(This will be a winding one.)
Some of the most intense experiences of my life have no social media trail, strange thing in this day and age. It is worrisome to think that we might be starting to treat undocumented experiences as less real or less true, as if because they are not publicly accessible, they are not personally significant.
This morning I woke up thinking about my twenties. That both vivid and blurred decade of accomplishment and pressure, freedom and choice and the looming expectation to figure.it.all.out.
I was unscathed by the statistical type of major occurrence. I was always safe and protected, but I didn’t always live bravely out of that security. It was (and still is) the ongoing work towards greater emotional dexterity, like dancing in a prairie-dog hole filled obstacle course, unassuming and potentially devastating. I graduated from college at 22, holding a degree but no picture of the next step. I moved permanently to my on again off again city, but moved about 10 times. I simultaneously begged for attention and hid in corners. I met best friends, maintained decades long friendships, regretfully let go of a few, and necessarily let go of a few. I met my spouse in my mid-twenties, but did not have a full conversation with him until a few years later. I was watching others and believing that they had it all figured out while I was the only one scrambling. I can be gullible in that way.
There is evidence that I didn’t try at much because I didn’t want my try to be public. I was stunted by the thought that I was just supposed to be good at things. Holding tight to a world view that
if I had to work at it, it must not have been mine to do.
That is a world view terrified of rejection. It took a bit to recognize that there is very little, be it skills, talent, or anything that just appears and is sustained by 100% natural ability. We buy in, or at least I bought in, to the illusion of effortless. An illusion that still gets under my skin in an Instagram world. I am sure that even in the most gifted, there is an internal struggle to be more and do more. I know this to be true in many women. We are taught to hide the process that makes us what and who we are. The work we put in to be this thing we are shown to be. White-knuckling the myth of perfection potentially at the neglect of our intrinsic selves. That buzzword team we hear constantly now of natural and sustainable, cannot manifest itself without being intentionally nurtured.
There is also evidence that I tried too much in arenas I should have run from, over and over again blind and/or naive crossed into unnecessary and wounding.
A persistent theme of the decade felt to be the perpetual almost. Almost friends, almost a career, almost love, almost this or that. There is rejection in almost. It’s as if the heartbreaking no of almost inclined my trajectory, causing me to grit my teeth, clench my fists and either stand frozen or barrel forward. I spent time in contradictory states, manipulative or vulnerable, blind or wide-eyed, to maintain the perception of control. I don’t think I am alone in the reactions associated with either my real or perceived rejection. I would venture to say that such reactions are inspired by the reflexive need to keep a tight lid on our rattled interior worlds, afraid to let anything come out, unsure precisely what it could mean or produce. There are consequences to keeping our interior worlds bottled. We don’t know what we are full of until we let it see the light of day via verbal exit.
I can feel the accumulation of good and grit from the decade. It seems while I was trying too little or too much, and perhaps occasionally, just the right amount, I was gathering little artifacts to carry with me, dirt or soil. The evidence of defining experiences that crafted me and my landscape. I argue that there is a significant difference between the two and that we all have excavated layers of both. The dirt is just that, dirt. It is messy and residual. The soil is rich and life-giving. To me its fresh, earthy smell contains a touch of metallic hose-water, the smell of planting season in our yard as a kid. That little touch makes it homey and hopeful. In the dirt are the things that did not go according to plan or preference, that almost and the residual shame. I carry the soil, the ground that sprouted life and gave foundation, promise and resolution.
There was a man named Naaman who dipped himself seven times in the Jordan river to be healed of leprosy. He came out of the water with fresh skin and asked if he could scoop up the earth on the banks to take with him; to be his transportable altar.
“Altars, made of either stone, metal, brick, or earth, were places where ‘the divine and human worlds interacted’ and were places of exchange, communication, and influence.”
Naaman wanted the earth as a reminder of a divine interaction and marker of an irrevocable exchange. In his experience of disease and the isolation that disease innately provokes, he must have accumulated a grand amount of dirt, gritty and filling up his interior world. But the wonder of the new earth must have deeply altered his dirt-to-soil ratio, that by storing it and reconciling the experience of healing, particles of the soil infiltrated and changed it all.
The way a personal experience is reconciled makes marked differences, forming boundary lines or separate expanses. It becomes this and that, like the land from the sea or the above from below. In that parallel, expanses are neither good nor bad. I do not think the presence of dirt, the hard things that may be slower to work through, threatens the goodness of the soil. Dirt has the possibility of redemption. The addition of organic matter changes its makeup so that it becomes useful. The organic matter of Truth can be delivered to us in unexpected ways, like 7 dips in a river we’re hesitant to wade into.
Redemption is allowing good things to be a product of hard things.
Sometimes, I feel like I spent my twenties dunking myself in the river with motive to be otherwise, to get my version of clean, or get better, or get what I wanted. I was dunking superstitiously, trying to be this perfect thing in the form I assumed I was supposed to be. But despite my superstition of ritual and expectation, God was dunking me legitimately. Good things were happening in what I reduced to the perpetual almost and it was leaving me with goodness to carry.
When God separated the light from the dark, he was not made weary by their distinct difference or the overwhelming nature of darkness. Instead He gave both a governing light, the bright spots that light up the days, nights and seasons both temporal and eternal. The bright spots in the dirt reveal its possibility for transformation, how small and temporal it is. The presence of dirt is not threatening to or diminishing of the redemptive work of God. He is fully aware that our internal worlds may feel segmented and he meets us in a place of exchange to say, here is a moment of resolution, carry it with you. That Truth supersedes all experience and sustainability is won in its accumulation and nourishment. Make room to carry the eternal kind of earth.
My husband is in Colorado today. Before he left this morning I asked him to bring me back a jar of earth. My memento. The place of exchange, communication, and influence that got me here. This is the land, in all its layers, that I live from and expand upon.