I had a friend approach me a few days ago (actually one of many) who expressed concern for my present circumstances. Actually what she said is, “I am worried about you.” I assured her that I really was doing okay despite the unemployment and some temporary reliance on the social safety net. I appreciated that she later came up and said, “I believe that YOU are doing fine. I think what I am expressing is how anxious I would be in your situation.”
I don’t want to give the impression that this isn’t hard. Because, quite honestly, it is. I discovered that I actually qualified for food stamps six months earlier, but I waited until it was clear that I really had no other options short of racking up uncontrollable Visa debt. The caseworker commented on my shaking hands as I met with her. It was hard to admit that I—a person with a master’s degree and a gut full of ambition—would need to hold his hand out.
Last week I wrote that I do feel lucky to be in this spot. I said that I felt uniquely fortunate that I have been given an opportunity to look at life through so many different lenses. This is the part that I am trying to convey. I almost can’t believe my own words, yet I know that they are authentic and true. I am supposed to be ashamed of this position or, at least, troubled. But, I am just not.
In eastern India, my understanding is that followers of Siddhartha practice the life of begging for a time as part of their spiritual enlightenment. In the Christian tradition, Lent was sometimes an occasion for religious devotees to fast and to rely only on water and the occasional juice. The lesson is that the experience of deprivation is as good for the soul as the possession of wealth and bounty.
Of course, I am not as disciplined as those who would actually choose this level of deprivation. I had to be tossed into it after doing my best to avoid it. Yet, I have lived enough life now to know that this time, whether it is a matter of a few weeks, a handful of months, or—I pray to God not—a few years, will go in my bag of life experiences and serve to deepen my life and my compassion for others down the road. At least that’s been true so far–every experience of loss has, in later life, become a gift. Why would this time be any different?
This is the part for which I feel genuinely grateful and tells me that the language of the mystics really is starting to settle into my soul. I am not looking for the good life. I want to experience life in all its beauty, rawness, pain, and ecstasy. I am actually starting to feel like an experience junkie. I really want it all like a glutton who doesn’t know when to say no. I want to be there as a child takes her first breath and as a great grandparent takes his last breath. If I could, I would taste homelessness and winning the lottery.
It’s not that I particularly enjoy my present status. I don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Gee whiz, today I get to experience the underside of life! Aren’t I lucky?” Yet, yet, yet…I can’t help but to look up to the heavens proclaiming with a slightly quivering jaw, “Thank you, thank you for this.”
Why do I share this with you? Partly because I care for my friends and readers and don’t want you worrying needlessly. But, also because eighteen months ago I put all of this in motion when I donated 90% of my possessions to the St. Vincent’s Thrift Store. I answered a call that came from deep inside to follow an ache within my soul. With that decision came a commitment to share with you this unfolding, unpredictable and uncertain journey.
Four months ago I was praying in the Blue Mosque with Muslim families. Today I am learning to let go of my pride and accept help from your taxes. A few weeks I enjoyed the newspaper article describing a speaking engagement in the community. And then immediately came home to another job rejection. It is what it is.
And all of it feels like a gift from God, an invitation to experience life as it is, an opportunity to honor the journey of the Soul.
I continue to remain grateful…