Failure and "Should"

Our brokenness is itself our gift. This, however, is not easy to see. Often, we think we should not have that brokenness.

It’s always the "shoulds" that plague us. After all, what would there be to bother us about losing a leg except the thought that we should have two of them? Does it bother you that you don’t have wings and can’t fly? Inability to fly doesn’t bother us much because we don’t have in our heads the idea that we "should” be able to fly. Get over the idea that we should have two legs, and one leggedness won’t bother us either.

Brokenness, affliction boil down to this: failure. And failure is always relative to the success we think we should be having. We failed – or something failed. Our bodies failed, our relationship failed, our job failed, our brain failed. There was a failure of something in ourselves or in our world to be what we were so sure it should be, was supposed to be. Brokenness, the blessing of our affliction, arrives as failure.

Seventeen years ago, I lost my job as an assistant professor of philosophy. It was wrong -- so obviously wrong. It should not have happened. I was so upset. Stricken. My skin felt like it would really rather be somewhere besides wrapped around my body. I couldn’t make things be what it was so clear to me they should be.

Failure and “should” are concepts that go hand in hand, and that separate us from reality.

I was in a relationship with a woman, Evelyn. This was after the dissolution of my first marriage and before I met LoraKim, to whom I’ve been married now for 13 years. That relationship with Evelyn reached the point where it wasn’t working out – at least, it wasn’t working out for her. She “should” have loved me. I was younger then – trimmer, fitter – smart, funny -- take my word for it, I was adorable. But she didn’t love me, not anymore. I couldn’t make her, and I was, again, so distraught. You could have told me it was my choice to feel that way, and in some sense you’d have been right. But I didn’t have the skills to feel any differently. I didn’t know then how to choose otherwise, to get over my conception of what should be and get back to the ground of what is.

Now, don’t get me wrong: this is not about being complacent. Acceptance doesn’t mean that we don’t speak out against injustice. I just want to say there’s a way to do that without being upset, without “demand energy,” without rancor, without thinking anyone is evil, without discomfort or distrust. There is a way to stand for justice while also being at peace with ourselves and at peace with those whose actions seem to us to have been instrumental in creating the state of affairs we are working to change.

There’s a way to be a peaceful warrior. It might be possible to become a peaceful warrior without having to break. I don’t know. Maybe. For me, though, and for everyone I have ever known personally, somewhere in growing up our lives became as a vase, shellacked with “should” until opaque. And the light within us does not shine out until something breaks us. Some very important “should” fails, and we crack. We break open.
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This is part 3 of 4 of "Blessed Affliction"
Next: Part 4: "If You're Lucky Your Heart Will Break"
Previous: Part 2: "The Brokenness Is the Gift"
Beginning: Part 1: "Nobody's Perfect?"

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