Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.
I returned from Joplin to see the contractors have been working away. I now have a window. As of this writing, some of the new insulation has been put in the walls. I am not totally sure I have peace within my walls again just yet, but I DO have insulation within them!
That's an interesting juxtaposition. Insulation vs. Peace.
Insulation can bring a certain degree of peace, but too much insulation wrecks the peace.
With no insulation at all, too much cold gets in the house in the winter, and too much heat gets in the house in the summer. Insulation dampens annoying and distracting sounds to a degree. But too much insulation stuffed into a space, doesn't let air catch between the spaces in the insulation. If you smoosh too much insulation in the walls and smack down some drywall on top of it, the insulation doesn't work properly, as you need a certain amount of "dead air" between the fibers in the insulation for it to have the power to insulate. Also, in that situation, moisture can get in the wall and mold can start to form, which can be harmful to everyone in the house.
To a certain degree, quiet creates peace in my world. I long for more and more quiet time with each passing year. But there is a point of diminishing returns with quiet for me. When it's too quiet, for too long, I can only hear the gears in my own head running and nothing can run without fuel. For those gears in my head to whir and spin, for me to churn out thoughts and blog posts and good deeds, I need a little noise. I need other voices. I need other ideas, other opinions. It is not peaceful to me when my brain slows, and I don't hear those gears churning in there.
"Finding the balance" is a keystone of Benedictine spirituality. St. Benedict saw three legs to the stool of a balanced monastic life--work, reading and prayer--and the "work" he talked of was clearly physical work.
I have plenty of work, but it's not physical--it's mental--and I am at a place lately where my re-entry back into this mentally challenging world of my job, after volunteering in Joplin, is not going well. A couple of days doing the physical task of jumping in and out of my truck a hundred times or so, climbing in the back and rooting around, reminded me I am not making room in my life for physical work. I have had a mild gastric discomfort all week--just this dull ache--which has really affected my appetite. I over-ate last night, comparatively speaking (I've hardly eaten at all these last two weeks) and I really paid the price. I was miserable all evening and even miserable at 3:30 this morning.
My time in Joplin and my time at the diocesan discernment conference felt so alive--and now things just feel really stale and stagnant, for lack of a better term. Oh, I know what's wrong. I'm having "re-entry" pains again. This happened to me in 2008 when I helped during the Iowa City flooding. This happened to me when I used to go to the (now defunct) Abbey of the Companions of St. Luke, and returned home. This happened to me when I went out to Wyoming last year. When I engage in something that is spiritually or emotionally profound for me, I go through a period a couple of weeks later, where my whole life feels out of synch. I just get a wave of despair that the thing that made me feel so good, is now suddenly "nothing" and "a drop in the bucket," and a very large bucket at that. Then it gets followed by a heavy curtain of "drabness."
There's nothing "wrong" in my life. There's no crisis. I am grateful and, in many ways, sated. I am not lacking anything in my world. I have no acute needs at this moment. But there is just this stale place I enter into after an exciting, profound experience--this "doldrums" sort of place--where I can barely venture out to take a walk.
About the best way I can describe it, is that when I become profoundly positively moved, in order to achieve "steady state," I must counter-balance it with a drabness that, if I stayed there, would most likely be called depression. What's weird is I almost need the despair, simply to escape the drabness.
It's also the wrong time of year for me to be dealing with drabness. I dearly love summer in NE Missouri--the long days, the peaceful late nights in my yard among the stars and the lightning bugs--and this drabness is robbing me of the mystery of it. A mystery so precious to me that, if this were the final year of my life, I would kick myself for squandering the last one I was ever meant to have. I am supposed to be dealing with drabness in February, when it's cold and muddy and miserable, a drabness I always survive by having the hope of spring. Oncoming fall, shorter days, and summer ending does not engender hope quite so well.
We human creatures are an odd lot. We build while knowing at the same time, we have other things we wish would die. This drabness is hooking a fear I have about this house project of mine. The last time I remodeled a house, and had it exactly how I wanted it, within 24 months of its completion I had taken another job and moved to another town. I got it just the way I liked it, and left it. I think of other episodes in my life, and I have done similar things many times--this phenomenon of "making a big push to build things the way I planned them" very often results in me walking away from them, never to return.
The problem is, sometimes I never really get to totally walk away. I get stuck with a sticky messy piece of them. I own a house in Columbia I no longer wish to own, but I have a renter there, who, frankly, is a good renter, and I know her story. She needs this house but cannot afford to buy it. I just signed a contract to do something for another year I no longer have any desire to do. I have been doing this thing for 30 years, and I'm tired. I no longer have the enthusiasm for it. Yet at the same time, the contract for the thing I desire to do, I have yet to see. I've been doing this for nine months now, sans contract. I fear they are looking to cut me off. Oh, deep down inside I doubt that is the case, but that contract means stability to me. Working without a contract on this thing, feels very unstable.
