and downcast about a lot of things and it's something I have to consider and, at times, ignore about myself. In my 20s I wasn't able to fully appreciate the Psalms but as I'm closer to 40 than 20 lines like "Why so downcast, my soul? put your hope in God" taken on a host of previously unrealized (for me) meanings.

Providentially I am very well-situated being in Seattle. I've been blessed to get help from several quarters when I really needed it and my church has been of great help. I used to say that I could trust God but that I did not trust his people and over the last seven years it dawned on me how much like Ivan Karamazov that was. :) There's a point at which one not trusting God's people is a way of not really trusting God (though there's plenty of reasons to NOT trust Christians in a variety of circumstances, obviously).

As rough as the last few years have been in a number of areas they've been years of unprecedented creativity both in the arts (writing and music projects) and closer to home (there's nothing like having no job to force a bachelor to recognize he should be able to cook his own food already). :)