Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Shifting Sands of Sins

If you had approached me a year ago and been of enough prominence in my life for me to answer you truthfully, I would have said that my particular chief sin was that of Pride. When I started the unfinished blog series on the seven sins years ago, I saved Pride so it could be the final one, knowing that I would have much to say about it. I've struggled with it for a long time, struggling even to convince people that it was the correct choice to describe me.

People are right to be confused, as there are many things about which I have no particular pride at all. My personal appearance is one of those areas, as I regularly wear shirts with holes. My hair is thin and sparse, but I laugh at any suggestion that I try hair restoration tonics or shampoos. Even until recently, I laughed about being overweight, though my recent bought of healthy living is prompted not so much by pride as a desire to sleep well and not die early.

There are still a great many things that stiffen my spine and force me to bristle. My logic, my reasoning, my considered opinions: these are the things about which I am tremendously prideful. Should someone belittle them after I have put in effort, my reaction will be swift.

But I recently felt such envy and entitlement that it left me white-hot and short of breath.

What really concerns me is that most of the people involved are friends, not simply gaudy millionaires who conspicuously consume goods and people. That sort of institutional envy is something I can understand, as it keeps the economy moving (with apologies to George Carlin). But what I felt was a local disturbance of my own entitled script - a script which I really should have seen was completely a fabrication of my own sense of entitlement.

One of the downsides about being me is that my brain never stops. It never stops thinking, but that's often helpful. The bad part is that it never stops spitting out alternative reasons for things, and depending on my state of mind, some of those are negative interpretations of facts and events. In this case, once I manually arrested my descent into a pit of entitlement, my brain took over in the quiet of the night.

  • "Of course she'd be uninterested in you. Look at the shape you're in."
  • "Of course she'd prefer to be with that guy. They had they thing from before that wasn't serious, only maybe now it was."
  • "Of course she was only interested in someone who likes the same color blue as her. Do you even like blue?"
  • "Of course you couldn't ever have hoped for her: how could you ever be someone she respected? What have you accomplished lately?"
  • "Of course you wouldn't be a couple. Look at her and look at you. In a comparison of lists, you aren't the right sort."

All these and a thousand more rain down on me like sand in an hourglass. These kernels suck at my heels and clog the spaces I use to breath. To keep up, I throw my arms from side to side, taking giant steps to keep my feet from slipping beneath the surface. And each of those steps is a giant leap of self-delusion.

  • <swing arms right> "Sure, I never talked to her about my feelings, but she was just inches from finding out."
  • <swing arms left> "I love to travel and so does she. What more proof could there be that we're innately compatible?"
  • <swing right> "What would she want in any of those ten other guys, anyway? I'm probably worth more than all of them put together!"
  • <swing left> "If only things had gone right at that party six months ago. Then the right moment would have happened and none of this would have mattered."
  • <right> "If she only saw the real me!"
  • <left> "I'm the only one who totally understands her!"

Sounds frantic, even to my own ears -- the ears connected to the brain that legitimately thought each and every one of those sentences. The same brain that recoils in guilty horror now at being forced to type it for public consumption.

If one is trapped in the hourglass, it's tempting to think that there are only two courses of action. The first is to curl up and let the negativity bury oneself completely, never again to rise. The second is expend massive energy to keep above the level, hoping the sand will stop at some point before exhaustion sets in.

The real solution? Break the hourglass. Escape the scene.

Remove oneself from the choking negativity and the breathless zealotry. The truth is never so near to the hysterical fantasy or dour nightmare as we believe it to be. And the reality check is the great equalizer. Once determined, it can only be dispelled by a superhuman effort of denial - a stage to which I am happy to not yet belong.

Instead, it allows me to realize that there is a point at which I have done all that I can. And that will either be sufficient or it won't, but at least I will know. I will know for certain.

And that will be what keeps me from being trapped in the next hourglass.

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