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Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Upwards, Onwards

I may be only nine weeks away from moving to South Korea. Today, I mailed my FBI background check to the DC State Department to be apostilled, and once that returns, I will send the packet of documents to Jeju-do. After that point, I wait.

A friend's mother died Sunday. He was in my high school class, and his mother was two years younger than mine. A heart attack. I know how something like this shakes you to your core. He's a good guy, with a wife and four children, and his mother was taking care of his ailing father. I went to the visitation, gave him a big hug, and told him we are praying for him. I know from personal experience that God is near to the brokenhearted.

Ovid advised, "Call no one happy until he is dead," with the implication that no matter how good someone has had it for most of their life, the other shoe could always drop. (This is the same guy who recommended his married male readers have more than one mistress, who advised women to fake orgasms and to giggle and simper instead of laughing out loud, and who spent the entire last part of his magnum opus brown-nosing Augustus Caesar. I think this helps to put his opinions in perspective: Great poet, lousy life coach). How about, rather than warning of potential sorrows, anticipating future joys?

On Sunday mornings, we are reading through Exodus, focusing on the life of Moses. The common practice is to divide the prophet's life into sections, with the education and experiences he accumulated during the first two contributing to his successful leadership in the third. Our pastor made three points (not the presumptively alliterative ones on the outline) in this last weekend's sermon which struck me deeply:

One: we become the gods we worship. The biblical example is the Israelites' choice of the golden calf at Mount Sinai, at which point they were behaving in a beastly manner themselves. But there are infinite ancient and contemporary examples--mostly idols, desires, and habits that tend to undermine our humanity and compassion for others.

Two: Moses's story culminated on Mount Horeb, not at the parting of the sea. His whole life was preparing him to die well, pointing forward to the Promised Land even as he took his last breath. This was a good reminder to me of what I should be pressing toward, even as I want to laze about, telling myself the untruth that I don't need to keep striving.

Three: Only go and do if God is with you. Don't decide the direction your life should take and then retroactively ask the Almighty to sprinkle holy water on it. On the other hand, follow God's direction and leading. The number of times I haven't asked for God's leadership and ended up flat on my face is astounding, as are the number of times that I have sat on my tail and done nothing when I most certainly was called to act.

Violette Leduc (1907-1972), French autobiographer and novelist, was an excellent (horrible) example of how not to live. Not so much because of her bisexuality as because of her poisonous narcissism--oddly, because she was convinced she was hideous and unlovable. And yet there were people who loved her, people who cared for her--most of whom she relentlessly drove away. She was a miserable human being, always tormenting herself and others, a black hole of emotional need who wrote books that repetitively recited her felt traumas and laid bare her past misdeeds. She didn't look up, out, or forward. Her affections were tiring and frustrated, and she felt lonely from childhood until death. Nowadays she is read only by handful of lesbian scholars and by researchers interested not in her but in her patroness Simone de Beauvoir.

Blogs are peculiar real-time memoirs. Intended for the public, or at least a public (of selected readers), there is a temptation on the part of the writer to present herself in the best possible light. Trying to be honest, she deliberately records some of her known misdeeds. But both her virtues and her sins aren't necessarily obvious to her at the time. Maintaining this effort for over a decade (it was twelve--or was it thirteen?--years last month) has shown me in many emotional states and fits of intellectual activity and lethargy. Recently, I've reread a scattering of old posts and been struck by how naïve I was at particular points in time (and how unconsciously ridiculous I sounded), and at others wondered how I managed to come up with such a good turn of phrase, since I don't think I am so capable now. One thing I do hope is that not only I but other readers will be able to see my maturation, however gradual, in this chronicle. And a growing sense of humor and gratitude. I want to finish well, whenever that day comes. Further up and further in, fellow Narnians!

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