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The Urge to Quit

I want to give up. I’ve had it. I’ve sacrificed decades of my life, spent thousands of hours writing, digging into the shell I call ‘me’ in search of something honest. I know there’s integrity in there. Perhaps I’m terrified of losing it.

I can’t quit that search. It’s not a choice. I’d never have written my books or started my blog if I’d been prone to carefully-considered, rational decisions.

Creativity is not a choice. I’m not the first person to be driven and I won’t be the last. Nor is it a guarantee. During the hundred of pre-dawn mornings in which I wrote my memoir I imagined that the blood, sweat and tears would purge me like the fires of purgatory, deliver me to a redeemed life.

Nothing like that happened, but I’m satisfied by writing in ways that nothing else satisfies, save caring for those I love. I grew up thinking that to expect financial reward for that is venal and cowardly. I hang on to my dignity as I live from month to month, supporting my writing habit and my family from hand to mouth. Everyday, like you, I hear stories of wealth and fame that defy my imagination, especially when they’re unaccompanied by talent.

What makes life easy for some and grinding for others? The question comes from such deep yearning that the truth — that we just don’t know — is unacceptable. Instead we invent theories of divine reward and karmic law. We rationalize this irrational life.

I am frustrated. I want to pull my hair out. I’m angry at my fate. And yet, I’m deeply happy. My thoughts and feelings teem with contradiction.

I’m human. I love and am loved. I have peace. I have never gone to war, never killed and had to justify it. I have lied and cheated and committed theft, but never unknowingly, never without the thought that it was for a higher cause. I know now that there is no such thing, but I learned along the way because I hung on to that vanity. My hard-earned crumbs of honesty have grown into daily bread.

I’ve preached that life makes no sense and doesn’t need to, but suffer like everyone else and can’t stop wanting that sense. I fancy myself strong, able to shoulder any burden, but losing our pet cat reduces me to tears.

My wife Caroline also wants to give up sometimes. She says so, emphatically and jarringly. She is losing her body to multiple sclerosis and for the life of me I can find no way to bring her to her senses. She already has them. She resents her suffering, and so do I. I take it as ‘ours,’ though that is vanity too.

She is the happiest person I know. It’s not just my perception, because I love her more than anyone, or because her love means more to me than anything. She feeds me with respect and faith, is delighted by my successes and shares in my every disappointment. Her courage inspires me.

She’s my most constant and ardent companion. We laugh until tears run down our cheeks, and sometimes hold each other like two kittens drowning. We are mortal, after all.

I was raised to believe in sweet Jesus, who loves us no matter what and reserves our seat in everlasting paradise. The images comforts millions, but not me. I was born to question, and have grown in doubt. I fill the emptiness with urgency, to live life to the full, to do my thing, to write.

So here it is. This is what I do, though it’s complete only when you read it. It’s my way of reaching out. When you reach back to brush my fingertips with yours, no matter how gently, I am restored. And if, as sometimes happens, I sense no reply or can’t believe your kindnesses, I’m driven even more deeply by my doubt of whether I’ve reached far enough, by the determination to dig deeper for truth.

I believe in truth always, though I never completely find it. I think that’s best.

 

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9 responses to “The Urge to Quit”

  1. Ann

    Thanks Stephen, for writing. Again.

    So, for you the search for integrity is not a choice and creativity is not a choice.
    I find myself in the same place.

    Does anyone else think that these two things – the search for integrity and creativity – always walk hand-in-hand?

  2. A

    Stephen, thank you. It’s good that you’re there, and sharing, and seeking. Your book The Novice helped me too. I feel for you in what’s hard, because of what I find hard in life. And my sympathy is with Caroline too.
    My life has involved some significant quitting, and some mourning of what I have quit. And yet at another level perhaps what I quit was only a framework and a context that ultimately matters little, while the central longing, searching, and need to give something of myself, remain whether I like it or not – and that’s what I need to make space for…

  3. nayeli

    “Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

    ― Rumi

  4. Kirsty

    “The readiness is all”, as per that great Dharma text, Hamlet. The success or the (perceived) failure are really neither here nor there; real human greatness lies in the unceasing willingness to keep putting one foot in front of another, with a good heart.

    Which isn’t always easy to remember when life feels particularly unfair, as it regularly does.

  5. Peter

    Your texts are very restorative for me, Stephen. The honesty and the language with which you share your states of mind gives me a completer sense of sensing another person, than many physical encounters do. Even if I did not recognize in my own experience some of the paradoxes and discrepancies of emotions that you describe, I would still feel the automatic need to return your touch. But alas, I am afraid I haven’t the skill or insight to return to you a gift of the same kinds that this blog post and your memoirs are to me. I can reply, that you connecting to me – as one-directional as it is – is restorative for me. Being only 23, it is very comforting to feel that you have gone more than twice as long and are still able to relate courageously to yourself and your life, in spite of all the turbulence. When you further share your experience of facing Caroline’s disease, I am able to enter a state of mind in which my own misfortunes are returned to a more balanced perspective and in which I feel humanly connected and strangely soothed by the sharing of pain. From there, you have made it easier for me to acknowledge my own suffering in a compassionate and loving manner. You’re both vivid in my compassion meditations. Thank you Stephen, for reaching out.

    PS: In lieu of trying to provide original wisdom as a response, I’ve linked to a few videos (from 3 min to 2 hours) in which Dan Siegel presents a view of the mind, brain and relationships that I’ve found very helpful, along with his books ‘Mindsight’ and ‘The Developing Mind’. May you or other readers find them as helpful.

  6. Joe

    Thank you.

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