To the eternal lament of parents, growing up is wonderful but also painful. Life is wonderful but also painful. Your children will suffer if they are to grow, and they will suffer even if they don’t, because suffering is a part of life.
This is a difficult truth that is impossible to accept. You can’t cope with it. You can only live through it, helplessly.
Being yourself is no easy thing. Or maybe—holding on to yourself is no easy thing.
I stumbled across the video for Stella Maris tonight and I stopped, frozen in time while parts of me burned away. Or rather, not-parts of me. It was like a resurrection. Chills ran across my cheeks. My hair stood on end. I shivered. I stopped breathing.
Dimensions of me long asleep and nearly lost fought their way to the surface, destitute, full of longing, indignant, hurt, desiring and accusing.
I had forgotten me again.
I forget myself every day. Every hour. Every minute.
I live a life of forgetting.
— § —
I read once long ago in a phase during which I was consuming a large number of Myers-Briggs profiles about INFPs (I am evenly split between INFP and INTP) that while they weren’t natural members of today’s global marketplace, they could—when necessary—don their “ESTJ business suit” for a while, though only with great effort.
It wasn’t there explained that some of us get so much practice at this over such a long period of time that we do things like publish nonfiction books and earn PhDs and manage teams of people.
It also wasn’t explained that to do this is immensely risky.
It’s risky because if we do it long enough, we lose ourselves. We become what we’re not—we become it so thoroughly and so skillfully that it seems we’ve never been anything else.
But, of course, and as the trite wisdom goes, we are then dead inside, having lost ourselves without realizing it. Devoid of both joy and insight.
Oh, I’m very efficient. I’m very professional. I’m very stable, as my team members and family members love to remind me. I can be trusted. To get things done. To figure things out. To stay calm in a crisis. To be the one that everyone else looks to, for a great many things.
But I realized tonight, only after encountering with suddenness an artifact from the deep past, that I haven’t felt anything in years.
Well tonight I felt something.
— § —
I know this is a part of what went wrong in my marriage, and what continues to haunt my relationships today.
My ex-wife, who (as I always knew, and as I can’t count how many people have told me over the years, both before and after our divorce) wears her heart on her sleeve and is consumed by passions, felt as though I wasn’t there.
And of course I wasn’t. And I’m not. Not in that way. Not with feelings.
I can’t be a person with feelings and keep a job. I can’t be a person with feelings and pay the bills. The me with feelings lays in the snow under the stars shivering and telling myself that I have to go inside while, for far too long, I don’t. The me with feelings spends all of the money because money is worthless but so many, many other things aren’t—so many, many other things are so very, very special and magical.
And life is short.
And you can’t keep it with you.
And all there is to do is to notice just how lovely and romantic and tragic and sad the world is, and to love that and hate it, and revel in it and become it.
But you can’t do that.
Not and live in the modern world.
— § —
It’s the first time I’ve understood so clearly why it was so painful for her to be with me.
Because I loved her and I loved our life, but not in the way that she wanted me to. Neither she nor our life dwelt in my soul, could have broken me entirely. She saw this after we divorced, too; it was always more possible for me to live and function without her than she wanted, than felt enough for her.
And I can’t do anything but admit it.
No, I wasn’t in love in that way. It wasn’t that relationship. I loved her and cared deeply for her. But—
I was in my ESTJ “business suit” in the relationship, of necessity. And, being the person that she is—absolutely committed to paying the bills and keeping a tidy house and and entertaining skillfully—the deeper me, the dreamer me, the me that’s an Orthodox brother, the me of endless longing and ecstasy—was not hers and could not be brought to that kind of profound dwelling by her.
We did not, in other words, together weave tellurian magic, but merely a home. It was love as caring for me, not love as craving, as pining, as endless yearning, as ravenous hunger, as wistful, wishful shards of sunlight glancing across meadows in the fever dream of barely recalled childhood memories—safety and sin, fear and fancy, tableaux and trance.
No. It was love, as a husband loves his wife—not as archetypal man—brute, general, hunter, elder— must necessarily devour archetypal woman—muse, force of nature, soil of fertility and mystery.
We’re so different as to be mutually unintelligible in basic ways, and so we became, each in turn, somehow less.
Climbing to my depths was beyond her nature and ability. I was always in resonance with sounds, carried from far, far away, deep beneath the surface of the earth, that she couldn’t and would never hear. Meanwhile, she did not have depths, but rather heights—and as a man of depths, I was unable ultimately to climb up to or to plausibly understand heights or their purpose in the ways that others have and did.
We loved each other, sure. But we couldn’t integrate with one another. Couldn’t appreciate, much less be enraptured by the clockwork beneath the dial when gazing across at the other’s face.
And to make things even harder—though I think this was harder for her than it was for me, probably as result of whatever inscrutable differences separate us, and that I can’t describe precisely because they’re so inscrutable to each of us—I knew that many others could fill such a role for her, yet I struggled even to aspire to the climb, and she conversely knew I could be and had been reached in that way only under the most obscure of circumstances, by the most dedicated of adventurers, perhaps only once before, and by someone else.
And this was painful for her, even if it didn’t and couldn’t ever have been sustained for the same reason that tsunamis don’t and can’t last forever, that earthquakes pass in seconds, that the largest infernos burn out in time, having consumed everything in their wake…
— § —
But yes, I see. Tonight I see in a new way.
How can I blame her for hating me—knowing, as she knew, that as much as perhaps I loved her, I was not inspired by her. Every woman wants to be the muse. Every man wants to be the hero.
We were just not these things to each other.
Perhaps it’s an adolescent wish, yes.
But there’s a difference between, on the one hand, growing old as a couple knowing that once you were these things to each other even if you’ve long since outgrown them, and on the other hand, knowing that you’ve never been and never could or would be these things to each other—that in fact each of you is forever to be haunted by the dim yet startlingly viscous light and shadow of what others perhaps could be or already have been.
What do you do with that?
— § —
Even as I sit here—middle-aged and racing toward “golden years,” knowing that all of this is in the past—that for me all of these artifacts are things only to remember, and never really to be felt again—it is difficult to move entirely beyond the imprint of the feelings that once were.
She longed to dwell in the memory of my skin, of my breath, of my heartbeat. It wasn’t possible. It hurt her. It still wasn’t possible. Those things, for me, are primordial; I can’t grant access to them. They must be unlocked through alchemical reactions that even I don’t understand, but that I at least know are esoteric and obscure, metronomic and preternatural.
I am led by reading to understand that this is a passion that is meant, in the Christian tradition—particularly that of the East—to be felt by all for God. Perhaps if that had been the case for us, things for us would have been different. I have no insight into such matters at this time.
— § —
I sit here, struggling to breathe, having listened to Stella Maris now nonstop for going on two hours, as one feels the rhythm of chants in a monastery. Everything around me is transparent, has dissolved into mist illuminated by hints of coronal moonlight; I can pass my hand through wood, rock, metal, and universe—for a moment—without resistance.
For the first time in many years, I remember myself, and such things inevitably lead to new understanding.
And so, having written this, I am blank. Not in body or soul, but in mind.
— § —
Do you ever get the feeling that you have accidentally, perhaps due to poor judgment and lack of exercise, or some other absurdly quotidian factor, lived the wrong life?
That everything that is—is not what was meant to be?