OT, kind of: Thinking about Erebor, part 1

[Yes — I know this blog has lately been all jokes, Richard III, and my problems, and very little Richard Armitage. This is another “my problems” post. It’s not that I don’t write about Richard Armitage — I do, every day — and he will come back here soon. I guess I feel like this stuff is just clogging the pipes … like thinking about it exhausts me and I can’t get past it. And I’m sorry, now more than ever, I have to write elliptically. What an irony. You have to lie most when you are being most honest. As a result this all sounds ridiculously maudlin. You see the self-hate I have to overcome to write, some days.]

***

Once upon a time there was a little girl who grew up in a very religious family. Her mother taught her to pray. She loved G-d and she loved her church. Church was one of the warmest places she knew. And she wanted to be a pastor.

Oddly, although every pastor she ever met was a man, this obstacle hadn’t occurred to her until, asked at her fifth birthday party what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said, “I want to be a pastor.”

“Oh, honey,” her grandmother laughed, “G-d doesn’t want girls to be pastors. G-d wants girls to be mommies.”

(The woman who the little girl became can’t remember ever wanting to be a mommy. The woman’s parents still tell this story about her in her presence — along with the one about how, when asked if she wanted to marry her best friend in kindergarten, she said, “Only if we don’t have to live in the same house.”)

The kingdom sought only princes and not princesses. So the girl struck “pastor” from the career list. But G-d was still there.

When she was fourteen, her grandfather died. She was told during the visitation by her grandparents’ pastor and then again, later, by her own pastor, that she hadn’t prayed hard enough.

She lost her faith in that moment, or thought she had, or maybe it was just that she didn’t know what was happening, or perhaps that was the endpoint of weary months in which everything had been insufficient and her faith just snapped. Her parents had found her too emotional as a girl and worked to sand down her emotional reactions, with the result that she could only feel things with an intensity that frightened her and shut her down.

Knowing that she hadn’t prayed hard enough meant that the warm feelings about G-d and church were replaced mostly by feelings of pain and anger.

But G-d was still there, demanding His service. There were ways for girls to serve G-d and she did those things. She taught Sunday School, volunteered for various tasks, played the piano and the organ endlessly, visited shut-ins, presidented the youth group, drove for progressive dinners.

Her parents were there, too, demanding their service. She was a good girl. She thought she had to be a certain way to be lovable.

Then again, she couldn’t be that way. She was tired of being a good girl. She tried to stop. Everything. It wasn’t allowed.

Then she left home, she went as far away, physically, as she thought was feasible, vowing to forget the whole thing. G-d and everything else.

She could not. Or did not, anyway.

She fell in with Jews who were kind to her when she was a long way from home and proud and lonely and struggling. She learned that none of what she had learned in the Gospels about Jews and Pharisees was even remotely true. She felt better about G-d, singing by candlelight in a language with strange, rasping consonants and odd diphthongs, Friday nights.

You keep faith, she learned from Jews, with those who sleep in the dust. But she had already known, for so long, what that meant.

Her attempts not to keep faith were always abortive. Admittedly, she studied outside the U.S. and saw real poverty up close for the first time. She reasoned that the theology she had been taught as a girl couldn’t possibly be right. She saw the Catholic Church up close and it was not the demon she had been taught it was. She rejected the soteriology of her youth.

But then. She took a class and she realized she hadn’t managed to get rid of any of it. It wasn’t just that she knew the story already, or even that she was familiar with the texts that were being cited, knew many of them by heart. It was that the incessant G-d talk of her childhood prepared her to reason in a particular way, to know what belonged and what didn’t; that, as the professor told her who taught the course, she could almost intuit what a historical agent would say in any particular context, she knew which details to concentrate on, she could immediately find the keystone of every building and press it for its secrets. Make the building topple — or build it up.

Despite her lack of feelings, despite her angry feelings, she had a feel for it.

Eventually she found the feelings that she had lost in a funeral parlor so many years earlier in a synagogue. She liked the possibility that G-d could accept her for what she managed to do, as opposed to everything she’d always failed at, from the very beginning. It seemed natural to bind herself to the synagogue.

