“But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” John 6:68 http://www.thewheelhousereview.com/
Commitment came differently to me and later than it probably should have. I managed to squeak through most of my 20s with a semblance of ties and constraints, but those were all thin strings and my commitment to them wasn’t binding. It wasn’t until I, tear-stained and confused by an ex-boyfriend’s indecision and inspired by his lack of commitment, made my own spiritual pledge. This conversion experience wasn’t filled with holy light from heaven or bells or much fanfare, and I thought I had a vague idea of what I was getting myself into (I didn’t really). It was like casually strolling along a pier, knowing that if you keep walking you’ll fall into the water, but that moment seems like a long way off and anyway you could just stop walking. And yet each step forward brings you closer and closer to it.
At 30 I fell into the water. For the first time in my spiritual lifeand my adult lifeI was faced with a decision. A pull to leave my hometown and move to Washington DC orI don’t know what else. At the time it felt like no choice. I like to say it was a calling, but really it felt like an irresistible, holy pull. In retrospect, it was a terrible, poorly executed idea. I’ve since learned that faith often looks like foolishness, particularly to those of us who think we know. I wonder if, for those who don’t overthink, faith appears like common-sense. All I knew was that it felt like I had to. And so I did.
What I found still surprises me. I thought I was leaving behind my family and friends and comfort for purposeful work (that’s the main reason why everyone moves to DC, right?) and instead I found family and friends and comfort (and eventually purposeful work).
And yet, for too long, I refused to commit to all the goodness I had in front of me. When life would be hard here, I would console myself with the knowledge that I could just move back to New York. I rode the bus back and forth between Union and Penn Stations at least once a month for the first two years I lived here.
One day last fall, I actually made some moves and was offered a job back in New York City, on the spot. It would have been more money than I had been making and would have given me the chance to reconnect with family and friends. And yet, I found myself unable to give up what I had in DC. The cityfull of the friends and family I had foundhad “tamed” me in some strange way.
I’ve written often about the tension between my life in New York and my life in DC. It’s been three-and-a-half years since I moved here and I still feel pressure from some to move back home. It’s true that my life here in DC has been marked time and again by suffering; it has also been marked by incredible joy. I’m not sure it’s possible to have one without the other. And anyway, even if something is hard, it is still worth doing.
When I write that commitment came to me later on, it’s because I had spent so many years avoiding things that were difficult. If I didn’t like something or it didn’t make me happy 100% of the time (is there anything that can do that?), I’d surmise that it wasn’t the right fit and I’d leave. This included jobs. And this included men.
And I grew up right in a time when that was what you didif it doesn’t make you happy, then it’s not good for you. Happiness and feelings of delight, butterflies and unicorns are the currency. Had I grown up during another era, I’m pretty sure I would have learned to suck it up and take happiness when I found it and made the best of hard times when they found me. But it seems that now we’re all infected with this disease to some extent.
We live in an age in which limits are anathema and constraints seem unhealthy. We want to maximize our choices and keep our options open, because we don’t want to choose wrongly. But in that calculus, we never seem to learn how to choose at all. We could be confronted with everything we’ve ever hoped for or wanted, but if it doesn’t fill our souls or make us feel delight and happiness every moment of the day, we stand there, paralyzed and immobilized by fear.
But in our avoidance of limits and desire for breadth, are we missing out on depth? Because there is a vastness and gorgeousness about plumbing the depths of something, discovering what’s in all the corners, behind crags, and hiding in the shadows. There’s something beautiful about being tamed by one thing, by letting it consume you and letting you consume it. There’s something so lovely about learning all you can about a few things, than learning bits and pieces about many.
It’s been well over eight years since I made that spiritual commitment. Every illusion that I chose a life of faith has been shatteredI would say more and more that it chose me. And yet I did choose. I made a choice to take a step and every day is another movement forward. In doing so, my life has become smaller as I’ve closed off other faith options, you cannot serve both God and “mammon,” but you also cannot be both a Christian and an agnostic. But my life has a height and length and depth and breadth to it that it didn’t have before. I’ve experienced holy things that I would not have been able to even perceive had I kept one foot out the door.
In that timeand especially in these three-plus years since I followed that “call”I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I had just gone home after six months or a year. After all, I didn’t get what I came for (a dream job) and life was hard. If you look at life through the lens of inputs and outputs, you’d think I was foolish to have stayed, just as foolish as I was to have gone. But I learned how to enjoy happiness when it came and to make the best of hard times when they’ve invariably found me. And all along I’ve experienced so much gracethe friends and joy and delight I would have missed out on had I left so soon.
This city has for all intents and purposes, tamed me. It has become, as Antoine de St. Exupery, wrote “unique in all the world,” because I had to choose it. And as for that spiritual commitment, that walking off the long pierthere is so much more height to climb and breadth to cover, width to measure and depth to diveit has tamed me too and in doing so made me more courageous than I have ever imagined. Because now I’ve learned the secret that hard times will find me, but surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.