I had two very interesting "cold calls" this week at work. One was a call from a person looking at a certain job in the area, but he has an emotional impairment. It has been difficult for him to find work in his chosen field, because he requires certain accommodations. His impairment is not ADA recognized. In order for him to do this job, he needs certain things and for things to be set up a certain way. His impairment made it difficult for me to converse with him on the phone in a way I could "get through" to him.
He is very reluctant to reveal his impairment to potential employers. It would not be found on a background check, but what would be found on a background check are the problems he had being credentialed for his job, based on a time when his impairment was not in control. He had been urged to talk to me, by a mutual friend. He kept wanting to talk about the job he desired, and I kept countering, as politely as I could, but still sounding a little like a broken record, "But if you need these certain things to do your job, you have to ask for them. You seem dead set on not telling them about your impairment, and it's certainly your right not to. But if you don't ask for what you need, you probably won't get it. Sooooo...tell me how you are not going to end up in the place you were before with your condition, if you don't change something compared to last time you were employed at this? It sure seems to me your reticence to admit your condition sets you up to fail again, and it becomes self-fulfilling prophesy."
He was not happy with my response.
Oh, I hear where he's coming from. I am not the world's greatest at asking for help. But I have learned some things from my situation. I felt like I gave him my best thoughts about this, but I can't control what he chooses to do with them.
My second cold call was from a man who recently, lost his job, allegedly to budget cuts. But the longer I talked to this man, the more I started to wonder if "reduction in force" wasn't simply a no-mess way to get rid of what appeared to be a rather needy personality. His proposal to me had a tone of "begging" to it. He had basically called to ask me to create a position for him at a job I really don't need in my organization, and then seemed upset that I didn't see the need for his services.
He explained his credentials to me repeatedly and told me several times exactly what he could do for my organization, and I said to him, "You know, I think those are wonderful ideas. But I really have no power or authority to create a job for you. The job you are wanting, well, it has more to do with something I work under contract to do, and I have no administrative authority in that. You need to talk to XYZ. And really, once you did these things and we put them into motion, why would we need you anymore? I think what you are wanting to do for me, or for anyone, is more of a consultant type thing, and I don't understand why you are calling people up and practically begging, when you should be knocking on doors and marketing these things as a consultant. I really think that's how you should be approaching this."
I had to really keep my temper in check with this guy. His fawning up to me about my skills, while at the same time, seeming irritated I didn't see how wonderful his proposal was, reminded me too much of the needy people I've dealt with in my life who turned around and cut me off at the knees. But I did not need to drag out that baggage. I simply firmly told him, "You can tell me all this stuff you want, but it doesn't change the fact I really don't have the authority to create such a job for you, and I really don't want to string you along that I might. I have two names for you, XYZ, and ABC. You really need to pitch this to them.
It was at that point he told me he had tried to get hold of XYZ but XYZ was not returning his call. Hmmm. Imagine that.
I wished him well and ended the call.
But back to where these shaggy dog tales were going.
All of us are called to find balance. Earlier in this post, I talked of where I realized I was missing balance in my own life. But these two somewhat odd phone calls reminded me that I'm not special--everyone is trying to find balance.
My first guy was a reminder that we can't be so in-focused on our own stuff that we become deaf to good, sound advice. We need the voices of a community who cares about us, and we need to be open to those voices lest we repeat the same patterns over and over. We can't find balance if we don't reveal at least some of our vulnerabilities that make us three-dimensional people.
My second guy was a reminder that we can't go running around inventing ways for other people to buy into our struggle, and be hurt that they aren't willing to take the bait. I am still struck that my second guy was begging--literally offering to come to town and show me how he could "do these things for me" if I would only pay him gas money--instead of taking what appeared to be assets and gifts and marketing them. We can't find balance by giving away our most real selves, either.
That triad of balance--work, reading, and prayer--is not just a literal interpretation of a form of monastic wholeness. It has a figurative component, too. We must do the work of our jobs and professions to the best of our ability. We must read and commit to memory the core of what got us here, to give us a sense of self-worth, as well as read what discerning members of our community place before us for our own good. Finally, we must pray. Pray that we enter each of these situations as "the authentic us." Oddly enough, it's holding our balance in the wind that will help us find peace within the walls of our true selves.