And then she went to graduate school, not to be a pastor, but to study this thing that she thought she had lost but that she felt for. She went back to look at her childhood kingdom, though she would never belong again. But she had G-d again in the synagogue and then she also had the church in documents and altarpieces, in songs and letters and statements, in buildings. In libraries. In the thoughts of all the people who had ever written them down, in books and prayerbooks and carved into the back of pews, even. In her mind. In the remnants. She could still look through the window. It was safer, then, anyway.

As it turned out, she was really good at it all. It made sense and she was smart and she didn’t consider her emotions and she didn’t think much about what the little girl might have wanted. Most of the little girl had been erased, and much of what she had wanted had become impossible. The woman she was becoming was happy. She moved away from the U.S. again and lost herself blissfully in the ecstasy of learning another language. She met a gentle man who still believed in a gentle way and he let her into his own very religious family and she learned where he got his gentleness from. She didn’t think she would ever stop needing the feel to sob in church, but he and his family made things around G-d easier, bit by bit.

She had a couple of great ideas while she was in graduate school. Given the topic, they meant a lot to her personally. She had them because she grew up in the kingdom and she could visit it like a native, but also because she couldn’t live in it and she had to try to come to terms with it. Most of the people in her field, they were in the kingdom still, and there were those who were out, but they were really out. Those ideas were valuable because she had her feet in and out — and she let herself live this way. For her it was like breathing. Occasionally with discomfort.

But it turned out they were worth a fair amount to her, professionally. They paid for a lot, those ideas. They got her a fellowship and a postdoc and an abundance of interviews and a job and then another job.

Where she met The Dementor. Where the ideas had to be instrumentalized. Which she knew she could not do. She let the Dementor cow her; she watched her mill fail, helplessly, in the belief that she could not have acted differently. And when her friends told her the ideas were still good, that she should start over, to build another mill in another place, she knew she would never be able to run the mill the way they demanded.

She didn’t want to work with herself.

She knew she was thrown out of all the kingdoms now.

She had the feeling of losing G-d. She had the feeling of losing the ideas. Her emotions turned off. Her words, which had never failed her in twenty years, went away. Fell silent.

She went to a therapist who read everything she had written and listened to her for a year and then said the little girl was holding her words hostage, preventing her from speaking.

This statement made no sense to the woman. She could discover no inkling that the little girl was present or that if she were, that someone could speak to her.

“Even if that’s true,” the woman said, “She doesn’t decide. I decide.”

At the point at which everything seemed its very worst, the woman watched a miniseries and fell hopelessly in love with a story and an actor.

And the words began to pour out of her, unbidden. Words about the actor, admittedly. Words she was often ashamed of. But still words. The therapist said this was okay, if transitivism was the only method that would allow the hidden traumas to come forth. The woman didn’t think the traumas were hidden; she was pretty sure they were all in plain sight.

At the end of the second year, the therapist asked: “You said that you are the one who decides. What will you decide, then?”

“I will leave,” the woman said. “I will go home, first, and sort a few things out, and sell my library, and make sure my mother is settled and safe, and then I will find a place where no one has heard of any of these kingdoms and none of their demands matter.”

“You may do that,” the therapist said. “But if I were you, I would ask the little girl what she thinks, first, about abandoning all the kingdoms, before I did anything.”

~ by Servetus on February 17, 2013.

12 Responses to “OT, kind of: Thinking about Erebor, part 1”

  1. I realize how incredibly painful this must be, to go through your history and (to paraphrase T.S. Eliot) see the same place for the first time. In my experience, it keeps happening, and I keep learning, even when it is painful. I truly hope that the support and affection I and others can offer you here go some small way toward easing the pain. Richard is not a panacea, as we know, but he is a comfort and a catalyst, a surprising source of solace and a reminder that, yes, we can love — despite and perhaps because of everything.

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    • It does help — and I’m not always the best at communicating that, not least because so often I am asking the same questions over and over again in different ways.

      He’s not a panacea but he has really helped me to see things differently.

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  2. Tell that little girl I know another one over here who understands her, who has lived a parallel journey, who can feel her pain. Ask her if she would like to be friends. After all, two ropes – when braided together – are much stronger than one, and there are still many mountains to climb. Maybe she can be the Sam to her Frodo…

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    • Would you toss the ring into an abyss, or would you continue with the quest?

