Friday, March 18, 2011

Lighting candles in the darkness

I have a penchant for focusing on weakness and dissecting failure—not the weaknesses and failures of others, but my own. I don’t know where it comes from, but I have a suspicion that years of Catholic school education have done their job well. We were always told to take the splinter out of our eye first before we began to do the same with others. In other words, the exhortation was to examine our own failings first before finding them and trying to root them out of other people. So that’s what I do. Not on a daily or even weekly basis, but let’s say on a semi-annual or annual basis. I subject myself to a kind of evaluation period where I look at things that have gone well and/or badly. I assess the damage done, the repair work, as well as the construction work on new ideas and projects that catch my interest. Sometimes it all seems so futile, what I do or attempt to do. When I feel like that I know I am slipping into a down period, where I wonder what the point is of doing this or that. Why am I writing, why am I working, what is the meaning of my life? What are the goals and visions? Are they being realized? Am I making a difference? Am I lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness? Why do I make an effort at all? But the major question is—why do I feel this way at all? Why can’t I experience continual self-confidence and belief in myself? I guess the answer would be that if I did, I would lose the incentive to struggle, to rise, to compete, to continually improve myself. We are not nor will we ever reach perfection on this earth. The acknowledgment of failure is a corrective to a (long) winning streak. It reminds us that we cannot or should not take the winning streak for granted. Heck, we should not take anything for granted. What has happened in Japan is a huge reminder of that. I think it was the catastrophe in Japan that pushed me off center this time. I cannot shut out the suffering I see, even if I turn off the TV or don’t look at newspapers. How can you ignore what is going on there? It’s impossible. What happens is that I look at my own tiny little ventures and forays out into the big wide globally-oriented world and wonder why I am doing them at all, in the face of the overwhelming tragedy and catastrophe that I see. Some might say that this isn’t good and that I should not let it get to me personally. But how do you stop that from happening, and isn’t this trait exactly what makes me ‘me’? So I will be down for a while because other people are suffering and I feel so powerless. In that time I will use the time to think about how to be a better person—more involved, more caring and more positive. I will try to complain less and not be so me-focused. I will try to light more candles so that the darkness doesn’t overwhelm me and us. But that dichotomy between reaching out versus focusing on self is also what makes me ‘me’. We are all focused on our own lives and problems to a large degree. Given that fact, it is amazing that we reach out to help at all, but we do. We are always trying to be better people.  


  1. I read this quickly a week or so ago. I haven't had time to respond. BUT... Thank you so much for expressing this so well. I was having a real hard time with my life for many days after the earthquake. You wrote, "I think it was the catastrophe in Japan that pushed me off center this time. I cannot shut out the sufffering I see..."

    That completely resonated with me. It made me realize it wasn't all the inconsequential annoyances in my life that were unbalancing my center. I had absorbed the tragedy into my life because I was unable to DO anything constructive to help Japan.

    Your words made a difference in my life and I thank you so much for that. The suffering has not diminished, but it helped me to shift back to center and remove the obstacles I was making in my life, which hopefully allows what I CAN do for Japan to have a more positive flow.

  2. Thank you for your comments--I just saw them today--Easter Sunday. I hope you had a peaceful Easter. Ours was peaceful and I needed that. It is the magnitude of the catastrophe in Japan that unnerves me, just as the horrific events of 9/11 also did (and do still when I see the footage of the planes hitting the towers). It makes me appreciate my parents and that generation that much more--those who experienced WWII and who served. Can you imagine what some of them saw? I understand now how people could suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. I agree with you--that feeling of being unable to do anything constructive to help Japan--is almost paralyzing and quite depressing. So I am trying to turn to prayer. I really appreciate your sharing your feelings with me. Knowing how you feel makes a difference in my life as well--I feel less alone in my own pains concerning the tragedy.