Sunday, February 3, 2019

Suspended Animation

In certain ways I feel like I've been chasing an ideal since I was about twenty-one. From that age, roughly, I've had this fantasy of living in a nice little apartment or townhouse, commuting to a job I at least reasonably enjoy, and doing things as self-indulgent as dating and having friends over on the weekends. Having, in essence, a normal life. And at various moments of my experience, that simple image has seemed in different ways not something I could attain, but more of an exotic apparition in need of being chased down. When I was young I had neither money nor employment, and was surrounded by interpersonal opportunities but constrained by financial dependence on toxic actors. Now I'm in my early thirties, financially and professionally sound (ish), but at the cost of deploying like some sort of academic paratrooper into the frozen wilds of the Arctic.

What gives?

"I don't feel like I'm asking for that much," I vented to my stepmother Marie recently. "Just for things to be settled. Just to be able to sit for a while. For things to be easier."

"I don't know if anyone ever gets to have that," she responded.

"But within reason, yes they do. I just want a house and a job and a social life. Just the basic elements of life. That's not unreasonable."

"You're right. It's not."

I'm not happy in Point Goldlace. And that's hard for me to say, because there are parts of living in Point Goldlace that are absolutely, unambiguously awesome. My students are precocious, hilarious, psychotic goofballs with actual intellectual curiosity. The town itself is gorgeous, and the great majority of the residents are welcoming and warm. The little coffee shop that I fell in love with in the fall is run by a local church, the denizens of which have become a focal point in mine and the village's community. Church Girl and Church Guy, the twentysomething town barista and youth pastor, respectively, got engaged in December. Today, they invited me to their wedding.

The charms of Point Goldlace are real, and not least among them is that going into work tends to actually brighten my mood. But I am so lonely. Lord, am I lonely.

Last weekend I was in the big city--Iceport, the only community in Alaska that can really claim the title of "big city"--for work and I found myself opening up. I organized discussions with colleagues. I got friendly with the local barista and started comparing hair-care tips. I was friendly and witty and fun, and I liked it. God, I thought later. I'd forgotten this side of myself.

I know that I will eventually leave Point Goldlace. The two big questions are when, and to where? The when weights pretty heavily just now. Cutting and running after a single year would make me feel pretty awful, particularly in light of the students who have found, and who would be losing, a supportive and positive adult role model in me. But is that a price I'm willing to pay? Sacrificing my own happiness out of a sense of obligation to these young people who will, one way or another, trudge on regardless of my choice?

And then there's the where. I have no way of knowing what sorts of positions will be available for the fall. Two are currently up, one in an area of Iceport where I'd like to work but carrying with it a gruff principal, the other in a coastal community that would make for much easier living but that is nearly as isolated as the town I'm in now. Why trade one remote dot for another? And why, if I shoot for Iceport and the socially illiterate boss, trade personal dissatisfaction and professional fulfillment for personal fulfillment and professional dissatisfaction? I hate that these decisions always seem to involve impossible trade-offs.

So I don't know if I'm staying or going. And if I'm going, I don't know the destination. That's really frustrating. Sometimes I think I see signs, or think an opportunity sounds absolutely perfect, and then it falls through. The stars don't align. Something just doesn't fall into place, even when it was so obvious that it should. In those moments, it's like God is dangling a vision of a future in front of me only to cruelly pull it away.

Today in church the pastor shared the story of Habakkuk, a prophet who struggled with what he perceived as God's injustice and inconstancy.

"When we first become Christians, it's like we're on a roller coaster," Church Man explained. "We're connected with Jesus, and everything is great, and we keep going up and up and up, and we expect to just continue in that direction. Getting higher and higher. But roller coasters don't work that way. Eventually, Christians reach a point where we go down that hill."

The gist of this sermon was that feeling abandoned by God is normal and all right, a part of the faith life cycle the same as any other.

"Sometimes God gives us hardship so we can develop perseverance," he added. "And come out on the other side of that with a more mature understanding of Him."

It's not all unicorns and rainbows. Not all golden bells and soaring melodies. And I'd kind of been expecting those bells, because that's what it was like when I was young. When I needed it. Maybe He's testing me now. Maybe He's preparing me. All of my other trials, including the one that took me from Gori to Point Goldlace, seemed terrible at the time, and all eventually worked to my benefit, whether that was to improve my material condition or make me into a stronger person.

So I'm trying to believe, even though it's hard. Even though it's scary. Even though sometimes I feel abandoned. My dearest hope is that want now will teach me gratitude later. That will have to be something I send up in a prayer.


kylie said...

I've been through many years of super hard stuff and it's really tough. I remember someone talking about how God gave him a great job at just the right time and I was furious. I was five years in to what ended up seven years unemployed, why wasn't He giving ME a job?
Just hang in, you were placed there for a reason and you may never know what it is so be your best self, offer all you can in every way you can then one day everything will change and you will be ready for the next challenge!

Geo. said...

You have a definite knack for the personal essay, an art form I have found rarely mastered in a lifetime of reading. You don't try to sound flawless; it is the imperfections that reach us, bring us in. Navigating reality is no easy task, I know. Looking back over 69 years, it's obvious the next best step in life is not obvious. Experience with school principals taught me about every other one is a bulldog sent to hector out intractables. Get to know some compassionate administrators, listen to the grapevine and good luck. Keep transmitting --us geezers are pulling for you.

Tanza Erlambang said...

well written essay. thank you for sharing.
have a great day

Jeff (Sage) said...

While I can understand the loneliness, after having lived in isolated places in the West (but not that isolated), it does appear you have a community there to support you and for you to build friendships. I love the book of Habakkuk.!

naturgesetz said...

You won't be with your students there forever, but I think not abandoning them is an important consideration — the more so since you don't have a clear destination to which you are being called.

Arizaphale said...

The toughest thing of all is to breathe, release and let God. It won't be tomorrow that you know the plan, it may not even be in a year.... I remember shouting "God I know you have a plan but I WISH YOU WOULD LET ME IN ON IT". Everything you do now and into the near future, is preparing you. Enjoy the experience you are living. It will be gone in the blink of an eye. Sending love and patience your way BB

BB said...

Kylie: I give you a lot of credit. After seven years' unemployment I know my faith would have wavered. Sometimes I feel very weak in that regard.

Geo: That is heartening to know! And thank you so much for the compliment.

Tanza: Thanks for the kind words. :)

Jeff: The community that exists here is far, far more developed than what you find in many Alaska villages. Here there are actual opportunities to get involved, and that is an enormous blessing for which I am often thankful.

Naturgesetz: Believe me, that's been weighing on my mind. I ultimately decided to stay another year and that was a factor at play.

Arizaphale: EXACTLY. I do feel He's done a few things lately to keep me in the loop, and for that I'm grateful.

Debby said...

My daughter left the American University of Afghanistan after three years there. She met the other half of her soul there, and together they are traveling now, seeing the world together. Still, she misses her students, and her colleagues and wonders if she made any difference at all. She still grieves for the students she lost in a terrorist attack.

Sometimes, we are on a path we do not understand. I am on one now. But that's what it means to step out in faith. Keep your eyes raised and simply do the best that you can do in the place where you are at. When it is time to go, you will hear the whisper that tells you so.