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      • Our quest is Eternal because matter can never be destroyed; it can only be reorganized. I tossed the ring into the fire almost thirty years ago and have kept walking ever since. Life is a great and terrible adventure, and well-worth the experience. To quote Gandalf speaking to Galadriel in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:

        “I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay; small acts of kindness and love.”

        The funny thing is, once a person decides to perform those small acts of kindness and love, they cease to be ‘ordinary’.

        I choose to have faith. I choose to fill my heart with hope. I was brought up in a home that was full of love and laughter, hard-work and tears, curiosity and learning and – above all – a sense of duty and honor and loyalty. My parents loved and respected each other dearly. They lived a life full of passion and sacrifice, of laughter and compassion, of strength in the face of adversity…

        They taught by word and example. I did not need to be given lectures or sermons. Their very lives were proof that ‘love conquers all’. Our home was ‘a refuge from the storm’, a haven.

        I have many questions – a great number of them which shall remain unanswered while my mind is limited by its mortal state – but I know I am a child of God, I know I am loved, and I know I am needed.

        In spite of all my weaknesses, I choose not to give up. I choose perseverance and resilience and beauty. I choose to fight against evil and darkness and ignorance. I choose joy.

        It’s a long long way to Tipperary,
        But my heart’s right there.

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  3. I still think you are and ever were in the one and only kingdom that counts, G*d’s kingdom.
    We errect worldly kingdoms like pictures, to help us grasp for them, while covering the ‘real’ kingdom with our imagined kingdom and use our ‘pictures’ like walls against others, against those we could and should openly welcome, but use as a means to differentiate and make our images elitary, to give them a wordly worth which does not mean anything in the one kingdom that matters.
    Wherever you go, wherever you are, you and your inner self always rest securely in the welcoming hands of the only real kingdom.
    Thank you for your open words, Servetus !!!

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    • Thanks for the encouragement. I think that’s true, and we’ve talked off blog about how I don’t think anymore about good vs bad, legitimate vs illegitimate kinds of love. Still, there is an Erebor and I have to work.

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  4. Your very sensitive little girl did not even know how she helped another girl – very sick girl. My “little girl” has lost faith in people. They told her that she is only off-topic. They say that they believe in God and that they pray. She does not know whether any god could really listen to their prayers. I have read what you wrote, and I comfort myself with the thought that some little girls understand their types of suffer, even though every day, they speak different languages. They feel the bitterness of primitive insensitivity in the same way. Just in a human way.
    Thank you for all that you wrote and it’s good to have you in this RAworld. Thank you for your whole continuous effort here and for all great sensitivity showed to us.
    I would like to thank someone else. As I said, it’s good to have you here, Joanna (thank you, my dear RAfriend).
    I’m really sorry for my personal tone, Servetus. Do not be angry, please.

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    • Thanks for the encouragement — it’s good to know that some of the stranger stuff I write is maybe not so incomprehensible to others as I think it is.

      I think there are a lot of us out there — who’ve been told that what we feel is not appropriate in some way.

      I love Joanna, too 🙂 Why would I be angry at such a kind comment?

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  5. *blush*oh, (((Servetus))) I love you, too:)
    Kocham Cię Kofiko 🙂 ..czemu się nie odzywasz niedobra dziewczyno?!!!

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  6. How hard it must have been for you to hear that you had not prayed hard enough for your grandfather. It reminded me of the friend who told me after my 102 year old granddad past away that I was lucky to have even known him, this may have been true but hurt me much. As for faith, I also was raised in a very religious house, but have struggled at times not so much due to my family, but my husbands family. They use religion for there own means and could turn anyone off. I pray every night, there was the time I could not pray and did not want too. When we found out that my mom had caner I knew she was dieing, no one else would even think of such a thing. Everyone around me was praying and asking me if I was, I lied to keep the peace. Only my husband knew I was not and never questioned me on the matter. She would not even talk about death so I left the subject alone. I have never felt bad about not praying for her in the end. I do have a peace about the whole matter. But I know that had I ever said anything I would have ripped in two over it. I hope you can find peace and strength in your writing for yourself. I do believe that you do make a difference in peoples lives.

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    • Thanks, katie70, and hugs. I wonder why we do these things to each other in the name of a religion that espouses love. But the peer pressure can be really heavy. I’m glad you did what you thought was right.

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