Monday, April 29, 2013

And Stone by Stone, We Craft the Temples of our Hearts

My first unadulterated thought when I was diagnosed with cancer -- "My God, I've wasted so much time."  There are many facets or interpretations of this thought, but it's no mystery to say that this is my greatest sin: Time management.  In fact, the Grand Architect has seen fit to bestow upon me many talents.  Some of them practical, some of them a burden.  By the time I was in High School, I was involved in dozens of things.  And I was naturally better than everyone else at all of them.  I had a disastrous case of big-fish-in-a-little-pond syndrome in those days.  All of it was easy for me back then.  All of it except for basketball, which I hopelessly sucked at.  I wanted to play basketball in the worst kind of way when I was younger.  And I was awful.  I did it because I couldn't do it, and I persisted in joining the team every year because I thought it's what my father wanted.  Of course, that turned out to be false.  It didn't matter anyway because I quit the team sometime in middle school.  I quit because I was written off, for the first time in my life.  And it hurt.  Pain like that was foreign to me until then.  I was so naturally talented at anything else I picked up, and I had received so much praise in my life, that I couldn't deal with the fact that I might actually have to try hard to succeed at something.

I made a habit of quitting when things became overwhelming, or when I finally had to try.  I could easily have gone to school on a scholarship for multiple things (in fact, I did get a full ride for theater that I turned down, and I would have for music if I'd decided to audition).  Maybe it was out of fear that I didn't pursue any of them.  I didn't want my activities to get to the point where they'd be work, because then I'd have to be tested, and I'd have to work hard.  So I scrapped them all, and I just winged it.  Maybe I'd find something else, I thought.  Something at which I'd be even more talented, and something I'd never have to work at as long as I lived.  I would get by on my talents, and the world would recognize me for my intrinsic value.

I won't take the blame for all of it, though.  I was conditioned to avoid working hard for various reasons.  And I wanted everything I did to be fun.  I was a kid.  And kids should always have fun.  Regardless, I had never set limits for myself.  I allowed my wants and desires free reign over my life.  And I deliberately shied away from anything that would cause me any grief.  The real world was different, however.  And even though I grumbled about it, I never missed a day of work or even called in sick.  Ever.  I spent my last day of one manually labor job with an upper respiratory infection.  Even though I didn't like it, I acted very responsibly whenever I was employed in a "grown up" money job.  And that made my revelation even harder to stomach.

What had I been doing?  Working a "real" job these days is little less than indentured servitude.  There was a point, after I'd entered the workforce, where I let my "responsibilities" define my actions.  I worked 24/7 on a certain job, before my diagnosis.  In the morning, I woke up to multiple voicemails, and at night I'd fall asleep after solving the last crisis of the day.  I missed out, ruined relationships, lost touch with family, and halted progress on finding my real place in the world, all out of a misplaced sense of duty.  When I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that it was never my duty to put my life on hold for the sake of an intangible ideal that had never been mine.  What I believe my duties are now is debatable, but right then I knew my sole responsibility was to do what I wanted without excuse.  And that's exactly what I set out to do.

My advice is clear -- find your greatest flaws, and fix them.  Discover what it is that you would admit to yourself if you were going to die.  You know what it is.  I did.  It whispered to me in the dark recesses of my subconscious long before I gave it a name.  Even when you find it, there is no easy fix.  Self-analysis is not a spectator sport.  My flaws took me unto the verge of death, and it was only through a terminal crisis that I willfully decided to deal with myself.  Maybe it's impossible to deal with ourselves otherwise.  Maybe it isn't.  My advice is to live as best you can.  That involves all of the intricacies of your soul that you call your own.  Find them, fix them, craft the temple of your heart, and carve out a place for the ones you'd like to bring along for the ride.


  1. Very interesting perspectives here. It sounds like you were quite the over-achiever as a kid, well, except in basketball perhaps, but at least you tried that too!

    Your advice is perfect, "live as best you can."

    And no, self-analysis is not a spectator sport.

    Terrific piece!