Myself am Hell. — Satan, Paradise Lost
I try to think back to before I was Nick’s age, before my father was gone, when the world was new. I remember tumbling out of bed mornings into a succession of nows. What mattered was always in front of me. Discomforts there were, but never worries. And the sky stretching endlessly over the dappled garden.
Or so it seems now.
I can’t say exactly when the worry began, the fear that organizes the hours in accord with the uber-credo, nothing I do is enough.
I asked Nora when she started to have worries.
“In the third grade.”
“What did you worry about?”
“What about, ‘nothing I do is enough?'”
“That doesn’t bother me,” she said.
It doesn’t bother Nick either, may he not learn it from me.
I think Freud called it the Superego. I call it the Critic. It first appeared in the guise of a whispering ally—If only you had anticipated your father’s passing, you could have prevented it.
Then the keeping of lists. Diaries, injunctions, spells. The constant accounting for time. I remember a counselor visiting my grammar school class, telling us that only 14% of us would go to college. I began counting As. Then I was my As. If there was a B, I was nothing.
I sit with my latest disaster. They are always about failing to be recognized. Failing to live up to. Always the outside looking in, evaluating.
What does it feel like, this hole in the middle, this nullity, this mirror that will not reflect? Burning it is, like shame.
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
— W. B. Yeats, from “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”
And when, when did it first feel like this? I rack my brains. I close my eyes and grope and grope and there is only this image—a small boy going out to play, leaving his house for the first time to dwell in a fatherless world.
WE ARE STARDUST
What was the great sin committed by Adam and Eve? Something about fruit? What was the knowledge that ruined everything?
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
— Genesis: 3.6
It will happen. Eat, pray, whatever, it happens to us all. We put on coverings. An angel with a flaming sword prevents our ever going back.
I watch, little by little, Nick eating of that fruit. Little moments of consciousness that flare and light his way into adulthood, even as they consume the house of childhood.
How he hides his tears. Worries his drawing isn’t good enough.
The ur-lesson of school: that you’re not good enough.
The school we send him to knows all this, imposes no agendas on his growth. No grades, no homework, no tests, no curriculum shoved down the throat. An un-school for which I’m grateful.
I have fears he won’t measure up to others. I don’t speak them. Greater is my fear he won’t measure up to himself, be himself. For as long as possible, I want him staying in the garden. I don’t want him like me.
A rabbi named Zusya died and went to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waited for God to appear, he grew nervous thinking about his life and how little he had done. He began to imagine that God was going to ask him, “Why weren’t you Moses or why weren’t you Solomon or why weren’t you David?” But when God appeared, the rabbi was surprised. God simply asked, “Why weren’t you Zusya?”
— Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim
Nick imposes his own agendas without help from anyone. Still, he plays in the fields of the Lord, a long way from nothing I do is enough. He still allows himself to waste time.
It is the business of childhood to waste time.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Soul Without Shame by Byron Brown. “A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within.” This book is a kick in the gut.
Got three minutes? Tom O’Bedlam reads “A Dialogue of Self and Soul.”
(Bloggers: I discovered you can embed the sound track of a video all by itself. Who knew? Details here.)
Image Credit: Jean Pierre Simon, Paradise Lost, Book IV. Satan visits the Garden of Eden.
Do you worry about not being you? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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