08 March 2005

"The Child Is In Me Still...And Sometimes Not So Still." - Fred Rogers

"All my life I've been harassed by questions: Why is something that way and not another? How do you account for that? This rage to understand, to fill in the flanks, only makes life more banal. If we could only find the courage to leave our destiny to chance, to accept the fundamental mystery of our lives, then we might be closer to the sort of happiness that comes with innocence." Luis Bunuel, (1900 - 1983)

Can I ever relate to the above quote! Questions, questions and more questions! I seem to be brimming with them and even when I don't want them, wish they would just go away, leave my head alone and let me find some peace, they obstinately remain and niggle at my psyche. I have questions about everything. What I don't seem to have in abundance are answers. Those are so much more difficult to come by than queries. Curiosity may not have killed the cat, but I bet it drove him a little crazy.

I'll probably never unearth the answer to all of the questions that fight for space in this organ I affectionately refer to, on more lofty days, as my brain.
Are all of my questions the sign of a healthy, active, fertile mind or are they symptomatic of a fetid, lonely and slightly troubled soul? I choose to think that it's just part of being human. Sometimes, it seems I question everything and flatly refuse to accept "I don't know" or the very Clinton-esque, "I can't recall". You know, former President Clinton seemed to be troubled by a question himself which, on the surface, seems pretty obvious to a few of us; "What is the definition of is?". At least I can take solace that I am in pretty heady company!

Of course, these never-ending questions tie into the concept of "trust", and I can be very anemic in the trust department, both of a bank and between human beings. I look at people who have trusted and have suffered emotionally disfiguring burns, more than a few times, and yet they find some way to walk through it and somehow manage to trust again. I'm not sure if I pity or envy those people. Maybe I feel a little of both?

I know that the amazing poet, Ranier Marie Rilke, advised us to "Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and learn to love the questions themselves." When I read words like that, wisdom wrapped in such beautiful, simple eloquence, I just can't help but wonder if the esteemed Rilke ever grew tired of a dearth of questions and did he ever find it difficult to muster the ability to trust? What mechanism, or magic, did he use to discern who merited his trust? Did he have a set of parameters or perhaps a super secret formula? Did Rilke have a finely-tuned "BS/Snow job" detector and, if he did, what brand was it and is this something I can find on eBay or Radio Shack? I really do have a Pay Pal Account, but it's pretty useless because I'm a little on the broke side.

I've noticed something, well, a few things in fact. I guess you don't get to be 45 years old without catching onto a thing or two. It seems as if the hardest people for me to trust are the ones who exhibit the same qualities and as me. What I find suspect in one person is usually something that I wrestle with myself. Things I abhor in others are usually characteristics I possess. So what does THAT say for me? That I hate myself? Am I caught up in some mangled mess of self-loathing? I don't think so. I have vast room for huge quantities of self-improvement and I'd be the first person to admit it, followed by a chorus of folks who know me well, vigorously nodding their head in agreement. But I don't hate myself, even though I find it harder to forgive me than I do just about anyone else. I'm very gifted at building walls. It's learning how to tear them down that I find so daunting. Is it the same for everyone?

I'm not sure where these walls come from. I'm the love child of Ward and June Cleaver. I had the obnoxious great fortune to have never heard my parents have the slightest heated argument. Voices were rarely raised in my home and when they were, it usually invoked my full name and was wholly due to something I knew better than to do, but did anyway.

My divorce wasn't particularly nasty or uncivilized, as divorces go. I mean, the term "friendly divorce" strikes me as such an oxymoron, but if you're into oxymorons, I guess you could use that one in categorizing the break-up of my marriage. The phrase "friendly divorce" always reminds me of "friendly fire". "Ooopssss, we have some collateral damage here. Sorry about that! I'm sure you'll be just fine - years from now. If the planets are in a rare alignment, the cow jumps over the moon and pigs begin to take to the sky." Friendly fire always seems to come with just such an apology.

Maybe this interpersonal relationship stuff just has to be learned, but I wonder where the classes are offered? What are the pre-requisites? Probably, it's one of those irritatingly slow and arduous "experience" deals where you just have to learn as you go through it, and mistakes will be made. Don't you just hate those things? I think the Internet has made me an "instant gratification" junkie. I want it and I want it the second I become aware that I want it. As usual, it seems like the really important lessons don't offer rapid returns, unlike suspect voting machines and H & R Block.
In "The World According to Mister Rogers", he shares this story which seems to apply to just about any situation in life where trial and error are the order of the day;

"A young apprentice applied to a master carpenter for a job. The older man asked him, "Do you know your trade?" "Yes, sir!" the young man replied proudly. "Have you ever made a mistake?" the older man inquired. "No sir!" the young man answered, feeling certain eh would get the job. "There there's no way I'm going to hire you," said the master carpenter, "because when you make one, you won't know how to fix it."

There's just something about reading the above selection that gives me a lot of hope. For me and the rest of us. I'm a very "human" human being. I stumble and sometimes, I fall, but I have bootstraps and I do know what they are for and how to use them. Even on days I'd prefer not to. Here's to not making so many mistakes that things become inextricably tangled up, but making just enough mistakes to know how to make things right that invariably go wrong. Filling in all of those pesky blanks that punctuate the landscape of our lives is highly overrated. Luis Bunuel suggested that we "leave our destiny to chance, to accept the fundamental mystery of our lives, then we might be closer to the sort of happiness that comes with innocence."

Bunuel acknowledged that such a decision requires courage, and indeed I believe that it does, along with faith and a very durable trust. It does take courage to trust someone because you're essentially making yourself vulnerable. Its seems that when I am confronted with the invitation to trust, it never fails to reverberate back to me and I am forced to wonder if I merit the very trust I am requested to extend. Am I trustworthy? It takes courage, not simply to "entrust" someone else, but maybe even more courage to consider the question and examination of my own merit. Introspection can be a necessary and sometimes painful evil, a mirror reflecting an image I am intimately acquainted with and from which I cannot hide.

I wish I had known what a precious and valuable commodity innocence truly was and losing it is a lot like walking through the looking glass. It's hard to go back the other way and it's difficult to regain innocence once life has had it's way with you a few times but, even given those stiff odds, I still believe that striving for something close to lost innocence is a very worthy pursuit. I'm trusting that it is.