It took me some time to figure out where to go, after writing the post that appears previous to this one. I think this is understandable – what could possibly compare to a discussion of life and death?
But, of course, I am resolved in my determination to continue a dialogue here. So I took some time – to rest my head, focus on the day-to-day, and to think. And then, eventually, I realized what I wanted to talk about next.
I want to provide a more thorough, more specific breakdown of the path I took, over the last several years, as I proceeded through the staggered healing process I outlined more generally in my previous post.
I have felt different since writing that post. A lot of that has to do with finally having shared the story, honestly, with myself. But the rest of it has to do with the reception I received from readers over the past few weeks, as well as the sheer number of readers that have found their way to that particular piece. For this reason, I feel like it would be helpful to take a step back and share more observations about how I was eventually able to work through not only my near-death experience but several other pre-conditions that were standing in the way of my healing.
When I was younger, my head was full of static. Very early in life, I learned to deal with this by expressing myself through writing and by talking. I was aware of very little, in regards to this “condition,” apart from the fact that it was something I had to struggle with or against. The writing helped. Friends helped. Family helped. Girlfriends helped. However, I still dealt with most of the turmoil, then, much in the same way that I dealt with the turmoil caused by the death-fear that I discussed in the preceding post: privately, secretly.
As I got older, the successfulness of this method began to erode. Each successive piece that I wrote inched me further towards an eventual day of reckoning, in terms of confronting the issues that were creating my head full of static. When I got to college, matured through my writing and through other processes, and let loose a bit in certain ways – the static began to separate into more discernible channels of suggestiveness and conscience.
First, perhaps, there was the age-old angel and devil dichotomy. Later, after my near-death experience, and after I had been in counseling for a while, an additional channel emerged – an unwilling, frightened decider, “cursed” to constantly deliberate over the whispers of angel and devil both.
It was an exhausting way to live, and I’m glad to be (mostly) done with it.
Without going into more detail than I am comfortable with, I want to list and summarize the four factors that allowed me to get to the place where I am now – a place where I can often proceed through a day with a sense of clarity and stillness that has eluded me (at least in consistent terms) for most of my life until very recently.
First, there is the writing. The page delivers no judgment. I simply would not have made it to this point without the compulsion to express myself through words, or without the courage to continue opening myself up to and through this practice to the point I only recently arrived at in a pure way – the point we are at now, wherein I can be fully honest in my writing without much fear of judgment. Anyone can do this. All you need is paper and pen, or a computer, and the courage to try and to keep going.
The “decider” emerged from out of the page. And I never would have been able to generate the courage to let him into my active life, where he would eventually gain a prominent-enough position to successfully relegate both angel and devil to the background (life, modern life especially, cannot be so simply divided into good and bad), were it not for the help of two additional factors.
I would not be at this place if I had not sought mental health counseling. Similarly, I would not have had the courage to seek this sort of help, as well as to push forward with my writing at points where all I wanted to do was cut and run from the truths struggling to push through each successive piece – without the love and encouragement I received from my wife. If last week’s discussion of life and death ended with a repetition of my refrain about the central importance of love as the fulcrum of human existence, she is the central reason for that.
Courage is a word we sometimes throw around too recklessly. I don’t know that it is so prevalent, these days, in its purest form. I wonder about its origins, about how we tend to ascribe the word to individuals who seem to do or have done incredible things that the remainder of us can hardly believe. But I’m sincerely unsure how it could be very prevalent, here and now – because I believe courage is a more complex element of humanity than we commonly profess it to be. I don’t know that it is, or can be, intrinsic. At the end of the day, of course, we must find strength in ourselves, in order to accomplish the largest and the smallest of tasks. And yet, even in an age of increasing godlessness, where does courage come from, if not a place of faith? And what is faith, according to contemporary standards, if not trust?
Finally, can we be courageous, if we do not first open ourselves up to truth, including hard truth?
My wife saw and believed in a part of me that up until very recently I was not fully capable of even acknowledging. She trusted that I would eventually be up to the task of not only acknowledging but embodying – rescuing – that same part. When, at times, I seemed to stray from the path of rescue, she let me know it. She pushed me to be better. I have done the same for her. Neither of us have been perfect. But no one – especially not here and now, in an American culture that lives dangerously outside reality as a general rule – should pretend that perfection is anywhere near attainable. We can only try, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, and then trust that, in the end, it will all have mattered – from the inside to the out.
And then, finally, there is you.
Writing, private healing, personal love – eventually, all these things fell short of the complete task of helping me rid myself of first, the static and, later, a state of constant internal dialogue. I say this not to minimize the crucial ongoing role of each of the first three factors in my continuing struggle for redemption – especially in terms of personal love, which is the only factor of the three that translates into and co-exists with the fourth and final factor.
Life, after all, no matter what science might suggest or aspire towards, does not separate out evenly into pure lists of numbers, or repeatable patterns easily broken down, despite their complexity. Always, there is the mystery, that which makes the human condition what it is. Here we are, always, together in our confusion and loneliness.
So, then, there is you. Other people. Groups of other people. The social world. Community. Communities.
I have experienced fleeting moments of stillness and clarity over the course of the my life, despite the static and the internal yammering. First, there were (still are) those moments during writing and after having written. They bring me peace. As important and beneficial as these moments are, they do not endure. They must be renewed. This is fine, but it is not everything.
I believe that I was drawn inexorably to film because of its unique existence as an experiential narrative built upon an amalgam of personal expressions, which are themselves created through the efforts of a unified community of artists and laborers. In simpler terms, I was drawn to film because it is a communal form of art.
Until I began my career as a filmmaker, I was always struggling to reconcile two disparate selves – the private thinker and the community leader. When I was younger, I acted the part of the leader, but felt secretly unfulfilled in the role. Later, I would largely withdraw from society, intent on providing the private thinker with time and space to thrive – only to find out that he, too, felt less than whole. Filmmaking seemed an opportunity to give each half what it needed. And it most assuredly has been exactly that.
The first moment of pure clarity I ever had in my entire life occurred midway through the first day of shooting my first short film. The set came to life, in the moment between one shot and the next, and I stopped to look at the cast and crew. They moved quickly, with purpose, with passion – and, for a precious few seconds, the world melted away. I wouldn’t experience another feeling like it until a few years later, when I fell in love.
Tinier moments of stillness and clarity would occur in the succeeding years, as I finished a script, when I arrived at post-production and compiled a sequence that, even though completed by a novice filmmaker, approximated the poetry of a true filmmaker closely enough to give me hope, that I would one day settle into the identity that I felt could be my purpose in life.
And, of course, there have been many precious moments with my wife.
Perhaps it happened because of an intersection of my current age and all of the above processes of self-discovery and change – but, lately, even in times of distress, clarity and stillness have become more of the norm than the exception for me. It seemed to happen suddenly, though I understand, obviously, that it was everything but sudden. All I know is that I have found myself here, and that it wasn’t easy. Because it wasn’t easy, and because it feels like such a blessing, my compulsion to foster and protect what is good in my life, what has gotten me here, is incomprehensibly strong.
I am settled into the mystery. I embrace it. I fear death, as any human does. I serve love, as a method of imbuing my life with meaning, in defiance of death’s stare. I seek out and depend on the company of my family, friends, and any others who wish to join in efforts to document and advocate for truth – for stillness and clarity. When we stop tightly gripping or fearfully evading life, we become able to alternate simply between participating in it, and witnessing its contradiction with wonder. This has not been easy, and I don’t suppose it ever will be. Constantly, I must remind myself – must be reminded – of what I wrote earlier. That living, living truthfully, takes courage. That courage takes faith. That faith does not thrive in isolation.