Thursday, April 03, 2014

Pain and failure and endings

It's over.

That was it.

We'd better go to bed soon.

I dread that moment. I dread that feeling. I dread those words.

We're impermanent creatures who live an impermanent life. Everything comes to an end. There's nothing we can do about it.

Yet I live so much of my life in fear of that moment. That moment when whatever I'd been waiting and working for hours, days, months or years to feel, comes to an end.

I hate it. I hate it so much that I sometimes avoid doing anything just because of it.

For a long time I was a runner. I'd run for hours and hours not because of anything that it did for me, but because it was something that I could keep on doing, and doing, and doing. Inevitably, though, I had to stop. And I hated that. Hated how it felt.

For the pretty recent past, I've tried really hard to structure my life around things that don't lead to obvious ends. Not too much of this. Not too much of that. Margin. Consistency. Structure. Discipline. Onward. Forward.

Even those things ultimately come to the same end, though.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway wrote about a "deadly wheel.... that drunkards and those who are really mean or cruel ride until they die." Being one thing, and then trying to compensate for it by being another thing.

I've spent a lot of time and effort trying to escape that wheel ("It was making me dizzy for a couple of times," as Robert Jordan said).

But in the end we can't get off of that wheel, can we? We can only change the duration of the cycles. Even the best choices and the lives lived with the most wisdom come to the same end as the worst choices and the most foolish lives.

"The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Then I said in my heart, 'What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?' And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.... How the wise dies just like the fool!"
(Ecclesiastes 2:14-16 ESV)

"I wouldn't trade one stupid decision––for another five years of life," sings James Murphy in Pitchfork Media's #2 song of the 00s, All My Friends. In my worse moments, I'm inclined to agree with him.

And yet it's not even a trade we have to make, is it? Who can say that by not making a stupid decision they have five more years to live?

Everything eventually falls apart. That's the real reality.

For a long time, my response to that was despair. And there was a sort of abandon in that that felt good to be sure.

Growing up, I always felt a great deal of pressure to do something. To be something. To "make something of myself." Of course, I eventually realized that we aren't successful at  everything, whether it was school, relationships, church, etc. and all those things end, no matter what. When I finally came to the understanding that everything inevitably does end in disaster, though, I felt like it gave me the freedom to not do anything.

Lately, though, on the up-cycle of that old wheel, I've been coming back to another thought: Since everything ends in the same disaster, why not do anything? If the right thing and the wrong end the same way, then why wouldn't you do the right thing?

Believe it or not, for a brief (and rather depressing) time in my teens, Ecclesiastes became one of my favorite books of the Bible. But it confused me with its seemingly bipolar swings between saying how wisdom met the same end as foolishness, foolishness as wisdom, so on and so forth––and then ending by saying wisdom was what you should pursue.

"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, 'I have no pleasure in them'; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain....  or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it."
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 ESV)

I'm sure I'm likely wrong, but I wonder if the reasoning behind that isn't the same. We don't do the right thing in a situation to keep it from ending. Rather, we do the right thing because it will end.

God is ultimately the only unfailing, unchanging Person, so in light of our frailty and impermanence, shouldn't we remember Him? Even if our efforts often do fail?

Pain and failure and endings are all a part of life. But what if instead of being paralyzed by that reality, we should be empowered by it?

And maybe not feel quite as disillusioned when it happens.


Andrea Manz said...

I really enjoyed this. I don't know if I've been afraid of endings and failures, in general, but lately I've certainly experienced a lot of them. More than ever before in my life. How did you end up at the conclusion that the reality of endings should empower us? Was it that even if it ends, choosing the wise decision will have glorified the Creator?

Nicole said...

As always, very well written. ❤️ Miss you.

Nicole said...

As always, very well written. ❤️ Miss you.

Andrew said...

@earlynovemberlove I honestly can't say it's a completely logical conclusion and I'm afraid I wasn't very clear how I came to it in the post. I think for me, the first thing is realizing the fact it's inevitable that things will ultimately end or fail (even if that's not till the day we die) seems kind of liberating because being afraid that something might fail becomes less of an excuse for not doing it. (I'm not saying I always act on that - it's just something I've been thinking about. The second thing is pretty much exactly what you said: That in the end glorifying God is the thing that really matters, because He's the one thing that won't fail or end.

Hope that makes sense. I actually almost deleted this post after I wrote it because I was afraid it was incoherent, but I few people have told me they appreciated it now, so I guess I have to let it live ;)

Thanks for your encouragement, and whatever things you're going through right now I don't know, but I hope things look up for you soon!

Andrew said...

@Nicole - Thanks Nicole! Miss you too!

Rachel Perry said...

Because I am used to seeing your blog posts via Facebook I almost missed this! And that would have been really sad.

Thank you for not deleting it. This may in fact be my favorite post of yours to date. Whether because it actually was coherent or because it matched so very closely my own incoherent thought processes, it was powerful and encouraging. The paradox (aka bipolar swing) of Ecclesiastes (still my favorite book)reveals itself again to me in each trust/try/fail/end/hope/trust life cycle as two equally valid sides of the same coin. And you made sense of that very nicely in this post.

Write on!

Andrew said...

Thank you, Rachel! I'm glad it made sense to you.

Unknown said...

Absolutely love this and was very touched by it. Thanks for sharing this with us.