Sunday night at church, the pastor did what they so often do and seemed to speak directly to me and my current situation. He did not speak with conviction or pry at a gnawing emptiness as they so often do when the message seems to hit too close, but rather challenged listeners with finding life and steadfastness in the mundane.
Mountaintops and ocean vistas may quiet our souls, but we cannot always gaze out into the inspirational beyond. There is not someone there to shoot us every minute of our lives. There is, however, no shortage of daily drudgery that challenges us and wears us down like so many rocks in a river bottom. Over time, we are rounded and polished and lose much of our luster as we seek comfort and contentment amidst a predictable daily schedule. This is perhaps nobody’s fault, but it does lead to a certain numbness that creates holes we spend our lives trying to fill. When a workable solution is found, we may accept it and create workarounds for the gaps left.
If there’s one way that being so profoundly wrecked and humbled has benefitted my soul, it’s in the sense of duty I feel to principals and passions. Rarely am I excited or energized in the same way that I used to be by my favorite things. In most cases, that’s due to atrophy and denial—no cycling or listening to music or playing guitar for months on end has caused me to watch those points of light in my life fizzle away into distant black holes. But even the nearer and more accessible parts of my life—the soul-stirring sermons and the good books and simple enjoyment of cars and fishing—have been greatly dampened by headaches and the general malaise of a depressed spirit. However, ceasing to pursue them would allow a temporary affliction to have permanent consequences. Fishing and driving and reading and riding a stationary bike and praying through the foggy headaches creates a ritualistic connection to things that, at times, are pleasurable and rewarding.
Lately, it’d be much easier to not do any of them, instead to subsist and lay around and find workable solutions and paths of least resistance. Hobbies and passions require much more than the bare minimum, which is deeply edifying. It is also deeply trying at times. Every book on the craft of writing seems to urge writers towards the same truth—that sometimes we have one of those days where the words seem to fly out of the pen and onto the paper and our mood is so sublime that we could sip a dozen cappuccinos and write all day. But those days are extremely rare, and if we only wrote on those days, we’d never write much at all. I haven’t had such a day in months, but I have continued to work hard and strive to put words on the page. I have kept reading and attending church and listening to music whenever my head can bear it, because I actively want to remain engaged.
Even on our best days, it is difficult to remain fully committed to anything at all. Just this morning I spoke to an acquaintance about that: how easy it is to dive headlong into something when the stoke is high, only to watch our interest wane as the immediate reward seems to diminish. When my hand wasn’t broken and my head wasn’t splintered, I still strummed the same couple dozen songs on guitar, just enough to keep the callouses and be reassured that I hadn’t regressed. I did not work at it or expand my repertoire or skill set in any way. I spoke of adopting a dog and moving somewhere that I’d feel more at-ease often and never made any moves to make either thing a reality. Once I was hit on my bike, I finally got serious about cars again and brought the old Porsche into my life. Just yesterday, I went out for a drive with many of my new Austin friends I’ve made through the local aircooled community. The alarm clock clamored before seven AM on the last day of the holidays, and it was a major triumph that I peeled myself out of the sheets and headed southwest to meet them. We need many more of these.
Later that day, I was granted my adoption interview by Austin Pets Alive and in a whirlwind of activity, I was suddenly the approved adopter of Hank (nee Magnum), a gregarious Catahoula (mix?) who stormed into my life when I first met him on Saturday and rode home with me just after noon on Monday. Pet parenthood is an overwhelming prospect and throws a wrench in so many self-absorbed gears, but it also rewards in a way that I’ve known and yearned after for years. Our first day was a giggly blur of running around and wrestling and napping on the couch, and this morning was the least grim and depressing I’ve had since one or two clear ones spent in tents in Appalachia.
Of what worth is theoretical flexibility without the practical joy to use it? Like a piggy bank bursting at the seams, an open schedule and a life lacking in commitments seems to always assume that there’ll be a ‘rainier day’ or a ‘better opportunity’ and thus refuses to invest in anything at all. After having the wind and light knocked out of me but retaining my pulse and some of my wits, I’ve learned that it is much less about following the simple feelings of minimal resistance and comfortable enjoyment and much more about identifying those principals and goals that stir in our cores and make us feel the highest when we sample them.
Soaring joys are inevitably accompanied by crushing lows, but how much sweeter is it to feel it all than to simply coast in middling complacence! This subdued, depressive spell has been most miserable not because of the baseline low, but because of the lack of matching highs. It’s made me feel tempted to call my last employer and ask for my job back because the money and the flexibility were both pleasant.