God sent his Singers upon earth
With songs of sadness and of mirth,
That they might touch the hearts of men,
And bring them back to heaven again.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I was never any good at being home schooled. I’m naturally a terrible speller, a slow reader, far too social, and entirely too inquisitive, but mostly the problem was that there were never enough tests and no competition whatsoever.
I am at a stage now, just having graduated college to an empty job market with a useless degree in General Studies and a fledgling editorial photography business in a state that’s publication landscape mirrors the Mohave Desert, where I am very much being figuratively home schooled.
The days of tests and competitions, I am finding out, are over. We are down to the messy parts. The parts with no clear winners or losers. That gray, muddy, primordial goop where life somehow, with enough heat and pressure and an amazingly simple configuration of basic bits and atoms, springs into a living thing. Sure it is a magical, wondrous place, but to be honest, I fucking hate it in here.
From the time I was 8 or so, on I begged my mother to let me enroll in public school. It took another 7 and a half years to convince her I was serious. That was my mother. But, finally, somehow I did and I can still remember the exact tempo of my heart as I stepped into the florescently-lit glory of 11th grade in Arkadelphia High School. I had come to the proving grounds– the land of pass, or fail, or the delightfully tempting– “excel.”
For the first time, my life’s worth could be measured, qualified, quantified, and broken down into a convenient, clean, and concise list of letters on a quarterly print-out. And not only did I get a print-out, but so did everyone else. And mine was usually better. I knew where I stood. Luckily, my social nature and my athletic, well it wasn’t skill so let’s say “dedication,” kept me from being a total geek. I managed to be one of the “smart” kids who actually enjoyed my teenage years.
College was a bit tougher for me, I have always had something of a restless spirit and grand expectations, but for the most part, though I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much, I still felt safe in the world of academia and performance. This has a lot to do with my father (thank you primordial soup for your many lessons of late) and of course also my views on God.
But now, 6 months out of school and incidentally 5 years behind most graduates in age (I worked my way through several colleges and more majors to prolong the inevitable g-day) I am jobless and living with my oldest sister who makes life seem effortlessly joyful. My sister has never been a competitor. She counts all battles as win’s whether her opponents know it or not, and she never, ever defines herself or her worth by how well she performs on any sort of test. Her value is intrinsic to being alive. Of course this infuriates me. But she listens to me cry and always offers soft embraces and painfully wise insight.
After a night of wailing and sobbing my eyes out over my apparent lack of self-actualization (what the hell does that really mean, anyway?) she will tell me the same things. Let it go, let the control go. God does not care how well you perform. He is not more interested in you when you are succeeding than when you are failing. More fury. More tears. More clarity.
The lesson this season of my life is teaching me is that there are no real standards now other than the ones we impose on ourselves which are all rather dumb and pointless. The only exceptions to the standards are dumb rule have to do with how our lives bump into other people’s lives, but that is a completely different chapter. This, what I am saying now, is that for the first time in a very long time, I am confronted with the fact that the only one who is going to measure how good I am doing at life, is me. And since I am currently failing my own tests, this is not something I am terribly comfortable with. It is also something that I am not sure I can truly believe.
But if my sister is right, it a concept that God is totally comfortable with and he has no trouble believing it.
Now, I have to make a break in the tempo of this story, to tell a side story. But it is short, and I hope you will see how it fits in the end.
Though I am a nerd, and I am most definitely performance driven, I find joy in a few other areas of my life. There was once a period in my early college days when I fancied myself a musician. I learned how to play a guitar and I wrote songs and played them at seedy bars and small-town coffee shops. I have loved to sing my entire life, but I realized one day before a gig, that I hated to play shows. I couldn’t understand it. I had loved choir in church and no one has less of a problem being the center of attention than I, but playing gigs all by myself for an audience was somehow joyless. I decided after that show that I would no longer play gigs, at least not alone. The only joy I found in performing music was in a communal setting, but really the best, most sweet and dearest moments of music take place when I am singing to myself alone in the car or the shower.
Anyway, back to being uncomfortable with my life right now, and the crying it entails.
Tonight was one of the crying nights.
I cried so hard and my heart broke so completely that I literally wanted to throw up. Snot mostly, is my guess. But after it was all said, or sobbed between hysterical laughing fits and terrifying choking episodes, I managed to grasp something of a conviction about all of this.
Laying outside, on the bed-swing in the backyard, I let the warm summer air soothe me until I could hear my heart beating. Slowly and rhythmically. I prayed, sincerely and simply, just one word over and over.
Please. Please. Please. Please.
It became a song, and in the kind stillness that is only found in backyards on summer evenings with the first lightning bugs of the season dancing in the dark, I was given my answer.
Life is not a test. Life is a song we sing for the joy of singing, together in community, or alone in the shower, but not on a stage with everyone watching to see how you will do.
Life is a song. We sing for the joy of singing.
Tonight it sounds like this:
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.